4 Managerial Downsides of Remote Work (and How to Deal With Them)
It's 2019, and remote work is gaining traction daily. In fact, a 2017 State of Telecommuting report revealed that the remote workforce grew 91 percent over the previous decade. Some people predict telecommuting will eventually die out like any other trend, but according to the entrepreneurs and academics at London Business School's Global Leadership Summit, more than half of all jobs will be remote within the next five years.
There are many benefits to having a remote workforce, but managers know there can also be challenges. Here are four key examples, along with suggestions of how to work around them.
1. Miscommunication happens more frequently.
Anyone who's had coworkers knows miscommunication can be tough to avoid and get in the way of productivity. Sadly, remote work only exacerbates this issue, as a large chunk of communication for remote workers is through phone calls and emails. When you need to communicate with a remote employee, if possible, use video conferencing. It may not allow you to pick up on every non-verbal cue, but it goes a lot further than a phone call or email.
Avoiding email-only communication is especially important when resolving conflict. As Kevin Hart of EMA Boston writes, "A well-meant turn of phrase or candid, nurturing feedback can turn sour in a hurry if interpreted incorrectly.”
If you really want employee conflicts to be resolved instead of causing simmering resentment that may never go away, take the time to call and talk it out. You'll be glad you did when your team is functioning like a well-oiled machine due to your excellent conflict management.
2. Productivity is tough to monitor.
It can be difficult to ensure a productive work environment when you have no idea what type of environment each of your employees is working in. At any given time, a remote worker could be fending off interruptions from salesmen knocking on the door, kids arriving home from school or the broken dishwasher that needs fixing. Time management is a struggle when there are frequent distractions and no colleagues around to hold you accountable.
Help stake your remote workers to progress by setting reachable goals and scheduling regular reviews. During those reviews, it's important for managers to spend plenty of time listening, rather than giving quick praise or a shallow reprimand depending on whether or not the goals were met. As Hawke Media's Tony Delmercado writes, "Give employees actionable, encouraging advice that clearly shows them how they can make progress in their role and reflects that you believe they can do that."
3. There is less of a sense of community.
Without a sense of community at work, employees quickly become disengaged and unenthusiastic about the company's mission and goals. A strong community in a company is essential for employee satisfaction and retention rates. Unfortunately, community can be difficult to create among remote workers. One recent study found that around 70 percent of remote workers feel left out.
Managers can combat that feeling of isolation by encouraging coworkers to talk to each other, and not just about work. Employees who live near each other can get together for lunch or coffee, for example. Plus, Slack can be used for chatting, joking or sharing stats about your fantasy-football league. Try implementing a Slack channel solely dedicated to non-work-related thoughts. Encourage video calls rather than phone calls for meetings so your employees will be familiar with each others faces. Community only develops as coworkers become friends.
4. It's difficult to catch problems early.
It's easy to tell an employee is getting burnt out when you see them walk in every morning with bags under their eyes and a coffee the size of their own head. When you are aware of employees who are struggling early on, you can help get them the support they need, but you can only offer them this support if you are aware of the challenge from the start.
The tougher an issue is to solve, the easier it is to put it off far too long, but as Adam Toren observed in an Entrepreneur article, "Procrastination usually results in bigger issues." Remote work can make it easy to defer those tough conversations, but this only amplifies the issue. This is why it's important for managers to develop strong communication habits with their employees from the start. A new employee is likely to need extra direction and guidance, so don't put off productive conversations until they have a more senior position.
Learn about all your employees, including the newest ones. Set up channels of communication and trust, so they feel like they can reach out when they need help. Be open and honest, and your employees will feel they can be honest in return. This will help catch problems before it's too late.