Challenge 3: Productivity
Low productivity is an obvious risk when employees work outside of a traditional office. In an environment without day-to-day oversight, some team members may not use their time wisely. On the other hand, certain employees risk burnout when working remotely due to a lack of boundaries.
Solution: Ensure Accountability
Without invading privacy, the best way to ensure everyone’s doing their job is to set clear expectations for each role and have regular check-ins to gauge progress. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to work at the same pace, but you should have a general idea of how long tasks take and how much each person is accomplishing week by week, if not day by day.
You might also find it’s necessary to have team members track their hours using a tool like Harvest or Toggl*, particularly for those who do client work, because it gives you a clear sense of billable hours spent.
Even for those who don’t perform work for clients, tracking hours provides an unparalleled level of transparency. By seeing how long it takes to complete certain jobs, you are able to set baseline expectations that are useful for both current and future roles.
Solution: Form Supportive Structures
Be sure to pay attention to your best performers as much as you do the rest of your team. These may be the people at risk of overworking themselves. Without the clear boundaries that office life provides, the go-getters on your team may have workdays that never end, setting themselves up for exhaustion and resentment toward the company.
Encourage your staff to keep regular business hours and take advantage of their paid time off. Check in if you suspect someone is burning the midnight oil. Erratic or moody behavior, emails sent at odd times, and a drop in work quality are all signs that a remote worker needs to take a breather.
Conduct regular one-one-ones with each team member to not only hold them accountable for performance, but also to check in on workload and support needed.
Solution: Develop Processes
Many teams may find daily stand-ups—a.k.a. daily scrums or huddles—are essential to fostering productivity, transparency, and collaboration. Having an informal group check-in each day keeps the team on the same page and holds everyone accountable for their daily tasks and ongoing projects.
In addition to group check-ins, make it a rule for managers to set up one-to-one time with their direct reports every month or quarter. This takes the stress out of a sudden request for a meeting, and gives employees a designated time to talk about their progress or any issues they might be having at work.
Devising a Game Plan
“Managing a virtual team can be challenging, but addressing those challenges head-on is worth the effort,” said Julie Wilson.
When you overcome the challenges, you'll enjoy the rewards of leading a cohesive virtual team—i.e. setting goals and reaching them; watching your team members develop and lean into their strengths; and benefiting from a healthy team dynamic that ensures the right decisions are made and implemented.
The challenges and solutions discussed in this post are complex, so approach any changes methodically and seek outside counsel if needed. Wilson and Stine’s Professional Development Program, Managing Virtual Teams for High Performance, provides you with a roadmap to building a remote team that functions at the highest level.
*Disclaimer: Mentions of any proprietary tools or software are merely examples and do not constitute endorsements by Harvard University or any of its subsidiaries.