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Remote Work: Problems and Challenges for Managers

2020 was a challenging year for many team leads. The main issue that they’ve had to face is managing their team on the remote. While for specialists from Dataduck, work from home wasn’t a voluntary decision, we’ve established that even this work format can become comfortable and productive.

In this article, we’ll talk about the most common problems that my colleagues and I faced, as well as the most effective solutions we came up with.

We hope that this experience will be relevant for:

  • Experienced leaders who are facing new problems with the remote work format.
  • Relatively new leaders that don’t know how to efficiently manage their team yet.
  • Those who are preparing to take over a team while working remotely.

Now, let’s look at what leaders have to face while working with remote teams and solving the most common issues. All of that was tested and tried.

Problem 1. It’s unclear what your team is doing

It’s mighty convenient to work in the office, where everyone arrives simultaneously, for example, at 10 AM, and those who don’t get their cookie privileges removed. But with people working remotely, the beginning of the working day changed for everyone, making leaders realize that they often have no idea what their teams are doing.

There are many ways to solve this, including more drastic ones. For example, you can call all your employees in the morning to make sure that they are working and not just woke up. But measures like that make you look like an overseer and hamper the team’s cohesion and morale.

Luckily, there are other methods available. You can start doing morning syncs with your team — a short, around 10 minutes meeting at the beginning of the day, like at 10 AM. There, everyone can share what they’ve been doing yesterday and plan to do today and whether they’ve met some difficulties in their tasks.

This last point is crucial, as it lets your employees know that you are ready to listen to their troubles and, if needed, meet with them in private.

What’s even better, you don’t even need to make a video call to hold a small 10-minute sync. You can just make the roll call in the work chat. The big plus of this method is that you can quickly correct any issue arising with the task.

Remote work requires a certain amount of independence and self-discipline from both the leader and employees. The team lead should accept that it isn’t possible to control their team, hampering their growth continually.

But at the same time, more autonomy doesn’t mean less productivity. Reports and evaluations are still there and can even become more frequent in this new work format. For example, monthly reports might become weekly and concurrent with video calls discussing specialists’ problems and achievements.

Take note: if you want to increase your team’s productivity, then evaluate the results, not the process. Otherwise, your employee might start working for the sake of doing, without a clear goal in sight.

Problem 2. It’s harder to communicate properly, including during the task setting

This problem shows up if you are of habit to set up tasks verbally. With the transfer to the written communications, some details might be lost or misinterpreted. That’s why, no matter whether you work remotely or in the office, I recommend using task managers and designate the right way to issue a task.

You can adapt a lot of platforms to suit your team’s or company’s needs. For example, we work in Jira, and different departments have their own fields for their work processes. When I issue a task to write a press release, I need to note how many words should be there, in what languages we need it, whether we’d need visuals, and so on. It is impossible to issue a task without filling in the fields required.

Pic. 1. An example of a Jira task.

It is also critical to ask for feedback from your employee — how did they understand the task and what he plans to do first. Your specialist shouldn’t just repeat the wording (it isn’t an exam, after all) but think the task through and have a ready plan.

If problems with understanding the task go beyond minor details and interpretations, then you’ll need to do the following:

  • If your worker doesn’t understand HOW to complete the task, then discuss the tools needed to do so.
  • If they don’t understand WHY it should be done, you need to share how it is integral to the work process.
  • If there is no understanding about WHAT should be the result of the content, give your employee your vision of the result.

The easier it is to understand the task, the more chances it would be completed satisfactorily.

In terms of overall communications, online channels were in demand even before mass relocation to remote work. Still, new conditions introduced changes. For example, my team and I started to make video calls more frequently to be in touch and make our chats as close to real-live communications as possible.

Problem 3. The work’s results are not up to expectations

This issue appears if the previous problem (understanding of tasks) wasn’t resolved correctly. For you, as a leader, it is a sign that you should change your way of issuing tasks. But before that, you need to give your workers feedback on the current situation.

There are different methods to correct work results, and in our workspace, I prefer to use a so-called “sandwich” method. This model works on the “praise — scold — praise” scheme.

Pic. 2. A “Sandwich” feedback method.

A “sandwich” model is so good since it allows to offer constructive feedback to the person without offense. You start out by praising them, noting their achievements and hard work. Then you go on to offer some criticisms about what could be done better. And you finish the talk on a positive note, inspiring them to achieve even more.

For example:

“Dmitriy, I’m delighted with how you are doing lately. Your last letter for clients received 13% more openings and 8% more clicks than the average.

I’ve noticed that earlier, we’ve sent letters with titles that were just too long. This one was better, but it still lacks Call to Action. Let’s do a brainstorm this weekend think up new titles for our regular letters. I’m ready to help you with this.

I’m pretty sure that we can achieve even better results in the next month. Maybe, we’ll be able to make a new record in the letter opening rates and create a new standard in our work.”

Problem 4. Your employee lacks motivation and involvement

In my opinion, the employee’s motivation and involvement should be at the forefront of the leader’s mind when they work with the team. And if you’ve noticed someone losing interest in the office, be assured that on the remote, their quality of work will drop without additional motivation.

While I was self-isolating during this spring, I’ve held a corporate training where we talked about improving worker’s motivation. I’ll share with you some advice from my colleagues.

To improve work motivation and involvement, you need to:

  • Ask your employees how they see their work and what does it mean to them.
  • Analyze the tasks to see which ones your worker is the most eager to do, and make them responsible.
  • Assign new and exciting tasks so that they could learn new things and explain why it is right for them.
  • If the task seems boring, find out why, and try to point out another outlook.
  • When assigning the task, explain why it is so important.
  • Make the specialist more involved by giving him responsibility for a part of the project.

All of these recommendations are tried and trusted by my colleagues and me!

Problem 5. Too much depends on just one person; there is no interchangeability

This problem can be actual for every work format, but it can become a critical drawback when everyone works remotely. Of course, it is expensive to make sure that there is always another worker, and, for most parts, unnecessary. That’s why it’s better to spread the workload and responsibilities among the team so that nobody would “monopolize” any one topic.

To check how interchangeability is doing in your team, you only need a simple mental experiment “vacation is tomorrow.” One by one, imagine that your team members are going on vacation, and you need to organize work in their absence so that it wouldn’t negatively impact either individual KPI or the department’s results.

Questions that will help you with this exercise:

  • For what tasks employee N is responsible?
  • Which could be postponed and which require attention every day?
  • What daily tasks you can assign to other specialists?
  • Would they need additional consultations or training from employee N?
  • Does N have instructions and documented details of their business processes?
  • Where does N gather and store all contacts needed for work?

Perhaps by answering these questions, you’ll find out that you need to create common work files, write instructions, describe some business processes, add your colleagues to the correspondence between clients or partners and you, and so on. The goal here is to make your work as transparent as possible and to make work transfers easier in the future.

And as the cherry on top, imagine that it is you who goes on vacation tomorrow, with no contact to solve problems at work. Many bosses think that work will crash to a halt without them around, so they keep their hands on the pulse even on vacation.

This leads to a worsening state of mind and emotional burning out. Advice for that: explain your tasks and required processes, set priority rating among tasks, and, if possible, introduce your team to the tasks that should be done ASAP.

Of course, it’s not only the boss who faces issues while working remotely. There are a plethora of problems common for every worker. But we’ll talk about that in another article. For now, share with us the “leader’s pains” that you’ve met during your remote working days.

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Dataduck

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We are Dataduck — a creative publishing studio. We take clients’ ideas and bring them to life by creating design and content.