Even before the pandemic, remote work was on the upswing. Encouraged by expanded access to a global talent pool (and the savings on office space 😉), many companies began hiring people from around the world, across different time zones and cultures.
Then, as the pandemic kicked the working-from-home revolution into high gear, managers and employees found themselves in unfamiliar territory. They struggled with team accountability, productivity, and employee engagement when teams were distributed rather than centralized in one office.
If these struggles are your struggles, this guide is for you. We’ll cover some of the biggest challenges of remote work management and how to solve them.
Challenge #1: Building relationships
When you’re in an in-person work environment, it’s easy for employees to build relationships. That’s not the case for remote employees, as one of the key challenges for remote teams is fostering positive relationships.
Whether during a break or around the water cooler, in-person employees build connections organically through small talk and face-to-face interactions.
This isn’t possible for remote workers. According to a survey by Smartsheet, more than 75% of all remote team members feel less connected than they did pre-COVID. For Gen Z and millennials, that figure is as high as 81%.
If people on your team feel disconnected and isolated, their motivation and engagement will suffer. This isn’t great for teamwork or retention.
Solution: Schedule remote team-building activities
To minimize distant relationships between remote workers, managers need to take an active role in creating meaningful relationships between team members.
Some great remote team-building activities include an end-of-workday virtual happy hour or midday coffee break. But if you want to integrate team-building exercises into your existing meetings to save time, dedicate a time for casual conversation during recurring meetings (like weekly or monthly team meetings).
A study by Rutgers University found that office small talk has a significant positive effect on employees’ mental state, so don’t underestimate the importance of simple conversation time (or Slack banter). You don’t need to plan a big event to have a big impact.
Challenge #2: Overcoming video-call fatigue
Even with Slack channels and good project management software, live communication through video conferencing tools is often the best option. Events like kickoff meetings or sprint reviews just don’t cut it as an email, either.
While virtual meetings won’t go out of style any time soon, hosting endless video meetings can drain the lifeblood of your team and actually make them less productive. Experts call this Zoom fatigue, which refers to the exhaustion you feel after long video calls with several people.
(If you want to take a fun break from reading this article, check out our post on Zoom memes.)
Solution: Commit to meeting agendas
First, make sure you’re meeting only when necessary. (You know when a meeting could have been an email.) When you don’t need to meet, use asynchronous communication instead.
For the meetings you do need, always provide attendees with a clear meeting agenda—and set action items at the end of the meeting. If a meeting isn’t producing clear action items, then cut it to avoid having too many meetings.
Vowel is a great way to send thoughtful meeting agendas and keep track of action items. These features are built into the app, so you won’t need any additional tools. And you can send the meeting agenda together with the meeting invite without worrying about separate docs and links.
Challenge #3: Boosting employee morale
It’s easier for remote workers to feel disconnected and isolated, which can ultimately affect their morale. Managing morale is tricky because there’s no in-person interaction between managers and employees.
In an office, it’s easy to pull someone aside and check in on them. It’s more difficult to identify issues, whether work- or home-related, in a remote environment. When employees don’t get enough communication and feedback from managers, they might start to feel out of touch with the rest of the company and team.
Solution: Boost morale with regular one-on-one meetings
Make sure employees feel heard with open two-way communication. Weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with your team members are the best way to set this foundation.
This real-time communication will uncover issues and roadblocks in a way that project management software and messaging apps can’t. During a one-on-one, an employee and their manager can share direct and candid feedback about any issues they’ve encountered.
Challenge #4: Sustaining productivity levels
We’ve all procrastinated at the office now and then, whether through extended conversations or scrolling social media. But when we work from home, the distractions can add up: half an hour to wash the dishes, fifteen minutes of vacuuming, or that “quick” trip to the gym during work hours.
That said, according to a poll by TalkTalk Group, 58% of workers say they’re more productive when working remotely. Great news, but that still leaves 42% of remote workers who struggle with productivity and motivation.
Solution: Share tips with the team and use the right tools
Crowdsource some productivity tips by hosting a virtual lightning lunch – an informal knowledge-sharing session during which each team member shares their own productivity hacks for five minutes. Ask your team members ahead of time to prepare a few productivity tips and tricks to share with everyone.
If you use Vowel to host your virtual sessions, you can record them and get a real-time transcription, so you get a great meeting recap. That way, all those amazing tricks to boost productivity won’t be forgotten.
With Vowel, you can also bookmark key moments and useful tips mentioned in a call, so everyone can reference them later. Coming out of the session, use the meeting notes to create a reference document that of productivity-boosting tools such as timers and website blockers.
Challenge #5: Building team accountability
A common challenge for remote companies is managing team accountability. According to the Harvard Business Review, 41% of managers are “skeptical as to whether remote workers can stay motivated in the long term.” This isn't great!
In an on-site work environment, managers can easily check in with their colleagues in person. That’s not an option for remote workers.
Solution: Have regular check-ins
We recommend that remote-team managers hold regular check-in video meetings with employees. The objective isn’t to micromanage but to set clear goals for your entire team so you can remove roadblocks and build trust.
Most companies choose to hold these meetings daily or weekly, but you can choose the frequency that works best for your team and workflow.
When you run check-in meetings with Vowel, you can keep all your related meetings in shared folders for easy reference. Assign action items that meeting attendees can access from their dashboard, for easy tracking.
Challenge #6: Battling isolation
Working from home means working alone (for some people—others have families, which is a different consideration entirely). For those who like the kind of team bonding that happens naturally in a shared workspace, being alone is, well, lonely. We’re social animals, after all!
The negative mental health effects of isolation can spill over into the remote workplace. Loneliness takes its toll on happiness and motivation, and engagement and productivity suffer.
Solution: Invest in team cohesion
The good news is that even in a partially or fully remote workplace, there are ways to boost team bonding and cohesion.
Hold video-conference team events with team-building games. Run off-site activities specifically designed for team bonding. Off-sites may be more expensive than virtual activities, but even if they happen infrequently, they let the entire team meet in person and forge real connections.
Challenge #7: Cultivating company culture
A strong and transparent company culture creates a sense of belonging and fosters good relationships throughout the organization. The pay-off? Employee satisfaction, retention, and better performance.
Creating and nurturing that kind of culture is hard work but especially in remote settings, which lack the in-person interactions that form the foundation of any organization's culture.
Solution: Run strong all-hands meetings
Transparency is a must for a healthy company culture. The best way to create transparency is to organize all-hands meetings where leadership members can keep the rest of the team updated on all important company goals and activities.
Town hall meetings are also a great option for cultivating a strong company culture. Unlike the all-hands, which are top-down, town hall meetings are an opportunity for everyone to ask questions and feel heard.
Tip: If you’re running a town hall meeting and need help structuring it, use our free town hall meeting template.
Challenge #8: Promoting work-life balance
When your workplace is where you live, the boundaries between work and free time can become blurred. According to a recent study by Zippia, “The number of remote workers who said they work over 40 hours a week was 43% higher than those who said the same and worked in an office.”
Solution: Invest in employee well-being
To promote work-life balance, managers need to first lead by example. Make sure you’re not sending out unnecessary messages on a Sunday afternoon or setting the expectation that employees need to respond immediately.
If you’re using a project management tool, watch for people who are regularly working longer hours. If you find that someone is constantly ignoring work-life balance, schedule a one-on-one meeting to see what’s going on and offer tips for better time management and avoiding burnout. Be prepared to cut back on their workload as a solution.
And be careful about forcing virtual team-building activities: If there are team members who avoid participating, it may be for a good reason.
Tip: Proactivity is the key takeaway here – don’t expect people to come to you on their own, but don’t pry into personal matters either.
Challenge #9: Managing communication
Communication is key for successful teamwork and achieving common goals. Put in the effort to understand how each of your team members prefer to be communicated with.
One person might prefer emails, others go for apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams, while some people might prefer a quick call.
On the other hand, if team members use different communication platforms for the same purposes, things can get out of hand quickly. Too many modes of communication can zap productivity and confuse people.
Solution: Set clear communication policies
A communication policy sets expectations for the communication of an entire team. A policy typically includes a list of tools and apps for messaging and task tracking. Make it clear which app should be used for which activity, and put it in a central and easy-to-access place.
Here's a quick look at what Vowel's communication policy looks like in Notion — there are sections for docs, Slack, calendar, email, and meetings.
Consider involving your team in the drafting of the policy as a way to get buy-in and make sure people use the right tools.
And don’t forget to write inclusivity standards for communication to prevent certain people from monopolizing conversations without even knowing it.
Challenge #10: Avoiding micromanagement
Nobody likes micromanagers. In a traditional office, these are the managers who are constantly looking over their colleagues’ shoulders.
In a remote workplace, they are the managers who require multiple daily check-ins and constantly bombard people with Slack messages.
The urge to micromanage is understandable: it comes from the need to monitor productivity and make sure everything is running smoothly. But it makes people uncomfortable at best and disrupts their productivity at worst.
Solution: Measure outcomes, not hours
If your team is regularly meeting deadlines and the communication is clear, there’s no need to micromanage at all.
In general, the best way to avoid micromanaging is to focus on outcomes and results, not on hours spent on projects and tasks. If you focus on results, you’ll soon be able to spot patterns in deliverables and judge the areas of improvement for each team member.
Also: Ditch the time-trackers and other tools that make employees feel watched and unworthy of trust. Remember — you hired them for a reason.
Create a better remote culture
Remote work offers many perks, for employees, managers, and companies. No commutes, more flexibility, and a global workforce. But these benefits also come with challenges that any good remote manager must address.
Virtual meetings are one of the pillars of remote work, so having a robust and full-featured meeting and collaboration tool can truly make a difference.
With Vowel, you can:
Work across time zones: Team members who are invited to meetings outside their working hours automatically get the summary, recording, transcript + notes.
Get better at async communication: Turn your meetings into a searchable, shareable knowledge base; use clips to provide instant context into a technical issue, decision, or user insight.
Reduce the number of tools in your tech stack: Fewer tools = less cognitive load. Keep meeting agendas, notes, actions items, and more in the place you host your meetings.
Promote better meeting habits: Make every meeting more inclusive and engaging with talk time percentages, emojis (including custom emojis!), hand raises, and comments.
To see how it all works, sign up now for free.