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Just five years ago, remote work was considered to be the way of the future, but only the distant future. Most specialized web publications predicted a rise in the popularity of telecommuting, but only in ten years’ time. However, this future arrived much earlier.
Buffer’s research says that 98% of employees would like to have the possibility to work remotely, and 97% consider this to be objectively optimal. The global quarantine at the beginning of 2020 accelerated the process of transferring to the remote work, and many companies continue to work in this way even after the lockdown was canceled.
This situation has become somewhat of a challenge for managers: although the team and the project remained the same, many processes had to be radically changed or even set up from scratch. In this article, we are going to analyze the main problems of managing remote personnel and consider options for solving them.
Fact №1: The number of remote employees is growing with each year. According to FlexJob for 2019, the number of remote workers has grown by 2.5 times over the past 12 years. Although some companies decided to bring their employees back into the office, it is likely that a full or partial transition to remote work will still happen, even if it takes a while. The market is expanding, new startups are appearing, companies are opening representative offices in other regions, new teams are coming into existence. When creating each new company or division, managers consider the pros and cons of both onsite and remote formats, and preference is being given to telecommuting with increasing frequency.
Fact №2: If applying the principles, which were used when working at the office, in personnel management on a remote site, a manager will not be able to fully control a number of processes. Simply said, if a manager doesn’t take the transition to remote work seriously, they risk losing touch with their team and noticing a decrease in productivity, which will only worsen over time. On the other hand, when they understand the problems that the team members are facing and implement the right practices, a PM will be able to reap all the benefits of remote work.
The 2020 survey showed that remote employees are most concerned about the following consequences:
The above-mentioned problems, as well as many other, not obvious ones, lead to a loss of motivation. People stop being passionate about their work: it turns into a routine, sometimes a very painful one. To avoid this effect, a PM should pay special attention to personnel management.
There are many ways to increase the motivation of your team members, improve communication with them, and tune in to common goals. Good managers already know many of these methods; some managers apply them intuitively. Still, it will be useful for every PM to refresh this list in their memory from time to time.
So, here is what a manager can do for their remote-working team:
Perhaps not all of these methods will suit every single company and team. But each PM will probably learn something useful from this list.
Let’s not forget that, along with the right actions, the manager should also demonstrate certain traits. These will not only help motivate employees but also help to earn their respect.
To reinforce these theories with practical experience and real cases, we interviewed our PMs about what methods they use to organize the remote work of their team, and what they consider useful or overrated.
Olga Volkova, a PM on the project of an international platform for taxi sharing (NDA)
As practice shows, remote work is good for introverts who are so disciplined that they are able to work almost without interacting with colleagues at the office. However, discipline is such a thing that even the most exemplary worker may weasel out of it.
It’s important for me to keep in touch with the team. Jokes, discussion of weekends and plans for the evening, and turned-on web cameras help to establish this connection in a team.
We worked with cameras even before the transfer to remote mode, because my teams are very diverse in terms of geography. But now this is another reason to put each other in a better mood: we set stupid backgrounds on Skype, laugh, discuss the news – so it’s like we talked about work and at the same time maintained friendly relationships. And work becomes more fun for everyone.
On my Russian-language project, I organized a small English club twice a week. And half of the team’s 15 members attend it regularly. We improve our English and get to know each other better. There is somehow more mutual trust because of these meetings. I do this not because it is necessary, but because the folks in the teams are really cool; it’s interesting to spend time with them. Sometimes you learn such amazing things about people that you get really surprised and motivated.
About availability 24/7: my team understand that I’m a human being too, not a robot on the other side of the monitor. They won’t bother me after working hours with little things that can surely wait till the next morning. But I also have a realistic attitude to my position and understand that I may be needed at any time. We once discussed jobs by distribution, and army recruitment, and even decided what to give to a beloved girl as a birthday present. But this does not get on my nerves, on the contrary, it’s great that the team is so open and positive.
Yaroslav Gritsyna, a PM at the Andersen CRM project
Communication one-on-one with each member of the team is necessary, and once every 2-3 weeks is more than enough.
A daily call is a must, so the whole team will be aware of the entire project, as the slightest deviations from the original plan will be visible at this stage.
Reports are a very good practice. Customers who are not involved in the development process will be very grateful to see summaries of the development status. 98% (referring to the statistics at the beginning of the article – author’s note) is a bit surprising – is the remote work format really so popular and desired?
Leonid Vysochin, a PM at the EuroFunk project
I don’t agree that one-on-one communication should take place every 2-3 days. It should be done depending on the need, when the PM sees that something is wrong with the person or the person behaves in a nontypical manner. Such frequent one-on-ones will lead to the opposite effect. I recommend doing one-on-ones every month or when necessary.
Also, everyone should understand that there are working hours, and all the tasks assigned to the day should be solved during these working hours. A PM who is available 24/7 pampers both the team and the customer. They will just use you to solve issues whether you are necessary or not. There can be emergencies, of course, but they happen extremely rarely, and you need to be ready for them, but no more than that.
And here is a small life hack that will help improve relations within the team, boost fighting spirit, and make the team even more holistic. You should organize events with prizes for the winners, namely: a competition for the best Skype background during a daily meeting, a competition for the best clothes that a team member will wear for a daily meeting, and other competitions like that.
The main thing is to have fun so that everyone participates with the cameras turned on, speaks, and votes (they can do it anonymously by messaging the PM directly).
And of course, some tasty prize for the winner – pizza, sushi, delivery of some other tasty food, followed by a photo from the winner in a chat with the team.
Sergey Krugley, a PM at Paxful.com project
Along with the morning daily call, we recommend making another regular but shorter group call in the afternoon. This will allow keeping in touch and being aware of each other’s tasks, as well as give a greater sense of involvement.
If the PM can be a career manager for the most promising employees, everyone will benefit from this. Employees will develop, the company will grow rich, and the manager himself will be able to become, like a famous poet once said, “a servant of the king, a father to the soldiers”, i.e. enjoy credibility among the company’s managers and employees.
It is important to maintain communication in the group chat besides working topics and outside of working hours so that relations in the team are not that formal.
If there is a human relationship, many issues are resolved more easily and things go more quickly.
Pay attention to the development of your soft skills and the soft skills of your key employees. These skills are very important for remote management.
It is important to understand that not all employees enjoy the remote mode. As Joel Spolski recommends, include in your team only those people who are smart and get things done, i.e. the intelligent ones and those who don’t need a nanny. And improve your PM professional skills. The skills that are especially important are the skills of conflict resolution, making presentations, thinking one step ahead, and holding distributed meetings – preparation, facilitation, and listening. Among the books about teams, I recommend the book The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization, as well as books by Joel Spolsky.
We hope this selection of techniques for working with employees remotely, as well as the advice of our PMs, will be useful and will help you in your relationship with your team. If you have something to add, write about it in the comments!
Previously published at https://blog.andersenlab.com/en/problems-of-remote/#scroll-block
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