Now that we’re about to enter the second year of COVID-19, one thing is apparent—remote work is the future. Although we’re looking into hybrid working environments ideal for every business size, virtual teams, and remote work is the new normal.
Many start-ups and new ventures are also rethinking their business strategies to join and dominate the rapidly shifting market dynamics. Even though industry leaders have developed several frameworks to address the workflow changes in light of this continuing crisis, many ongoing challenges and overall long-term impacts still need to be addressed.
If you’re struggling to establish clear remote work policies for employees working in and out of the office, research-based strategies to overcome these four inherent challenges not only help gain insight but prepare you for the shifting paradigms of conducting business.
Productivity, Motivation, and Communication
Remote work means it’s difficult to figure out if your employees are coping well, or are motivated enough to complete assigned work—without appearing overbearing.
Body language is a powerful tool that often communicates a person’s true feelings even when they’re not vocal about it. However, with virtual teams, most communication happens online through carefully curated emails and work chats, which often fail to convey the frustrations of employees and team members—especially if they don’t want to.
Additionally, working from home is nothing like working from an office where teams have direct contact with their managers and reporting authorities (RAs) multiple times a day and are therefore able to compartmentalize their professional, personal and social life. In remote work, professional becomes personal and the blurring boundaries impact performance, motivation, and overall productivity.
In such scenarios, performance and progress tracking tools can become managers’ best friends. Setting up results-based approaches that look past the number of hours and constant checks on productivity, it becomes simpler to measure every member’s progress or lack thereof. This provides breathing room to employees and prevents RAs from becoming overbearing but it substantially improves a team’s ability to deliver results.
It’s important to consider that performance tracking is only helpful when clear communication lines are established and every member understands their role in the company. To remain compliant, employees also need to know the company’s vision, mission along with who to speak with for support, feedback, and approvals.
Collaboration and Networking
One of the biggest challenges in remote work is managing projects that require collaboration between multiple people or teams across different departments. Lack of coordination doesn’t just overwhelm employees, it also influences people in managerial positions, affecting the overall business and communication strategy of the company.
The ideal way to address this problem is by establishing a clear set of protocols and creating an agenda that allows everyone to connect removing any redundancies. Digital and automation tools can play a critical part in ensuring smooth collaboration, no matter how big the teams are. Anything from project management software to communication platforms, time tracking tools, and CMS add-ins can be effective in simplifying the collaboration and engagement process.
A secondary problem associated with remote collaboration is the lack of company culture. Typically, in collaborative projects, employees come together for training, seminars, weekly meetings, or workshops. This creates a sense of community and employees build connections through networking, none of which is possible through remote collaboration.
While a contained internal event to bring people together under a physical platform may work, it’s difficult to achieve the same results guaranteed in working from the office full time.
Equipment and IT Support
There’s no question that office-based working is inherently different from working from home. Every business is expressly set up—from chairs to desks, software, hardware, ventilation, spacing, internet, equipment, and even lighting—to ensure maximum productivity, comfort, and efficiency.
Even though IT integration has considerably improved, remote workers still face a staggering number of complications related to technology, equipment, and digital systems. Lack of the right equipment, on-demand IT support, and overall infrastructure can bring a time-sensitive project to a complete halt, leaving workers unproductive for days on end – for problems that can be easily fixed within few hours given dedicated support.
Self-Management and Feedback
Professional life offers employees chances to learn and grow. At the same time—as employees adjust to and experiment with dynamic roles—it creates unique challenges, which, if not addressed, can affect progress. Regular feedback in such scenarios can either make or break an employee’s future. However, due to a lack of regular communication and feedback loops in remote work, employees may start to feel like they’ve hit a slump and lose motivation to stay productive.
Since lack of clear feedback can be detrimental to the employee-employer relationship, setting up tools and policies to empower teams to self-manage can be powerful and highly effective. Not only does this addresses the feedback problem, but it also prevents managers and executives from micro-managing their teams when they feel like they’ve lost trust in them. When employees take ownership of their work and accomplishment, they may also feel more accountable for their actions within a bigger team.
Remote work isn’t a new concept, but it presents a fairly radical transformation for companies accustomed to traditional business practices. While executives are still struggling to delegate work, employees are also having trouble understanding who is responsible for what and how the hierarchy works in communication platforms where group chats are open and accessible to anyone.
Companies are adapting to this new working model but to start, executives and managers need to understand the specific challenges that may make remote work demanding. While in the absence of proper training, guidelines, and outlines of the potential issues, employees may experience declines in productivity and performance, the right tools can also provide relief, cutting down work hours and constant need to stay glued to a chair.
One thing is clear, though. If you want to succeed, you’ll have to look internally and make decisions that make the most sense for your team, rather than relying on what others are doing.