Although working remotely does have plenty of benefits and is favoured by many workers, there are several challenges that may throw a spanner in the works. There is a whole lot of extra effort needed in terms of communication, transparency, and connection, for a start.
Remote team members need to be of a certain calibre if the entire team is to be successful; just because someone has the skill set needed to work from an office, they may not be able to handle the demands that working remotely brings. Unless the entire team is aligned, there is a high chance of failure. Yet with awareness, this can be avoided.
Here are 5 common issues encountered by remote teams:
1. Communication issues
We take a lot for granted in communication. It’s much easier to understand people when you’re speaking face to face. The moment communication happens via a device, you lose important elements. This applies more to email and telephone calls than it does to video chats, but even those can cause problems. Emails may even be ignored, when team members are busy.
It’s not hard to work out why misunderstandings happen when all you have is text on a screen. There are no facial expressions to read, no tone of voice to convey subtle meanings, and no body language to pick up on, however unconsciously we do so.
This renders conversations subject to plenty of misinterpretation, and it can be hard to know when you’ve been misperceived. When this happens between team members, it inevitably leads to mistakes. Then there’s the chance of entering into a blame game, as both may be sure they conveyed their points clearly.
It’s best to spend as much time as possible communicating via video call, or at least phone, rather than email. When this isn’t possible, make a point of double-checking that important points have been understood the way you intended them to be.
2. Issues with systems and processes
When a team works remotely, clarity is of the utmost importance. Everybody’s working conditions will be different, and it’s easier for team members to execute tasks in whichever way they see fit; after all, they’re not being monitored as much as they might be in an office.
Internal systems and processes should be spelled out clearly, with easily accessible documentation to support them. There is plenty of software available that aids organization and sharing of knowledge, too. Each team member’s role should be made clear to everyone else, and everyone should be fully briefed on what is expected of them – in writing.
3. Personal connection issues
When a team is dispersed, it’s going to be very difficult for them to get to know each other. They must make an extra effort to connect. For example, some may communicate with one or two other team members regularly. Yet even this doesn’t cultivate close working relationships because everything is done via technology.
Teams that work together in an office will spend some time getting to know each other, which is completely normal. They may even spend time together outside of work. Remote teams rarely have this option, so other teammates may just seem like a voice on the end of the phone.
When there is no personal connection, there probably isn’t much loyalty. When problems are encountered, the team is less likely to come together to solve them to the satisfaction of all involved. This can result in unresolved issues that gradually erode morale and business success.
4. Trust and transparency issues
When team members don’t spend their working days together, it’s hard for anyone to be sure about what their teammates are doing. Unless every team member is particularly committed to reporting and transparency, it requires a lot of guesswork.
When one member or another isn’t being clear about their daily activities, or providing much evidence of them, it’s easy for other teammates to become suspicious. However, it doesn’t always feel politically correct to question your teammates about their day-to-day activities; that somehow seems akin to questioning their integrity.
When nobody speaks up, a lot of assumptions can be made. This may affect both morale and connection, leading to other issues. People may not find out what their teammates were up to until a project comes to an end, but by then a lot of perceptions have cemented.
To prevent this, it makes sense to have some good reporting systems in place so that all team members are accountable for their time. Having a centrally accessible timesheet or something similar could work. If the team is accustomed to logging activities, they’re much more likely to feel they can trust each other.
5. Recruitment issues
Recruitment of remote team members is often done based on resumes, skill sets, references and the impression candidates make at interview. After all, those are the criteria for hiring local employees. However, when the hiring is done and the work commences, new recruits are left to their own devices.
Unless the new team member had an impeccable record working remotely before this particular role, it will remain to be seen how well they function in this capacity. Working remotely is not for everyone, and some workers perform much better in an office environment than they do from their own home.
It is important for managers to conduct their interviews in a different way. They’ll need to carefully assess the candidate’s listening and communication skills, as well as posing questions based on remote work. If the candidate checks for clarification, that’s a good sign. It is smart to understand how they interview via email too, by checking how well they analyse and respond to this type of communication.
With the right conditions, remote teams can be a total success…
Remote teams are more prolific than ever, which goes to show that it can and does work, when the set-up is right. As long as your team is prepared to communicate effectively, be transparent, follow systems meticulously, and make an effort to connect with each other wherever possible, all should go well.
This article was written by Daniel Ross, who is part of the marketing team at Roubler — a cloud based HR and payroll software platform founded in Australia. Their mission is to change the way the world manages its workforces.
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