The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted labor markets globally during 2020. The short-term consequences were sudden and often severe: Millions of people were furloughed or lost jobs, and others rapidly adjusted to working from home as offices closed. Many other workers were deemed essential and continued to work in hospitals and grocery stores, police stations, and warehouses, yet under new protocols to reduce the spread of the virus.
The most apparent impact of COVID-19 on the labor force is the dramatic increase in employees working remotely. The pandemic pushed companies and employees to rapidly adopt new behaviors that are likely to stick, forever changing the workplace trajectory.
We are entering (hopefully) the post-pandemic phase, and millions of people are reassessing the relationships to their jobs. As we know it, the office was created after World War II, on a military model - strict hierarchies created by men for men, assuming that there is a wife to handle duties at home. But after years of gradual change and evolution, there’s a growing realization that the model is broken.
According to Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, we should brace ourselves as “The great resignation is coming.” The true significance isn’t what people are leaving; it’s what they are going toward. In a surprising phenomenon, employees are not just abandoning jobs but switching professions.
Millions of people have spent the past year re-evaluating their priorities. Do they want to switch careers? How much time do they want to spend in an office? Where do they want to live if they can work remotely? For many, now it’s time to redefine what is work.
Remote work is on the rise. While having the ability to work from outside of an office has been feasible for a few decades, working remotely is only now becoming mainstream.
What is remote working?
Remote work describes a professional environment where employees can work from home or any other location outside a traditional physical office environment. It is based on the concept that work does not need to be done in a specific place to be executed successfully.
Frequently, that involves creating a workspace at home. However, working remotely can extend beyond the confines of your living space. For example, remote work is a popular option for “digital nomads” who spend their time working while also traveling full-time. In this case, instead of working out of a home office, they work out of hotels, beach clubs, coffee shops, or even airport lounges.
Previously, working remotely was challenging - mainly because of technology and resource constraints. Now, collaboration tools like Slack have built the bridge over the technology gap, enabling more people to work remotely and collaborate on the go.
Think of it this way: instead of commuting to an office each day to work from a designated desk, remote employees can execute their projects and surpass their goals wherever they please. People have the flexibility to design their days so that their professional and personal lives can be experienced to their fullest potential and coexist peacefully.
What is a remote team?
A remote team comprises professionals from various time zones, diverse skills, and different cultures working together on a unified project. Each teammate works from a separate location, lives in different cities, and works across time and space.
Here are some results of researches on the positive effects of remote work on employees and teams:
Remote work benefits
For a lot of people, remote working has been an aspiration, but few made the step of getting out of the social habit of going to work every day. Seeing your colleagues, talking to them, the routine a job creates is comforting. So, even if you have been hoping to sometimes work from home, the lack of structure can be disarming. But don’t fret because of this change! Remote work has a lot of advantages:
- You can create your schedule, even if you need to be online during a certain period;
- You will be more productive because there won’t be any interruptions;
- You won’t have to commute and spend a lot of time in unhealthy means of transport;
- You will have fewer expenses because you won’t have to buy coffee and lunch;
- You will protect your health which is very important in these times.
Best practices for managing remote teams
Managing a team is tough work per se. But leadership becomes even more challenging when you are managing remote workers. When workers are spread out and unable to work side-by-side, leaders don’t have visibility into what everybody is getting done. Wires get crossed, important messages are lost in the shuffle, and frustration builds.
If you are constantly wondering “How to Manage Remote Teams?” and are looking for some ideas about how teams have successfully set themselves remotely, we have got you some tips.1. Establish periodical check-ins
Many successful remote managers establish a daily or weekly call with their remote employees. This can be a one-on-one call if your employees work independently from each other, or a team call, if their work is highly collaborative. The important feature is that the calls are regular and predictable and they are a forum in which employees know that they can consult with you and that their concerns and questions will be heard.2. Open several communication channels
Email alone is insufficient when working remotely. Remote workers benefit from having a “richer” technology, such as video conferencing, that gives participants many of the visual cues that they would have if they were face-to-face. Video is particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations, as it feels more personal than written or audio-only communication. There are circumstances when quick collaboration is more important than visual detail. For these situations, provide mobile-enabled individual messaging functionality (like Slack) which can be used for simpler, less formal conversations.3. Set clear expectations
Believe it or not, over half of employees admit that they don’t know what’s expected of them at work. It’s important that you outline clear expectations for employees - whether you are working remotely or in person. Being clear will keep your employees focused working towards the same goals. Equip your team with tangible and quantifiable directions concerning acceptable work hours and availability, timely meetings, key projects, and deadlines. Keep an eye on the interaction among team members, to ensure that they are sharing information as needed.4. Help them when they need
Being out of sight doesn’t mean you let your employees out of your mind. Unexpected problems related to a project, a teammate, or how the work is being done are common in every business. If something is bothering your employees, read between the lines and understand the clues they might be giving you and give them a helping hand.5. Cultivate accountability
One of the best ways to give your remote team members a greater sense of meaning is by allowing them to see how their daily tasks connect to the bigger picture. How does their work impact your entire team or organization? When there’s transparency and employees see how their work fits in, accountability naturally gets a boost. They see the domino effect that can happen if their tasks aren’t completed correctly or on time.6. Provide opportunities for remote social interactions
One of the essential steps a manager can take, especially during the pandemic, is to design ways for employees to interact socially while working remotely. This is true for all remote workers, but particularly so for workers who have been abruptly transitioned out of the office. The easiest way to establish some basic social interaction is to spend some time at the beginning or the end of the team calls talking about interests not related to work (e.g., family, hobbies, pets, etc.). Other options include virtual office parties. These virtual events help reduce feelings of isolation, promoting a sense of belonging and increasing employee morale.7. Offer emotional support
Particularly in the current context of abruptly shifting to remote work, managers must acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathize with their struggles. Even a simple question can elicit important information that you might not otherwise hear. Let the employee’s stress or concerns (rather than your own) be the focus of this conversation. Natural-born leaders have a two-way approach, acknowledging the stress and anxiety, but also providing affirmation of their confidence in their teams. With this support, employees are more likely to take up the challenge with a sense of purpose and focus.
Introducing new employees into a virtual team
In a physical setting, their first day at work would consist of emotions, eager handshakes, and becoming familiar with the new office environment and teammates. Yet in the case of remote work - your new hire's office may be their garden or living room, and instead of being surrounded by a welcoming team - they're alone.
As a manager, how can you make this experience less isolating? What are the best ways to welcome a new team member when your company is distributed around the country, or even around the globe?
Here is a list with some virtual onboarding ideas:1. Grand entrance announcement
Is important not only to welcome the new teammate but also to inform the whole company that the position is no longer empty. As a direct manager, you should collect an employee photo, along with name, role, and a short bio. Make sure that other teammates respond with kind words and encouragement. Remote work can be lonely, but a warm welcome can set the tone for an inclusive and fulfilling experience.2. Online organization chart
From day one, your new hire must remember lots of names and faces. One of the best remote onboarding tips is to provide your new team member with an online organizational chart on day one. This tactic ensures that your new teammate can focus on bonding with coworkers instead of dedicating time to memorizing basic facts.3. Use the buddy system
A buddy program is easy to implement - and it’s free! Simply match a seasoned employee with your new hire and request that they check in regularly during the first couple of weeks to ensure they are acclimating to their new role and working remotely. By pairing up new hires with someone else on your team you can fight feelings of isolation and establish friendly faces within the virtual office. Your new team members will have a trusted person (outside of their direct manager) they can turn to with questions about where they can find a specific document or who’s in charge of approving PTO requests.4. New-hire welcome kits
Surprise your new employee with a customized gift compiled from the ideas of the rest of the team and mail the package. This initiative is a winner on all levels: it helps the new hire survive during the first weeks and it doubles as a virtual team-building exercise if you ask each team member to suggest an item and write a welcome message. Instead of asking each employee to send an object, you can take suggestions and gather all the ingredients for the package, giving the present a more personal and collaborative touch.5. Foster engagement and connections
Don’t let the fun be over after the new hire’s first day! Working remotely eliminates the opportunity to spontaneously meet up for chit-chat or coffee. Schedule remote team bonding activities or virtual happy hours to make sure your new hire (and the team as a whole) can connect, laugh, and bond with their fellow team members. After all, having a friendly foundation will help boost engagement and overall collaboration on projects and tasks later.
Remote work challenges
Working remotely is one thing and managing a remote team is another challenge. The Coronavirus pandemic has prompted organizations to quickly create and implement remote work policies to ensure business continuity, and now remote work is quasi-everywhere.
Working remotely offers organizations many advantages, such as lower costs and access to a bigger talent pool. Meanwhile, employees benefit from higher productivity levels and a better work-life balance.
Even with all the benefits, certain remote work challenges do exist. To start, both employees and managers need to understand the factors that can make remote work especially demanding. Otherwise, the workforce may experience declines in job performance and motivation when they begin working remotely, especially in the absence of preparation and training.
Important:In 2022, Buffer released the updated state of remote work report, where it showcases data from over 2,000 remote workers. One of the core components is the chart on the challenges encountered by remote workers.
Challenges inherent in remote work include:
- Lack of face-to-face interaction: supervisors worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently. Many employees, on the other hand, struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication. In some cases, employees feel that remote managers are out of touch with their needs, and thereby are neither supportive nor helpful in getting their work done.
- The tech issue: just like the IT helpdesk in the workplace, having a remote helpdesk can be a huge support to remote teams needing help when things go wrong. When it comes to having a robust support ticketing system or a self-help single sign-on (SSO), don’t reinvent the wheel. Being considerate and strategic can go a long way. Get the right collaboration tools to help your team succeed – be it hardware or software. It could be anything from a laptop, internet hardware to a powerful work and leave management platform like LeaveBoard that lets them take control over their time.
- Reduced access to information: even getting answers to simple questions can feel like an obstacle to a worker based at home. This phenomenon extends beyond task-related work to interpersonal challenges that can emerge among remote co-workers. For example, if you know that your officemate is having a rough day, you will view a blunt email from them as a natural product of their stress. However, if you receive this email from a remote co-worker, with no understanding of their current circumstances, you are more likely to take offense or to think poorly of your co-worker’s professionalism
- Social isolation: loneliness is one of the most common complaints about remote work, with employees missing the informal social interaction of an office setting. According to Telecommuting: using personality research, extroverts may suffer from isolation more in the short run. However, over a longer period, isolation can cause any employee to feel less “belonging” to their organization.
- Security risks: the transition to remote work opens the organization to many potential security risks such as security leaks, online hacking, or external breaches. With no watercooler chats or coffee breaks, all communication happens online. Many remote workers use the same laptop or smartphone for their official and personal use, leading to unintentional data exposure. Reduce vulnerabilities in workflows by storing all corporate data and files in a cloud work management platform. Another great tip is to use virtual private networks (VPNs) to connect to your organization’s data and files.
To maintain your company’s privacy, set up regular, online security training that includes best practices and reminders of important security practices: avoiding public Wi-fi networks, password hygiene, and recognizing phishing, among other things.
Note: If you are looking for tips on how to be productive working from home, we have a guide with 20 best-practices for you.
Tips to overcome challenges faced in working remotely
Remote working can be problematic on a personal level if you haven’t done it before. But, as we covered, it also can be rewarding. You just have to figure out how to adapt to a new way of doing your job. In this regard, we share our advice on how to overcome the struggles of remote working for employees.1. Set up your home office
You need to recreate your office’s environment at your home. This means that you should find a room or space where it is quiet and you won’t be interrupted by your children or pets. If you don’t have a spare room to set up your office, then choose the most comfortable place for you. That should not be your bed, though. It is easy to fall asleep during your work hours and even to find your motivation. A desk or a table should be great!2. Always be connected
Firstly, you should check your internet connection. If it is not the best, then you should change plans. Secondly, install all the communications channels and tools you might need. Slack, Trello, WhatsApp, Zoom, and many other apps were created to help you get in touch with your team easier and faster. Therefore, you miss any important memo and update. Furthermore, this way you will always be in touch with your mates, even for small talk.3. Maintain your schedule
The structure is very important when you are working remotely. You won’t feel motivated and productive every day. But if you are creating a structured schedule for yourself you will be able to accomplish everything that is asked of you. Also, it will help you prevent any problems that might arise. A schedule keeps you always on top of your game, even during the days that you feel like doing nothing.4. Communication is the key
Great communications solve a lot of problems. But working from home comes with some challenges in this regard. It is important to always maintain all the channels for communication open. Also, if you encounter problems, you need to address them. Always be prepared to report on what you are doing. And keep in touch with your colleagues. Even if you are not meeting at the coffee stand, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk anymore. 5. How to transition your team to remote work
For team leaders and HR professionals, the transition to remote working is more challenging than for individuals. They need to think about how to manage this situation, especially if the company doesn’t have a policy for remote workers. Nevertheless, there are some things you should keep in mind when transitioning your team to remote work.6. Establish clear goals
You should define your expectations from the beginning, so there won’t be any confusion. Also, you need to rate goals and responsibilities for each member of your team. This way, each individual in your team knows how to handle their work. Therefore, you need to:
7. Meetings are crucial
- Set a clear objective for your team;
- Establish the result you are expecting and create milestones;
- Assign clear tasks for each individual;
- Track their progress.
It is important to have scheduled meetings to track the progress of your team. Also, these meetings can be used to solve problems that would have been dealt with easily in the office. Here is a guide on how to make these meetings more productive:
8. Include your team in the planning process
- Schedule meeting and invite everybody that is part of the project, so they can discuss the problems at hand;
- Create a clear agenda in which you track progress, assign tasks and deadlines;
- Engage everybody with specific questions;
- Encourage your team to talk about non-work topics because they need social interaction.
Transparency is very important when you are not all working in the same office. You need to communicate everything, from leaves of team members to changes in methodology. For the leaves and absences part, your job can be relieved with a self-service leave app, like LeaveBoard. Tasks can be set on Trello and problems can be communicated via Slack. The more you include your employees in the decision-making plan, the easier it will be for them to be more productisve.
Keep track of leave, without the hassle and time wasted, remote teams use leave planning software to be streamline the leave management process, automate repetitive processes, improve HR processes, and make better decisions.9. Celebrate success and learn from failures
If the project ended successfully, tell your team. Also, if there have been problems and it didn’t end so well, talk to them to identify the issues and complications and find solutions that you will take into account in the future. Everything needs to be discussed because your team members might feel out of touch otherwise.
The future of remote work
There was a time when telecommuting was relegated to salespeople who were able to work from the phone or computer while they were on the road meeting with clients. Telecommuting wasn’t considered a reward or a way to improve employee happiness; it was allowed for plain efficiency and productivity as travel was a part of their job description.
Fast forward a few years later, this concept of telecommuting is outdated. Now, most people call it remote work.
Though similar in premise, instead of believing that doing work outside of the office is a necessity for efficiency’s sake, remote work takes it one step further. It encourages corporations to change their perspective and believe that allowing employees to work outside of a traditional environment is better for their business.
COVID-19 forced small, medium, and large enterprises to adapt quickly. This has happened with little forewarning and minimal planning but here we are, getting our jobs done.
Note: You might be interested about a flexible working arrangements example email template.