Looking After Your Remote Team

Looking After Your Remote Team
Not long ago there was a rash of articles which claimed that remote workers were unhappy, if not downright paranoid. So here's the good news: not one of the problems identified is actually a problem with remote working. They're signs that not all managers are doing the best job at looking after their remote team. Don't believe us? Here's the breakdown.

The number of the ‘regular workforce’ (that is, not people who freelance) working from home is growing exponentially. The latest telecommuting statistics say this sector is growing ten times faster than in-office jobs. Regular readers will know that’s partly driven by employees asking to work from home, at least part-time, to have a better work/life balance.

But it’s also being driven by companies who can see the benefits that remote teams have for them. Hiring a digital nomad gets you a staffer who is more productive, less likely to take time off sick and will put in extra hours. It saves companies the cost of office space and equipment, and with improved retention, it also cuts down on recruitment costs. Interested? Contact us, and we’ll get you started.

Still, now and then the news cycle flares up with some bad news about working from home. Not long ago there was a rash of articles which claimed that remote workers were unhappy, if not downright paranoid. A study published by the Harvard Business Review had some worrying statistics, and these had been picked up and regurgitated around the web.

So here’s the good news. Not one of the problems that VirtualSmarts identified is actually a problem with remote working. They’re signs that not all managers are doing the best job at looking after their remote team. Don’t believe us? Here’s the breakdown.

The Study

The article starts with the assertion that, When it comes to virtual teams, if you’re out of sight, you’re also out of mind.’ It goes on to back this up with statistics gathered from a survey of 1,153 staff, and just over half of those work from home at least part-time. The survey reports the answers to certain questions and compares the responses of the in-office workers and their work-at-home colleagues. It’s worth noting that every one of these points was also experienced by deskbound colleagues, just to a slightly lesser degree. Here are the top concerns and what you can do to stop your team feeling this way.

Colleagues Don’t Fight For my Priorities

Around 70% of those surveyed said they felt this way, compared to approximated 60% of office workers. It’s a somewhat vague statement, but we’re going to assume that the colleagues they’re talking about are managers. After all, you would expect a manager to take care of you, but you wouldn’t necessarily expect someone on your level to stick their neck out.

As we’ve often said, it’s essential that you, as a remote team manager, ensure that your remote team is represented. If you’re in the office, it’s your job to make sure that they get the credit for the things they do right. It’s your job to stick up for them if things go wrong. It’s your job to make sure they aren’t being penalized for not being in the office.

You can do this by raising the profile of your team. Is there an intranet that you can have a team page on? If the company has a newsletter, will they include a ‘remote focus’ article to introduce your staff to others? Are you team being invited to meet the on-site employees at company socials?

It’s also vital that your team deal directly with as many office-based staff as possible. Don’t become an intermediary, let your people forge relationships with the broader company.

Colleagues Make Changes to a Project Without Warning

This was the second most common complaints from both office-based (60%) and remote staff (63%). I think we can all identify with this frustration. There you are, working away on the project as you understand it, only to find out the goalposts have shifted.

Great communication is the key to stopping this from happening. At DistantJob we’re prominent advocates of the Agile Development Methodology. One of the advantages that Agile has is that it prioritizes communication. In fact, the recommendation is for daily stand-ups; brief meetings where the whole team get together and talk about the progress that’s been made, and any problems they’re experiencing.

Although it can be difficult to manage a stand-up when your team work remotely, it’s not impossible. Either find a time of day that works for everyone or adapt the technique to work asynchronously using SlackChat or an alternative.

Looking After Your Remote Team

Colleagues Say Bad Things About me Behind my Back

Are 30% of on-site staff, and almost 40% of telecommuters paranoid, or is there a culture of whispering behind their backs? It’s an uncomfortable feeling, either way, and can only cause havoc with your staff’s morale. There are always going to be people who act this way, and to a certain extent, you can’t do much about it.

But what you can do, is give your remote staff every opportunity to talk to each other, and to the rest of the company. If there is a strong team identity and the feeling that all staff is working towards a common goal, then it’s much less likely that your people will be acting like schoolkids and talking behind backs.

It’s also important to make sure that there is proper avenue for grievances, that staff can know that if they have a concern they can bring it to you, and it will be dealt with.

Colleagues Lobby Against Me with Others

1/3 of remote workers, and just under that amount of office-based staff feel this way. It’s the next step up from the previous concern; now others aren’t just talking about them, they’re actively trying to work against them. This is the sort of matter that will make you lose staff if you have created a team culture that supports it.

Watch your staff interactions and find out if this type of behavior is happening in your team. If it is, then you’ll need to find a way to deal with it. That might mean removing offenders, but once again building up a strong sense of team spirit should mitigate it. If you’re all on the same side, hurting one person hurts all of you.

But That’s Not All

At the same time as I was reading this study, I came across an article that might shed some light on why office-based colleagues are so down on their work-at-home counterparts. This one cites a study that claims 40% of those who work at home admit to getting distracted! The horror!

I have news for the authors. Office-based workers get distracted too. Shocking, I know, but it’s true. Whether it’s someone coming up to their desk to ask for help with a different project, bumping into a colleague in the corridor and stopping for a chat or taking an ‘extra’ break to check their Facebook, their text messages or beat their score on Candy Crush. Why should remote staff be any different?

The difference is this; your office based worker has office hours, say 9-5. Your remote worker can start work at any time, and finish as late as they like. Flexible working is one of the significant advantages of working from home, that’s why work/life balance improves!

But that’s not all; the article goes on to say that 70% of those who work from home ‘dress down’ and that 61% of women and 53% of men work in their PJs. The horror! People who don’t have to leave the house are choosing to wear comfortable clothing. I have never heard the like. Seriously, though – what does your attire have to do with your ability to do your job? As I write this, there is a heatwave here in the UK. Should I still be dressing in suit and blouse, even if I don’t have a video call scheduled today? Or would I work better in shorts and a t-shirt?

The study, however, makes it sound like all these things are problems. As though remote workers are taking liberties, that they are getting away with things that their desk-bound colleagues can’t. And that’s a problem because it creates the idea that working from home is a perk, something to be jealous of. Something to resent.

So our last piece of advice when it comes to responding to this remote working negativity is this; make sure that all your staff knows that your home workers are working. Talk about their contributions, reassure your other staff that, even if the digital nomad did spend an hour or so today at the gym they have still pulled their weight. Talk about the disadvantages of working from home too, and level the playing field.

Remote is the Future

As the telecommuting statistics show, remote working is the future. But it’s a change, and like any changes, there is bound to be some resistance to the unknown. But we spend our days matching up the very best remote development talent with companies that benefit from their abilities. We know that this works and that it can work for you. If you’d like to learn more about what we do, get in touch today.

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Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon

Sarah Dixon is a remote work advocate and thought leader and a specialist in persuasive writing. She has an MA in Creative Fiction, is a children's author, and a writer of award-winning short stories.