Although there are many benefits to working from home — happier employees, reduced costs, increased employee retention and more — there are also some challenges that naturally arise when managing a remote workforce. The good news? These challenges are easily mitigated with a little forethought and some help from workforce analytics.
Here are some of the biggest challenges remote employees face and ways managers can address them:
1. Roadblocks to communication and collaboration
One of the biggest challenges for employees working remotely is maintaining good communication and collaboration. In a recent study by Buffer, 20.5% of remote workers said keeping up with communication and collaboration was their biggest struggle. Without face-to-face interactions, it can be difficult to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Misinterpretations, lack of visual cues and communication delays are just a few of the challenges managers have to address. There are also time zone discrepancies, cultural differences and other communication issues that can keep teams from effectively collaborating with each other.
Ensure your virtual teams have the right tools to communicate and collaborate effectively. Video conferencing, phone calls and chat or instant messaging can help teams keep in touch and better understand goals and objectives. It’s a good idea to hold regularly scheduled meetings as well, such as town halls or all-hands meetings, where employees can hear company news and have a forum for talking with other departments or units. You should also encourage or even mandate that teams have group meetings or one-on-one meetings with managers so that employees can count on set times to speak with leaders or each other about ongoing projects or issues.
2. Personal distractions
Working from home or from any remote location can introduce distractions that working in an office environment won’t have. For instance, family members, children or pets may demand a worker’s attention when they’re home. It’s also easy for employees to get distracted by personal projects. Who hasn’t popped a load of laundry into the washing machine between meetings when they’re working from home? These distractions may not be a problem for everyone, and many employees are able to manage their personal time and work time effectively even with the threat of dirty dishes or the thrill of a personal hobby looming over them. Still, distractions while working from home may be new to many employees transitioning to new remote work environments, and it’s important for managers to address the issues upfront.
Provide employees with tools to manage distractions as necessary. This may include building regular breaks into the workday to allow them to handle personal issues or enjoy some personal time. Organizations may also want to create more flexible schedules for employees who have family commitments so that they can get their work done at more convenient times. Some organizations even provide childcare services or stipends to help employees with children, whether they work remotely or not. It’s important not to punish employees who are able to manage their time effectively with rigid policies that may make them feel chained to their desks. By monitoring employee productivity, your management team can see which team members may be struggling and provide them with more training or guidance to help them get back on track.
3. Isolation and loneliness
Employees working from home may develop a sense of social isolation. Workplaces are often a large social outlet for workers, and employees who don’t have other social outings may start to feel lonely. One study suggests that employees who report feeling lonely or isolated are more likely to have issues with burnout, sleep problems and even substance abuse.
In order to combat loneliness in their employees, managers can hold regular team-building activities. While virtual meetings may not fully make up for in-person contact, they can help employees who feel lonely to have time to socialize with their colleagues in a non-work way. Virtual lunches or coffee breaks and online learning sessions are good ways to make employees feel included and less alone. If groups of employees who work remotely live in a similar area, it can be a good idea for remote managers to schedule in-person meetups or working sessions to give workers a chance to meet each other. Organizations can also encourage employees to find social outlets outside of work, for instance by implementing a charity work day on a quarterly basis, where employees can spend the day working at the charity of their choice.
4. Lack of trust
One of the biggest challenges to managing remote teams is maintaining trust. According to a recent survey by Microsoft, 85% of managers said they don’t trust their employees to be productive when they work remotely. This lack of trust can further fuel miscommunication, leading managers to check in constantly and ironically interrupt work. When employees don’t feel trusted, they may be less likely to feel engaged with their work, and may even experience burnout.
In order to build trust, employers should find ways to objectively measure employee productivity so managers can be sure that work is getting done. This can be achieved through KPIs and other metrics, or an organization may use employee productivity monitoring software like ActivTrak. These tools can help leadership pinpoint how, when and where employees do their best work or where they may need more help to improve.
5. No company culture
A strong company culture can provide a number of benefits to a company, like increased productivity, better customer satisfaction and more engaged employees. It can also reduce turnover and help employees maintain their mental health. As we’ve stated before, workplaces can be major social outlets for workers, and company culture can contribute to this. But organizational culture can also create a sense of meaning and purpose for teams and make them more excited to do their work. Remote teams can have difficulty establishing a company culture, which can pose difficulties for employees and managers alike.
Beyond empowering employees to communicate and collaborate with the right tools and regular meetings, employers can create company culture by ensuring they have a strong mission statement and vision to follow. Company culture goes beyond the work that team members do during the day; it also incorporates shared values and ideals. Many organizations work to instill a company ethos that includes these shared values, for instance by centering their work around eco-friendly or sustainable practices, donating to and working with charities or community groups that align with the company vision or empowering employees to do work that advances these shared values. This can all be done in a remote work environment through communication and commitment to values, from leadership all the way down.
6. Work-life balance and mental health
In that same survey from Buffer, 27% of remote employees said unplugging from their work was the greatest challenge for them when working from home. It’s often the case that remote employees spend more hours at work than in-office counterparts, sometimes because they don’t have a commute and can spend more time at their desks. But they’re equally as likely to be unable to shut off because they don’t have a physical separation from their work as they would leaving an office. This is a straight road to burnout for most employees and something that managers of remote teams need to pay special attention to.
Create and implement clear policies on work time vs. non-work time and enforce them. Make sure that employees have regular breaks on their calendars – whether that’s a 20-minute lunch or a three-day vacation. Many remote-first workplaces add community days or family days into their work schedules on top of federal holidays when the office is closed and employees don’t work. Some employers may go as far as shutting off email or enforcing “do not disturb” hours for employees. Not only is this good for employees’ mental health, but it can also reduce overtime spend.
7. Access to tools and technology
Remote employees don’t have the benefit of walking over to the IT desk (or their manager’s office) to ask how to access new tools or log into the latest technology. They also can’t ask a colleague to show them how to use the technology or attend in-person training sessions where they can ask questions. It can be easy for remote employees to drop technology or tools they can’t figure out how to use, which can lead them to use workarounds and ultimately may affect your company’s cybersecurity.
Gather all of your technology and tools in a virtual hub that all employees can easily access, and provide them with an easy way to communicate with a helpdesk when they need to. It should be easy for employees to find everything they need, from HR resources and company policies to collaboration tools and filesharing resources from one link. It’s also important to make sure that employees have the right internet access for their needs. This may mean that certain employees will need Wi-Fi boosting tools or even satellite access to ensure they have a secure connection and can maintain their productivity, no matter where they’re working.
8. Maintaining company security
Cybersecurity is an ever-present issue in the digital age, and having remote employees scattered across the country or the world can present unique problems. Maintaining the physical security of devices like laptops and phones is one issue; keeping company assets secure through safe Wi-Fi connections and by avoiding phishing attacks are others. Some IT organizations go as far as saying that employees are any organization’s biggest security threat, usually due to a lack of awareness of threats or training about how to handle them.
Make sure employees are regularly trained on how to spot and avoid phishing and other scams. You should also encourage employees to use a verified virtual private network (VPN) when handling sensitive information, especially customer data or private company data. Implement firewalls and other security measures on company-owned computers and devices. Use two-factor authentication (TFA) and strong password policies for any devices or tools that employees use. And create, implement and enforce a cybersecurity policy that employees clearly understand and adhere to.
Overcome the challenges of managing remote employees with ActivTrak
Managing remote employees presents its own set of challenges and requires thoughtful strategies to overcome them. One key way to help employees and managers is by using productivity monitoring tools like ActivTrak to get a full picture of how employees are doing when working remotely. With ActivTrak, leadership can easily see when employees are most productive, how remote employees use their time, and what tools are helping (or hindering) productivity. Managers can better understand what causes inefficiencies or which employees may need more training to accomplish their goals.
Set up a demo today to see how ActivTrak can help you manage your remote workforce.