Solutions for Long-Term Remote Challenges

By Jessica Sillers

Learning to manage a remote workforce is one of the best silver linings of the pandemic. Offering remote work options can save companies money, reduce or eliminate commuting stress, and aid work/life balance.

But it wouldn’t be truthful to say that the shift to remote work was easy, or even that we’ve all figured it out, almost a year later. As we approach a year of remote work, here’s the best solutions we’ve found to help with common challenges managing a remote team.

Support Employees’ Home Commitments

In the switch to remote work and virtual school, many people lost the boundaries they could usually hold between “employee” and “parent” or caregiver. Some child-free employees who were happy to pick up slack initially may be struggling if they’re still shouldering too much work to cover gaps. Try these ideas to benefit any employee facing distractions or unavoidable home responsibilities (e.g., kids, pets, aging parents, spouse with health issues, etc.).

Make video optional

Meetings are important check-in time, but video-free, muted attendance protects privacy and keeps distractions from affecting the entire team.

Share schedules

Employees juggling caregiving and work need schedule flexibility. Ask which blocks of time they can be available consistently, and share these schedules with the team so everyone knows when they can reliably reach someone they need.

Review project expectations

Promising flexibility without adjusting project parameters is an empty gesture. If you know employees are swamped, see what options exist to extend timelines or cut “nice to have” elements and focus on key essentials.

Be flexible with everyone

If employees with kids get as many accommodations as you can offer and child-free folks don’t, you’re bound to see resentment. Parents will probably need to use flexibility measures more often, but make sure everyone knows that they have your support.

Connect employees in similar situations

Offering opportunities to connect based on life situation (e.g., parents of kids under 5, parents of school-age kids, employees caring for elderly relatives) can foster positive collaboration. Employees can swap tips to stay on top of work or share resources they’ve found helpful.

Improve Communication Infrastructure

Trouble communicating and collaborating is one of the top struggles to overcome in a remote work environment. About 17% of remote employees identified communication as their biggest challenge. Keep communications lines clear with these ideas.

Choose the right platforms

Email is great for some kinds of communication. If you need to share expense data quickly, though, email might not be the best tool. Expense management software that automates categorizing expenses and sending them to finance can improve speed and accuracy.

Share an employee directory

Employees need to know how to reach co-workers across departments.

Put communication in writing

Remote workers may face more distractions at home. They also don’t have the same easy, impromptu access to clarify information with a co-worker. At the beginning of a meeting, ask one person (e.g., the project lead) to note assignments, due dates, and progress markers and email those details to the team.

Use synchronous communication wisely

We all want to stay in touch. But back-to-back meetings and constant instant message pings can make it tough to block out enough uninterrupted time to get work done. You might set a rule of thumb for your team: Aim to respond to instant messages promptly, but reserve discussion of high-level decisions or in-depth feedback for slower mediums like email.

Prioritize one-on-one mentorship

The confidentiality and focused attention of a 1:1 meeting can give you much more powerful insights into your team members’ needs than a mass check-in.

Automate to Reduce Errors and Boost Productivity

Tracking progress and staying on top of essential paperwork can get tricky when you haven’t seen your team face-to-face in months. A routine check-in takes more deliberate work with a remote workforce, so automation can keep things streamlined.

Get asynchronous status updates

You need progress info, but you also want to avoid Zoom fatigue. Instead of a weekly video conference, set up an automated email or instant messaging reminder for employees to send updates on last week’s accomplishments and this week’s plans.

Keep travel planning transparent

Scheduling essential business travel in a pandemic takes extra thought and coordination. Use a tool that can easily share critical details between supervisors, travelers, finance managers, and others who need to be kept informed.

Streamline expense reporting

Manual expense sheets are hard enough to keep organized when you’re working down the hall from one another. Postal delays and lost papers can lead to disaster, but cloud-based solutions can make expense management a cinch. Supervisors use one-tap approval to green-light expenses and automate reimbursement. Employees can scan receipts in seconds with a tool that auto-completes report details, and send reports to the right recipient with a few clicks.

Automate accounting and business forecasting

Expense management tools keep historical data at your fingertips, so you’re in a stronger position to use your individualized numbers to predict what’s coming next for your business.

Remote and hybrid models are likely to be part of the “new normal” for business. Instead of working around remote challenges, work through them to find processes that help your team feel engaged, organized, and productive.

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