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Studies show you shouldn’t be worried about managing remote teams.

woman taking notes about managing remote teams

For better or for worse, remote work is here to stay. In wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers have collectively swapped long commutes and blazers for home offices and sweatpants — and for the most part, working remotely has its advantages. Teleworking offers greater flexibility than a traditional 9 to 5 does, boosting employee morale and productivity to boot.

Managers, on the other hand, are facing a growing number of concerns regarding remote work. With less happening in physical space to collaborate in or keep tabs on employees, some managers are stressed that remote work has actually changed work culture for the worse.

While their fears are valid, the reality is that remote work can actually lead to greater output and employee engagement if leveraged strategically.

What’s Got Remote Managers So Stressed Out?

Many of us would agree that working from the couch is awesome, but some managers aren’t so thrilled. The challenges associated with leading remote teams effectively are real, and we hear you! However, plenty of research shows that these fears are actually unfounded, as we’ll dive into in the sections below. Here’s what remote managers are worried about, and how to mitigate those fears with some simple, strategic action.

Fear #1: Their employees aren’t actually working.

If you doubt your employees aren’t working at home, you’re not alone. 38% of respondents in a recent Harvard Business Review study reported they’re afraid remote workers actually perform worse than those who work in an office. It’s normal for managers to be anxious about their employees’ output and productivity. However, the fear of employees slacking off while WFH has tangible consequences. 

Managers who distrust their employees’ work ethic often turn to micromanagement instead of results-oriented management. While smothering employees with virtual check-ins and phone calls may absolve some of the manager’s fears, it creates anxiety for employees, leading to higher stress and lesser output. When managers pick up on the fact that their employees aren’t performing, they continue to micromanage, and so the vicious cycle continues. 

Clearly, believing your remote employees are kicking back and watching Netflix instead of actually working doesn’t benefit anyone. Instead of giving in to those anxieties, managers should focus on creating a culture of trust that empowers employees to work autonomously. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being babysat at work — and if employees don’t feel like they’re trusted by their supervisors, their performance and well-being alike will suffer.

Granting employees autonomy doesn’t mean letting them fend for themselves entirely, either. Instead of checking up on employees to micromanage them, managers should shift to checking in on employees, making themselves available to offer information, guidance, and support as projects move along. When workers have more autonomy, managers are able to focus on employee output versus input. 

Fear #2: Productivity will nosedive.

Many managers express concern that their employees aren’t as productive at home as they are in the office. Generally, that’s untrue — though there are some people who are more productive when there’s a clear boundary between work and home. It’s a good idea to invest in decent equipment, such as a work laptop and/or phone, for employees who require a more distinct boundary. 

Overall, however, remote workers are actually more productive at work than they are in the office. A recent study concluded that remote employees worked 30 hours or 1.4 more days each month at home. On those workdays, they spent more time getting things done. 

This uptick in productivity for remote employees can be attributed to a few things. For one, it’s easier for those WFH to take breaks without fear of backlash, which is vital to productivity. Working from home also enables employees to work with minimal distractions that might be present in an office space. (Think about that one coworker who’d always poke their head into your office “just to chat”…for thirty minutes at a time.)

Though it’s easy to fear working from home kills productivity, the truth is that employees are more productive when they’re allowed ample break time and space to focus on mission-critical tasks.

Fear #3: Digital security will be under threat.

Managers have every right to be concerned about their employees’ digital security. With more devices online than ever, it’s becoming easier for hackers to target and breach vulnerable endpoints. What’s more, managers are concerned that IT teams won’t be able to fix problems in person or guarantee the security of every network for remote teams. But just because your workforce is fully remote doesn’t mean it’s any less secure. 

Remote security options exist, and managers should be prepared to take advantage of them. For starters, managers should ensure their employees use cloud-based applications at work, such as Google Drive or Microsoft Teams. According to cybersecurity firm Norton, data stored on cloud-based applications is far more secure than files stored on personal devices. The cloud is also easier for IT teams to monitor and access should issues arise.

Managers can also encourage their teammates to use VPNs to hide their personal IP addresses. This creates a secure channel for accessing, downloading, or uploading information that may be sensitive. Furthermore, IT teams can require dual authentication logins for important accounts and establish encrypted communication tools. 

Fear #4: Remote work takes a toll on communication.

Managers worry that efficient communication is impossible while working remotely. When teams work in an office, it’s easy to jump into a conference room and hash out ideas in person. Of course, communication looks a bit different in remote work environments, but by no means does it need to suffer. 

Thanks to tools like Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and email, it’s very easy to get in touch with colleagues, even if they’re not right next door. Keep in mind, however, that establishing expectations about how and when to communicate with colleagues is crucial to productivity. It can be tempting to fire off a quick question over Slack, but saving it for one end-of-day email or scheduled Zoom call can keep your team from being bombarded with notifications and getting distracted.

Fear #5: Company culture could suffer.

People are the most important part of a company’s culture. It’s your people who uphold your values and create systemic changes when needed. So without people physically present with one another in an office, how does company culture survive? 

This concern is a legitimate one if companies aren’t careful, as 100% remote work can completely isolate employees from company culture. That’s why managers should be proactive about maintaining organizational culture, even within a remote team. Virtual retreats and workshops are a fantastic way for employees to examine how their skills and values align with those of the company. Keep employees updated and connected with each other, maybe by sending weekly newsletters via email or in shared Slack channels for common interests.

It’s also possible to keep employees connected to culture via a company intranet. Intranets provide a virtual space for employees to communicate with each other, whether that means sharing pictures, giving weekend updates, or sending insightful articles they found scrolling their news feed. Intranets bridge the gap between the physical office and the folks working remotely, keeping employees connected to their colleagues and company culture regardless of where they’re working.  

You may also consider implementing a hybrid work environment to get people in the office at least once or twice a week, if possible. Connecting people face-to-face will bolster company culture and keep people aligned with the company mission, even as they head back to working from home.

Fear #6: Employees could become isolated and disconnected.

Loneliness and isolation are real side effects of the pandemic. Without a team physically present to collaborate with, managers are worried that their employees will lack the focus and engagement needed to perform. 

Luckily, most employees who work outside of the office tend to reach out proactively to build relationships with their coworkers. Managers can also be proactive in engaging employees with monthly team-building exercises or virtual after-work happy hours. These kinds of events should occur via video calls so employees get to connect face-to-face. It’s also best practice for managers to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with their employees, fortifying the relationship and establishing trust. 

Fear #7: New employees won’t get the training they need to succeed.

Virtual onboarding and training can be tough, but it’s not impossible. The pandemic’s onset brought about new technologies for implementing digital training, and so far, they’ve proven to be pretty effective. 

Learning management systems (or LMS) are virtual training programs in which employers can deliver and monitor training content in one centralized platform. They give managers a glance at how new employees are progressing and provide insight on how to fill potential knowledge gaps. Investing in adequate training not only creates high-performing employees but also improves employee satisfaction and reduces turnover. 

The Takeaway

The pandemic has introduced new work challenges to everyone, especially managers. It’s easy to get swept away by fears of faltering productivity or isolated employees. Rest assured, however, that remote work is proving to increase productivity and employee satisfaction in the long run.

IT teams are prepared to secure remote employee networks. And yes, your employees are working, even if they’re not directly under your nose. Approaching remote teams with trust — as well as the right digital communication and training tools — is key to weathering the storm that is remote work. Good luck out there, managers. We know you can do it!