The Six Biggest Challenges Of Managing A Remote Workforce

A person lying down with their cat, researching the challenges of managing a remote workforce.

With the likes of Yelp, AirBnB, and Spotify moving from hybrid to fully remote work models in the last 18 months, there are clearly big benefits for other businesses to explore. In fact, in a Washington Post interview, Yelp’s co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman went as far as to call hybrid work policies “the worst of three options” and “the hell of half measures”.

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly been the catalyst to bring remote and hybrid workplace models to the forefront of many companies’ agendas. But in reality, remote working has existed for years and will continue as the memories and effects of the pandemic fade.

I’ve been working in IT recruitment since before the pandemic, so I know how attitudes to remote working have shifted and the positive impact remote working can have. But I also know the risks of a remote workforce and the concerns many employers have. This includes possible, irretrievable damage to team culture, a lack of face-to-face interaction, deteriorating cohesiveness between colleagues, and an absence of innovation.

In this blog, I’ll explore six of the biggest challenges of managing a remote workforce, and will discuss how companies can overcome them.

Six Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce

Lack of communication

Businesses must take on the challenges of managing a remote workforce, and acknowledge that office-based workers have the ability to stay up to date and collaborate with their colleagues – whether that’s in-person meetings, conversations at their desks or ‘water cooler’ chat. In comparison, a remote workforce is at a clear disadvantage, with a lack of spontaneous face-to-face conversations and collaborations. Instead, most forms of communication are planned in advance. There is something to be said for just being able to pop over to someone’s desk to ask them a question, instead of having to call them and go through pleasantries before asking a simple question.

Businesses must take on the challenges of managing a remote workforce directly, putting plans in place to ensure that regular communication occurs. On a team level, this should include managers blocking out certain times of the day so that they are available for short sessions with remote employees, and ensuring daily or weekly catch-ups are always diarised.

With a survey suggesting that almost 60% of fully remote workers do not receive important information because it is delivered in-person, businesses must acknowledge the challenges of managing a remote workforce and ensure that company-wide communications are accessible to all workers. Some businesses choose to consult with communications specialists in order to ensure that all of their staff – whether remote or office-based – get the same experience and level of communication from their employer. Others create company communications plans that centre around weekly company newsletters or regular ‘town hall’ sessions.

 

Low productivity

Many remote workers discuss how their productivity increases while working at home, however, some employees simply do not suit working remotely. These kinds of employees struggle to work without in-person supervision. Then there are individuals who work well at home, but perhaps do not have the right workspace, or they have additional distractions that aren’t found in an office. Things like dogs, childcare etc.

Businesses looking to hire hybrid or fully remote workers must take this into consideration during the hiring process. Choosing to hire someone who has little experience of working remotely should be carefully considered too.

I would encourage employers to discuss these aspects of remote work with their employees. Ideally, this would be done at interview stage, but during onboarding or the rollout of a new remote or hybrid workplace model would be fine too.

Some remote workers have reported feeling like their office-based colleagues perceive that they aren’t working as hard because they can’t see them. This negative perception is unlikely to be the case, but it could have a negative effect on an employee’s mental health, or impact how productive their line manager believes they are.

Businesses must take this negative perception into account when taking on hybrid and fully remote workers, and educate their managers on how to lead their remote workforce effectively to negate low productivity. This should include creating a work structure with defined tasks and responsibilities, achievable goals and timelines, and regular communications (meetings, check-ins etc.).

Some businesses choose to provide a remote work stipend in order to negate any issues around not having a suitable workspace. Employees can choose to purchase desks, chairs, stationary, additional screens etc. Anything which supports them in working productively.

 

Dilution of team culture

Google publicly noted that one of their biggest challenges in managing a remote workforce is the potential for employees to become disillusioned with the organisation. In their annual 10-K report, Google also noted how ‘office life’ could become the sole focus of their corporate culture.

The best way for companies to avoid the dilution of team culture is to ensure their company’s values and target culture are defined and embedded throughout. However, team culture can be challenging to reinforce, whatever the workplace model. Shockingly, 60% of workers cannot fully agree on what their company’s mission is whilst being office-based. Therefore, it’s easy to recognise how team culture could become ambiguous with a remote workforce. Some remote workers might fail to understand what their company stands for completely.

I see this as a unique opportunity for companies to conduct a review of their current culture and adapt it to their workplace model – whether that’s hybrid or fully remote. Businesses need to put together a team of individuals who will take responsibility for adapting and defining the current culture and setting out goals to reach it. This could include things like highlighting the company’s values, purpose, and mission in relation to day-to-day tasks. For instance, I know of multiple businesses that established that the office is a place for collaboration, creativity and innovation, whilst working remotely is for engrossing work that involves deep thought and concentration.

This process will differ between organisations, but I’d suggest holding round table discussions with participants who represent the entire organisation, including office-based, remote, and hybrid workers. The discussions would involve evaluating which elements of their team culture they want to maintain and nurture, and which they can begin to forget.

 

Lack of positive relationships

When employees work on a hybrid or fully remote basis, emails and calls are likely to be the only way they communicate and interact with their colleagues. Social cues like body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice tend to play a big part in formulating meaningful conversations and relationships. Therefore, one of the challenges of managing a remote workforce is the restrictions around employees building significant relationships with each other.

Why should this concern employers? After all, employees are employed to work, not make friends. But Microsoft’s Work trend index, which surveyed 31,000 employees and managers in 31 countries, indicated that 43% of leaders found relationship-building to be the biggest challenge they faced.

Gallup’s survey of more than 15 million employees is telling as to why employee relationships concern business leaders. Gallup found that individuals with a ‘best’ work buddy are ‘seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, (and) produce higher quality work’ compared to those without. OC Tanner’s Global Culture 2022 report had similar findings. It suggested that employees who felt high levels of connection with each other were 8 times more likely to produce excellent work, and business results were generally 11 times more positive.

 

Feelings of isolation

Although working remotely can make life easier in a multitude of ways, one of the challenges of managing a remote workforce is recognising that remote working can have an adverse effect on employees’ mental health, and knowing how to navigate it remotely.

Working from home can cause workers to feel isolated, leading to increased stress levels and anxiety. Above I mentioned how almost 60% of fully remote workers do not receive important information because it is delivered in-person. It’s easy to imagine how disconcerting that must be for individuals who experience this and what it could lead to.

A recent survey of over 1,000 workers found that ‘a lack of close contact with people inhibits the formation of trust, connection, and mutual purpose — three ingredients of a healthy social system.’

The survey concluded that by managers successfully utilising 7 techniques, there’s a higher chance that ‘out of sight’ employees will not lead to being left out:

  • Check in frequently and consistently
  • Use face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact
  • Demonstrate exemplary communication skills
  • Make expectations explicit
  • Be available
  • Demonstrate familiarity and comfort with technology
  • Prioritise relationships

 

Increased training time

Training and L&D can be a challenge when managing a remote workforce. It’s important to acknowledge that remote training does have certain limitations for learners, trainers and businesses alike, which can mean more time needs to be set aside for it.

Common challenges associated with training remote workers includes:

  • Having to rely on technology for delivering the training. Issues can include employees having a bad internet connection, losing power on the day, their microphone or camera not working correctly, or particular pieces of equipment not arriving with the employee in time for the training.
  • Keeping remote employees engaged in the training content. With in-person training, there are far less opportunities to get distracted. Whereas, when being trained remotely, many employees struggle with staying fully focused. This might be because of emails and calls coming through, neighbours ringing the doorbell or the dog barking to be let out in the garden etc.
  • Scheduling training sessions with workers in different time zones. Although individual training can often be completed at a time that works for the employee, group training can often cause scheduling issues with workers.

Acknowledging the challenges associated with training a remote workforce is the best place to start. From there, companies can develop a remote training programme to suit their employees. This will include developing engaging content, choosing the right platform for delivery, and evaluating the practical challenges their employees might have.

 

Remote working is here to stay. Therefore, I strongly recommend businesses acknowledge the challenges of managing a remote workforce, and look to determine how best to support their remote workers. After all, in my humble opinion, the benefits of hiring remote workers outweigh the negatives. It’s just about having the right infrastructure and company-wide mentality in place.

At VIQU, we regularly support businesses of all shapes and sizes who are looking for support in the hiring of hybrid and fully remote IT professionals. Please click here to get in touch.

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