7 Pitfalls to Avoid in Managing Remote Teams

By Rachel Bartee - Oct. 18, 2016
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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Rachel Bartee. Her opinions are her own.

Some of the most prominent and successful companies in the world, such as Zapier, Buffer, and Groove, have built a culture out of remote working. Their managers are effective in maintaining the team spirit and the community vibe, although every individual covers the work from home.

However, other companies are having second thoughts about introducing remote teams in their culture. In 2013, Best Buy followed the practice of Reddit and Yahoo by announcing the end of their flexible work program.

Why did these companies, which are famous for relying on technology, decide to change their work-at-home policies? Were they worried about the speed and quality of the work being sacrificed when the workers stayed at home?

As always, there are two sides of the coin.

These are the benefits you’ll most likely experience by promoting a culture of remote teams:

  • Lower expenses;
  • Access to a greater talent pool;
  • Higher productivity; and
  • Flexibility

Some managers of remote teams, however, mention these disadvantages:

  • Security issues (home-based systems are not as resistant to hacking as office security systems);
  • Connectivity problems; and
  • Not having full control over the team’s work.

If remote team managers establish effective communication and avoid the most common pitfalls, the pros of this working method will definitely prevail.

Here are 7 pitfalls to avoid in managing remote teams:

1. Paying too much attention to bad examples

Okay, remote team work didn’t work for Reddit, Best Buy, and Yahoo. So what? Does that mean you should completely give up on this idea? Absolutely not! Why not follow the example of companies that did make it work?

The only way to find out what works for your specific company is to analyze its needs and culture. Are the team members capable of working from home? Can you keep remote workers in the loop through virtual means of communication? If you think this could work out, you should certainly give it a try.

Think about it: your workers will be saving a lot of money they would spend on commuting and lunches if they work from home. That sole fact will keep them motivated to do the best job they can. Have a long talk, explain the way the team would function, and feel their vibe. If they are willing to take the business home, you’ll be one step closer to making a good decision.

2. Treating remote workers as individuals

Jim Mullaney, the CEO and founder of Edoc Service, has a nice experience to share about managing remote teams. One of his important recommendations is for the managers to maintain the team spirit as healthily as possible.

“If you’re going to have remote workers, you have to remote them as a team,” – he explains. “Salespeople are often competing with one another, and they’re not interested in other members winning. It’s all about themselves. In a team environment, a win for the team means that everyone has to win, and everyone wants to help one another win.”

That true team spirit has to be maintained even when people work from home. Keep reminding them that they have to support each other for the sake of achieving great results at a group level.

3. Not soliciting feedback

Remote employees are still employees. You still need to know what they think about the job they are doing, and they want to be heard and understood. They have unique ideas that may improve the way the entire team works, so building rapport is one of the main factors that promotes progress.

Try not to keep the communication limited to work, though. You still need to maintain the sense of community, so try to engage them in conversations they would usually have in the office. Start a common message thread to ask how everyone is doing and support the conversation with spontaneous prompts. If you lack ideas, mention the latest episode of Game of Thrones for instanceIt’s always a nice conversation starter.

When you manage to maintain the connection beyond work tasks, you’ll be able to congratulate yourself about being a great remote team leader.

4. Allocating the wrong tasks to the wrong people

Remote arrangements can certainly fail if you fail to estimate the capacity of a worker and delegate the wrong tasks to them. Ashley Stewart, the coordinator manager at EduGeeks Club, runs a remote team of writers who complete different tasks for clients. She has to delegate each order to the right member of the team.

“Remote teams are not as flexible as you may assume,” – she explains. “You can’t accept any order knowing you have people ready to work for you from their homes. Remember: you’ve hired them to do a specific job and they still expect to have some free time, so don’t count on their flexibility too much. If you want to keep a remote team efficient, you have to be an efficient delegator.”

5. Hiring great employees who have no idea how to handle tasks from home

You can have the best workers in the world and you know they are suitable for the tasks you have in mind, but that doesn’t mean they will master the job from home. Someone may be a very hard worker in a more traditional office environment, but they may get distracted performing the same tasks from home.

Do they have the conditions to work from home? Can they set up a home office, or do they live in a tiny apartment with no space for a desk? Remote working requires proper conditions, but it’s also a skill that not everyone has.

If you want to make sure you have the right workers for the job, hire people who have worked remotely before or have experience running their own projects. If you already have an office team and you want to shift towards remote work, make sure everyone is able to handle the challenge before making a drastic change in their lives.

6. Failure to use the right communication tools

What’s the most important thing to maintain when you manage and engage remote teams? Let me hear you say it: communication!

Since you can’t count on direct (face to face) communication, the connection within the team may be disturbed. That’s why you have to make up for the gap, and you need to use the right tools for that purpose.

Email is the first thing that comes to mind. Yes, it’s an effective tool for communication with individuals and teams. However, written communication can get a bit dry and boring. You don’t want your workers to feel the daily correspondence as a burden. Thus, you need to add the element of fun into it.

What happens when you want to explain new projects or tasks to your team members? In that case, written text can be misinterpreted or misunderstood, and it doesn’t convey the message in the clearest manner possible. In such situations, consider using digital whiteboards, private chat rooms, or internal social networks incorporated into the organization’s website. Asana, Wrike, and similar project management tools can make the communication within the team very effective.

7. Focusing on talent and forgetting about team-fit

Of course you want to hire talent within the remote team. That’s your main focus, since you want all tasks to be completed by exceptionally talented and capable people. Strong individuals are great achievers, but their attitude can often become a problem when you put them inside an existing team culture. In an office, it’s easier for them to feel the vibe and fit in. In a remote team, however, they may find it difficult to sense the culture and they won’t make an effort to become part of it.

When you hire new members to join a remote team, you have to make sure they are on the same page as everyone else. Ask the candidates about their personal interests, the way they perceive the tasks, and the opinions they have about the company’s challenges.

You get it: remote teams can work just as well as in-office teams when you encourage productive communication, you choose the right team members, and you help them stay connected. With proper management and great planning, you can definitely make a remote team work. The good news is that this method will be saving you a lot of money.

Rachel Bartee is a freelance writer and editor. She is constantly looking for the ways to improve her skills and expertise. Her life principle is “Always do more than you can”.


Rachel Bartee

Rachel Bartee is a freelance writer and editor. She is constantly looking for the ways to improve her skills and expertise. Her life principle is “Always do more than you can”.

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