Back in the 90’s and early 00’s when the internet was still something of a novelty, organizations shared the same vision of a connected, Agile and powerfully productive workforce. Two decades on, we’re still trying to perfect the Agile approach. Cloud technology has now evolved to a point where most organizations have some kind of remote working policy in place, but even the most digitally mature businesses may still be struggling to adapt to the “new normal” following the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s because the challenges presented aren’t just technological ones – they’re cultural, behavioral and managerial too. Having a virtual desktop facility in place, or equipping your team with laptops and everything they need to log-on and do their work effectively from home is only half of the battle. To really master remote working and continue to lead teams effectively, organizations need to think beyond the technology. They need to think about people – morale, motivation, feedback, goal-setting – all things that can easily get sidelined when an organization shifts to remote working.
With over 95% of our workforce working from home in three different continents, we’ve got a great deal of experience when it comes to managing teams remotely. Here are four obstacles I think you’re likely to encounter, presented with some hard-earned advice on how to overcome them:
Leaving the watercooler behind
Chatting with peers about what you did over the weekend might not seem like much, but that watercooler chit chat can be the glue that ultimately holds your teams together. Even the best operational processes can’t replicate that kind of bond, so it’s important to make an effort to keep spirits high and leave plenty of room for socializing. Have a Slack channel that’s dedicated to small talk, or schedule 5 minutes at the start of every Zoom call to check in with people and see how they’re doing.
Replacing verbal reporting
When you can lean over and ask your colleague how a particular project is going, or approach someone’s desk to get a quick update on a task they’re working on, things can start to feel opaque and a little hard to read. It makes managing projects incredibly tough, and the last thing you want is your inbox to be cluttered with small updates. To get around this, try using an instant messaging tool like Teams or Slack, where you can casually check in with your colleagues to see how they’re getting on, almost like a “virtual desk visit”. If you want something more formal, or casual check-ins aren’t enough, try using project management tools or even something as simple as an online spreadsheet that everybody can access and update as tasks are completed.
Motivation and goal-setting
Enthusiasm and motivation can be contagious, so when you spend most of your day sitting in the same room as your team it’s easier to get on the same “wavelength” and work together in pursuit of a common goal. That becomes harder with remote working, but it’s not impossible to replicate. You simply have to make sure that your goals are communicated consistently and clearly among your entire team. Virtual team meetings and check-ins with individuals will allow you to “fine tune” your team so that everybody’s on the same page.
Evaluating productivity and performance
When you’re in a room with someone it’s quite easy to gauge how they’re doing with a particular task. Do they seem content? Are they struggling? Are they experiencing any barriers to progress? These are all things that can easily be figured out just by asking or being nearby. Working remotely presents a new set of challenges and potential obstacles, so you need to find a new and fair way to evaluate performance. This might push you to re-evaluate your key performance metrics depending on the industry you work in.
Organizations have been trying hard to master Agile working for years, gradually inching their digital transformation strategies forward to accommodate remote collaboration without compromising on security or productivity. At Infostretch, we’ve learned that while technology is absolutely critical to managing a distributed workforce, so is culture, behavior and human connection.