How Managers can Foster a Collaborative Environment for Remote Teams

May 6, 2020 | Blog

Over the past decade, remote work culture has seen a gradual growth: in 2017, 5% of employees in Europe said they “sometimes” work from home. However, the UK Office for National Statistics showed that almost 50% of employed adults were working from home in April 2020.

There’s no denying the fact that remote work trends continue to grow, and are poised to become the new normal.

Businesses reporting a flexible workspace policy vs employees who consider flexible working to be the new normal

Employees have an unprecedented opportunity to have autonomy over work-life balance as they continue to work from different locations without missing out on growth prospects. But how can managers and HR head-of-departments ensure their remote teams are motivated when working from home?

The simple fact is that employee engagement starts with effective communication.

Let’s learn a bit about the possible side effects of improper communication with remote teams and figure out how to fix those issues.

The Challenges Of Working With Remote Teams

The following issues often come in the way of ensuring that employees are productive and engaged even when working from home:

Decline In Productivity

The first concern for any manager is their team’s productivity – primarily when employees are situated outside the traditional workspaces.

Without daily oversight to keep them on track, employees might have trouble managing their time and feel overwhelmed. On the other hand, it’s also easier to burnout while multitasking at home, i.e. trying to deal with the kids and family while also finishing up their tasks for work. People quickly become exhausted this way, and their productivity and quality suffer.

73% of remote employees say they take calls and send out email replies even after regular working hours – that’s just as dangerous because working long hours can lead to stress and exhaustion. Again this can spell trouble for their work ethic and dedication because a tired person can only do so much. Your top performers aren’t exempt from this either. They’re still getting used to their new work environment, and working from home can begin to feel more like a curse than a perk if you don’t keep their work hours in check.

Lack Of In-Person Supervision

As a manager, you should know how much work your remote team is getting done and at what rate. Unfortunately, many managers have no idea how to figure out those variables in a work-from-home setting. That’s because of the lack of in-person interactions with employees which can be a barrier to effective communication.

Not only do in-person interactions create feelings of trust, but they also foster a sense of bonding and camaraderie within your team. However, not being able to work from the same office floor can leave both the manager and employee wondering what’s going on at the other end.

On the other hand, project managers are prone to micromanaging employees by asking for hourly updates and progress emails to ensure that they are keeping up with their assigned tasks. This can be disastrous for employee morale because it leads to growing mistrust and a lack of cohesion between the manager and their team members.

Delayed Access To Information

Employees who are new to working from home may be surprised at how long it can take to get relevant information from coworkers and supervisors; even minor approvals become major obstacles when everyone is working remotely.

There’s no doubt that the progress of your work will suffer as a result of these delays, but it can also frustrate employees. Moreover, your employees may not always be on the same page, and this can instigate feelings of isolation.

Social Isolation And Decline In Mental Health

Anxiety and depression are common side effects of social isolation – and coupled with the added stress of working from home, it’s no wonder that remote workers are reporting severe mental health issues.

Many people also report that they are more productive and happy in collaborative work environments where they interact and socialise with peers all the time. 19% of remote workers say that they struggle with loneliness when working remotely and 80% reported they would have better relationships with more frequent team communications.

The lack of friendly competition and cross-collaboration with your team means there’s less determination to achieve their goals – the passion for success goes missing when they have to do it alone without the acknowledgment of their peers and superiors. They may also feel disconnected from the team and grow out of touch with team success and finished goals.

Constant Distractions

Working from home means wearing multiple hats – your employees are now required to manage their own time, troubleshoot IT issues, offer customer service, and then also deal with the distractions at home. Switching between all these hats would wear anyone out!

An office is a fantastic place because it enables everyone to leave personal commitments at the door. But when they’re working from home, the situation can quickly turn into a living nightmare because there is nowhere for them to escape.

And it makes sense – with schools and daycare centers shut down, it can be challenging to separate your work life from your family life when it’s all happening at the same time.

8 Tips To Ensure Highly Engaged And Motivated Remote Teams

In Western Europe, only 10% of employees are engaged at work, and this number is even lower in the UK, where employee engagement is as low as 8%. Managers and HR teams can engage employees in the following ways:

#1: Emotional Support Goes A Long Way

Emotional intelligence (EQ) needs to take the forefront for managers who want to get the most from their remote teams without overburdening them.

A lack of visibility means you can’t physically see how an employee is doing. But it is still possible to have regular one-on-one meetings with each employee (e.g. a quick video call).

Have a group call twice a week to check in with the entire team to ensure that the team still remembers each other and that no communication gaps exist. This will help you improve team cohesion, but pay attention to any signs of trouble.

See who’s participating and who’s being reclusive, is there a particular member of your team who can’t get a word in because everyone’s speaking over them? Mute everyone and give them a chance to be heard.

Tap into the challenges they are facing working from home. Reassure employees that you care for them and will work within your means to facilitate their productivity. They may be overworking, which can instigate feelings of resentment toward the company. Check in when you notice moody behavior or a decline in work quality – these are all signs that your employee needs a break.

#2: Celebrate The Successes

One of the best ways for you to build a compelling company culture and inspire team unity is to celebrate your wins – together. Just taking a moment to appreciate someone’s good work over a conference call can mean the world to them. Remember, everyone likes to be respected and recognised for the work that they do.

If your team delivered a project on time, or if a staff member stayed up all night to make last-minute changes according to a client’s needs, recognise them. A few words of gratitude will make a massive difference to their morale, and they’ll be all charged up for the next task. It’s also a great way to connect your employees and let them know they’re a part of something bigger.

#3: Promote Collaboration and Team Work

Team collaboration is the most significant factor in inspiring higher productivity and motivation. Research shows that working collaboratively in a team boosts employee performance whilst increasing engagement levels.

That’s why it is crucial to improve collaboration within remote teams and ensure all team members have the necessary information and context behind management’s decisions. Encourage your team to share knowledge and foster a culture around it. With fewer options to share tips and knowledge in-person, they must help each other to get the job done.

#4: Delegate Responsibility

Managers must avoid micromanaging their employees: set out goals and let them take leadership as they go about their work as you supervise. By giving them the liberty to self-organise when they’re working from home, you tell your employees you trust them. Delegate responsibility and affirm their position in the company.

Your employees are more than capable of surviving on their own – with the right motivation.82% of telecommuters say that greater flexibility in working from home leads to lower stress levels.

Let them take leadership in the meeting, inspire them to take charge, and consider their suggestions.

#5: Reinforce Shared Core Values

Keep morale high by reminding employees that their work is essential to your company’s long-term success. Reinforce your company values and ensure your employee’s goals and motivation align with them.

They should also comprehend how you will measure progress across the company. These measures will tend to be guided by your broader business goals. Hold team conference calls to work through your strategy to define growth and success – and be open to suggestions.

#6: Communicate Transparently

In the pre-pandemic office, employees gathered around the water cooler and spoke of family and work – and news that employees may have been unaware of was appropriately passed around. But now that they’re working from home, remote employees trust you to let them in on what’s going on.

Shielding them from disheartening news might sound like the better option, but it’s better to prepare them for the worse than leaving them stranded. Communicate transparently and let them know you have their best interests at heart, regardless of the situation. On the other hand, if there’s good news in store, share it with them! It will raise your staff’s morale and show them that there is a ray of hope.

#7: Encourage Employees To Socialise – Even Online

In the office, it’s much easier to socialise with your peers and coworkers. Don’t let go of the relationships your team fostered in the workplace.

Virtual coffee breaks, online lunches with a team member, virtual drinks, and games – or even a short pep talk at the start of the day – can help to strengthen bonds and enable employees to build rapport and connections.

Enable your employees to build their social capital can be just as beneficial to your project’s success.  Recreate the office culture for your team by using video calls where team members can take a break and simply chat like they would at the office.

#8: Recognise Employees For Their Dedication

Studies reveal that organisations experience a 14% improvement in their performance when they have recognition programs in place.

Working from home doesn’t mean that you should stop paying bonuses for hard work. That said, a hefty paycheck isn’t the only way you can appreciate employees. Employee recognition not only motivates employees but is a reminder of the behavior they should emulate.

Remind employees of the value they hold to your company and give positive feedback when they deserve it. This can work magic on them and remind them that their work holds more significant meaning than them simply coming online.

Key Takeaway

Remote work is here to stay – and transparency, collaboration & engagement are essential for effectively managing remote teams.

As team leaders, you need to adapt to current circumstances and prepare for the future, where remote work is likely to be the norm – and we can help you navigate the road ahead.

Overcome these challenges and enjoy the rewards of a more collaborative and engaged remote team. Support your employees as they nurture their strengths and tap into them to benefit your team dynamic.

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