It’s Not All Sunshine and Rainbows: The Challenges of Managing Remote Teams

Sandra Petrova

Remote Work Researcher

So you’ve been thinking of giving your team the option to work remotely from time-to-time, or full-time. Congrats! That’s an amazing idea!

As you’re probably aware by now, managing distributed teams is not all sunshine and rainbows. If you type “remote work” on Google, you’ll find a plethora of fun images of employees sitting on a beach working and excited managers collaborating flawlessly with their team. Unfortunately, real life is never as it’s shown on images.

That’s why the aim of this article is not to sell the dream of remote work. We’re 100% convinced that remote work is the most amazing work structure for employees and companies. But what this article aims to investigate are the real-life challenges of managing distributed teams. Let’s dive in!

The Challenge of Establishing a Collaborative Culture

Imagine this scenario. You have an important article to complete today. You’ve sent tons of messages to your content manager, but he’s nowhere to be found. And you can’t complete your work without his help. To make things worse, you can’t simply walk into his office and ask for his assistance as he lives 2765 km away from you. Lacking an immediate response, you get frustrated, angry, and your productivity suffers.

Unfortunately, this is an everyday issue of remote teams. The normal pace of conversations is distorted as the distance gets in between. The engineering team is in San Francisco, the marketing team in London and customer support is in Poland. Meaning, establishing a collaborative culture can be quite a challenge.

How your remote team collaborates will dictate the health of your company. Your remote workers need regular contact with one another in order to feel connected, establish effective relationships, and develop trust.

This is how we at Adeva work on improving and maintaining a good collaborative culture:

  1. We came to an agreement about which are the right methods of communication. We chose Slack, Asana and Zoom for our long-distance communication.
  2. Face-to-face communication is critical to us. We tend to communicate face-to-face at least once every two weeks.
  3. Instant messaging helps us make decisions in real-time.
  4. We use email to deliver company-wide news and updates.
  5. During onboarding meetings, we make directions clear and make sure everyone on the team knows what they’re responsible for.
  6. We love celebrating accomplishments. The tool we use is called HeyTaco.
  7. We have virtual team-building activities in place that give people the opportunity to interact regularly.

The Challenge of Making Employees Feel Included

There’s this amazing article that dives into the concept of “social pain”. Although it might sound like something philosophical or poetic, neuroscientists believe that it’s something real and crucial for people’s happiness. It’s been found that social pain activates the exact same brain regions as physical pain. It can be caused due to rejection or feeling excluded from social activities.

These discoveries hint to the fact that not getting the social vibe of a group can have a significant negative impact on remote workers’ mental health. If your employees feel like they’re not part of your company culture, their engagement and productivity might suffer.

We’re constantly building a different world of ourselves. But sometimes during our progress, we forget about our mental health and its importance for a healthy life. Remote workers meet fewer people in person, communicate mostly online, and some of them even live in a foreign country.

Another study by Buffer dives into this same issue with inclusivity. It found that 19% of remote employees struggle with loneliness. Unlike what we might see on Facebook or Instagram, remote work isn’t working on the beach in Bali and drinking mojitos. It’s feelings of anxiety, isolation, and depression.

We at Adeva talked to our remote workers and put together a list of possible solutions for the challenge of making employees feel more included and less lonely. This is what we’d like to suggest:

  • Use face-to-face communication with your employees more often.
  • Take full advantage of communication tools like Slack or Zoom.
  • Put time aside during meetings for “water cooler” conversation so that the whole team can strengthen their interpersonal relationships.
  • Ask your remote team regularly about workload and progress. Make sure you avoid micromanaging.
  • If something meaningful happens at your offices, share your company news with the team.
managing remote teams

The Challenge of Project Management

Managing a project, especially with geographically distributed teams, is like taking a dog for a walk. If you turn your back for a second, he will be rolling in the dirt or eating stuff off the ground. Remote teams, just like your dog, need proper management.

When you’re a manager of an in-office team, project management is simpler. You gather everyone in the conference room and talk about current development. But when managing a remote team, the conference room has to happen online with the help of communication and collaboration tools.

You can’t expect tasks and responsibilities for your remote employees to assign themselves. You need a system in place for checking in on the project status and keeping everyone in sync. Some of the best project management tools include

  • Asana. Managing projects is fairly easy with Asana. You can track your distributed team and its progress in order to reach successful results.
  • Trello. Trello is another great project management tool for remote teams. The tool comes with many functionalities, including file attachments, adding comments, and assigning collaborators.
  • JIRA. JIRA is a super amazing project management tool for agile teams. Its most popular features are the Kanban and Scrum boards.
  • Basecamp. Basecamp is another project management software for managing distributed teams. It allows remote employees to work together, supports company-wide communication, and provides spaces for task management.

Team Building Challenges

Managing remote teams means an extra layer of complexity when it comes to team building activities. When the entire team is located in one place, working together is extremely easy. You can simply organize fun and engaging team building activities at the office or at a venue in town. Forming new relationships and building trust comes very naturally. You share drinks together, joke about what happened at that meeting last week, and even share a ride home. A truly amazing team building day!

But how do you manage team building activities when you have a distributed team? You can’t invite everyone to come over at one location every few weeks. That would be time-consuming and pricey for you and your employees. What’s more, although remote work is gaining more and more popularity each year, 65% of remote workers report that they have never had a team-building session.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to establish good team building practices in remote teams and overcome the team building challenges. Being a remote company ourselves that’s spread across various countries, time-zones, and cultures, we had to look for online team-building activities that will bring the team closer together on a personal note. Over the last several years, we’ve practiced many remote team building activities and picked the best ones for you. Let’s dive in:

The Desk Photo Contest

Ask everyone to take a picture of their workplace and snap a photo.

The Funniest Photo Contest

Everyone sends the funniest photo they’ve seen in a while.

Name Your Favorite Thing

In this game, everyone on the remote team needs to name their favorite thing. You can choose a topic like “my favorite thing to eat”, or “my favorite thing to do on a Friday night”. Ask team members to find an image and upload it to Slack together with a short description.

What I Love Most About My Country

Encourage everyone to share a short story about what they love most about the place they were born.

A Tour Guide

Why not schedule an actual tour of each remote employee’s location? They can show their office space, their home or a cool co-working space. They can even livestream their city.

Alien Alert

Invite the team for a conference on Zoom. Tell them to imagine this scenario: aliens landed on Earth and their goal is to spy on your company. How will the team act to save it from a disaster?

managing remote teams

In Conclusion

There are many myths surrounding the management of distributed teams. Some people say that it’s too difficult to manage complex projects with a globally distributed team. Others say that agile teams need to be co-located in order to get the work done fast.

What these people don’t know is that nothing is impossible when you have the right framework in place. With proper project management, good collaboration tools, and smart team building activities, distributed teams can be more high-performing, engaged, and creative than their in-office counterparts.

To sum up, the most common challenges of managing remote workers include:

  • The challenge of establishing a collaborative culture;
  • The challenge of making employees feel included;
  • Team building challenges;
  • The challenge of project management;