Can You Positively Manage Remote Teams?

We all know the drill when working in an office; weekly meetings, client updates and popping in to see your boss for a chat, or picking up the phone to speak to HR or Accounts. When everyone is based in an office we’re all contained under one roof. Managers, Directors and CEOs can‘keep an eye on’ their staff and this visibility is often taken for good performance management and monitoring . The same approach cannot be applied , however, when the workforce is dispersed around the country and working remotely. As working remotely has become more the norm and is likely to remain so a high, and arguably new, level of trust between managers and teams is needed. Can employers trust their workforce to be as productive while working away from their watchful eye? Will employees still turn up for work at 9am, take an hour for lunch and log off at 5:30pm? Or will they be lured by Netflix, snacks and the sofa.   It’s not easy managing a remote workforce, but in my opinion we need to trust that people are still going to show up at work and put in the same amount of effort as they do in the office. Just because someone is now working from home, or from a remote location, it doesn’t mean that they’re suddenly going to turn their back on their work ethic in favour of box set binges and social media scrolling. If anything, research shows that remote workers are more productive because they have less distractions, are pulled into fewer meetings and save time on their daily commute, freeing up more time to spend working, if they so choose. But this is where an outdated stereotype really does harm those who have very successfully adapted to a new way of working away from the office. And let’s face it, it would be wrong to assume that people can easily transition between the two. For some, working in an office provides stability and a routine that they’re used to. Working from home is a very different experience, especially if you’re having to share your home with others who are also working from home, and let’s not forget the lessons many of us learnt home schooling just a few short months ago. This then puts extra pressure on CEOs, MDs and anyone with management responsibility to ensure they are supporting staff in new ways. All of a sudden the workforce have different and often difficult needs, but that’s another conversation for another time….(in my next blog actually).   For the majority of office workers, video conferencing calls are a regular, daily occurrence. It’s quite normal to start the day and end the day with a team update call, to check that everyone is on track. There may even be mini conferencing calls held throughout the day with micro teams, or at the very least, a progress report to check on productivity. But here’s the thing. No-one likes to feel as though they can’t be trusted to get their work done. No-one likes to feel as though they’re constantly being watched to check that they’re getting their work done. If you’re hired to do a job based on your key skills and competencies, then surely it shouldn’t matter where you’re actually doing that work?   Well, the rise in virtual micromanagement is real, and is something that Shelcy V Joseph, a former contributor at Forbes discussed in an article that was published in May this year (to read the full article, click here). Within the article she references a survey on remote working that was carried out by Ultimate Software. The results showed that remote workers are nearly twice as likely as in-office employees to frequently feel misunderstood or misinterpreted. Meanwhile, a top concern among managers is worker’s performance. Which is where the need to micromanage can creep in, because creating a positive remote working culture can be tricky to navigate. There is a temptation to utilize various technical products to monitor everything from keyboard usage to eye movements rather than focusing on outcomes and getting the job done.
image - wurkr
At Ultimate Software’s annual Connections customer conference, the company surveyed more than 400 attendees and gained some insights around the biggest obstacles to promoting a positive company culture. The solution?
“Develop a team communication and operating agreement to ensure everyone is on the same page.”
Seems simple, right? But it is something that organisations should invest in, to ensure the seamless integration of remote working and a positive way of working, for managers and the workforce. Software platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangout and Skype are great at keeping teams connected from a face to face communication perspective, but there’s still a tendency to micromanage, with team update calls being scheduled throughout the day, which actually hinders productivity and delivery. Another solution would, perhaps, be virtual or on line offices like Wurkr, a platform that I’ve helped to design, to help all members of an organisation to feel supported whilst feeling connected and part of a team. We know that remote workers can feel isolated, left out, or misunderstood, so we wanted to create a platform that took the likes of Zoom et al to another level of interactivity and productivity. Feedback we’ve received from early adopters over the past 18 months has been incredibly positive and we look forward to building a brighter future, addressing the needs of all team members, to make the new way of working work better for them….enough of the Wurkr plug! A happy and positive workforce is definitely a more productive one, wherever they are in the world. Let’s not ruin things with big brother style ‘over monitoring’ and lack of trust .