Remote working has many advantages including increased productivity and improved employee well-being. However, when people work from home it does create a set of challenges for business owners.
One of the main ones is the lingering belief that you can’t properly manage people unless they are in the same building. Developing a cohesive culture can also seem more difficult when shared office moments and team meetings occur less frequently. Remote working can also lead to people becoming too self-contained, happy to spend their day alone in their home office and developing feelings of isolation.
These are common issues facing any business that has implemented hybrid working but they are challenges that can be overcome with a little bit of careful thought and planning.
Challenges and solutions
Let’s look at some of the main challenges faced when managing remote workers and the solutions that will ensure you are getting the best out of your hybrid working arrangement.
Challenge – lack of face-to-face supervision
Although the research shows otherwise, some still believe that unsupervised is likely to mean unproductive. The worry is that, instead of focusing on business goals, remote workers could be washing up plates, tending the garden or catching up on the latest Netflix series. It’s also the case that some employees thrive on face to face supervision and a lack of regular access to managerial support may be demotivating.
Solution – structured daily or weekly check-ins
Give people purpose and they will feel supervised wherever they’re working. Set employees project milestones with specific deadlines to give them a greater sense of direction and real feeling of achievement when they reach their goals. Always discuss progress with tasks and any obstacles then brainstorm how to overcome them. Encourage the employee to visit the office on a regular basis for an in-person catch up. This could take place weekly or even monthly depending on the circumstances.
Challenge – no clear expectations
There is always a danger of drift when you don’t see your fellow employees on a daily basis. Job responsibilities may have been clear in the office, but are they clear for remote workers? Do they need to be updated to take into account new circumstances?
Solution – set expectations early and reinforce them
Setting expectations is particularly important when it comes to milestones, priorities and goals for development and progression. Have the proper procedures in place for all workflows and set boundaries regarding working hours and when correspondences should or should not be sent. Be sure to give guidance and clear direction so people know exactly what’s expected from them at all times.
Challenge – worries about low productivity
Most remote workers say they have seen an increase in their productivity while a minority simply aren’t built for it and will always prefer an office. Quite often, low productivity is perceived negatively from the outside without anything concrete to back that up. The issue needs to be handled delicately without being overbearing or looking like a micromanager.
Solution – provide predictability and structure
Certainty is one of the keys to productivity. Make sure you have that certainty by defining clear roles and responsibilities for each person, setting timetables, and keeping everyone advised on who is doing which tasks. Allow people the autonomy to create their own workplace – some may actually prefer a full-time office location. The beauty of hybrid working is that the choice is always available.
Challenge – lack of communication
This is an obvious challenge of remote working but still needs to be addressed. When people are in the office every day, it can be easy to have quick catch ups, stay up-to-date and discuss ideas. This spontaneous face-to-face communication disappears when remote working comes into play. How do you keep people talking and collaborating?
Solution – keep it regular
Do what you can to ensure that communication occurs regularly, even if it’s only a simple catchup between teams at the start of the week. If you are managing people, make yourself available (mark it in your calendar and communicate it) so that people can come to you with problems or questions. Use the video conferencing tech available and don’t forget that online channels such as Slack and Microsoft Teams can also play their role in keeping you all in touch more regularly.
Challenge – reduced team cohesiveness
With a hybrid working model, you may find that there is a disconnect between those that work in an office and those who work remotely. Those working out of office may also feel like in-office staff receive more focus and benefits and progression opportunities. If you’re seen by the business leaders every day you’re more likely to get promoted, right?
Solution – do what you can to make things as fair as possible
However you choose to treat your in-office workers – such as a lunch out – try and find a way to do the same for your remote workers. For example, get pizza delivered to everyone to share over a Zoom call. The reverse is also true as well. If your remote workers have flexible hours, extend that same benefit to your in-office staff. Try to eliminate unconscious bias and make it very clear (with evidence) that being in or out of the office does not have an impact on promotion chances.
Challenge – isolation
Regular interaction with other people is something we take for granted when we head into the office. Loneliness and isolation are common complaints amongst those who work remotely. It can impact people’s mental and physical wellbeing, as well as making them feel disconnected from their place of work. Even if they share a house with a large family, the sense of being apart from everyone else in the business can hit hard. For those who live alone in one small room the problem can be even worse.
Solution – focus on social connection wherever you can
This could be remote interactions, virtual coffee dates, or open a fun chat channel that doesn’t have anything to do with work. Do what you can to ensure a sense of ‘normality’ is maintained. Check in on people regularly – make all line managers aware that isolation can be a serious issue and is something they should monitor. Even a quick hello a few times a week can make the difference. Find out more about relationship building and remote working here.
Challenge – consistent company culture
Company culture takes a while to perfect and depends so much on hiring the right people. It’s a delicate thing, and you don’t want to upset it regardless of your working structure. It will take effort to make sure nothing falls by the wayside when factoring in remote workers.