Business Tips

5 Common Remote Team Challenges and How to Deal with Them

Dave Nevogt
November 7, 2021
remote work

Plenty of teams went remote in response to the pandemic, and many liked it enough to continue working remotely since then. There are still plenty of challenges to tackle while your team adapts to remote work. If you’ve had a few hiccups, you’re not alone. Fortunately, you can overcome all of those challenges and fully reap the benefits of remote work.

In this post, we’ll discuss the five most common challenges surrounding remote work. Then, we’ll tell you how to tackle them.

1. Communication

Hubstaff is a workforce management platform that provides proof of work, time tracking, and payroll management to both in-office and remote teams. According to its 2021 Project Management Report, a lack of communication is the biggest challenge to managing remote work.

Remote teams have fewer opportunities to communicate. When they do communicate, they usually use multiple tools, such as Zoom, Skype, and Slack.

Due to their reliance on multiple communication tools, their communication is often dispersed and disorganized. This can lead to misunderstandings and wasted time due to lacking or siloed information.

Communication difficulties can be more pronounced for teams that work flexible schedules. Managers often struggle to keep everyone on the same page when team members start and end their shifts at different times.

How to address it:

Start by setting expectations for team communication. Let team members know what kind of behavior is expected when communicating with the rest of the team, including:

  • How quickly they should respond to messages
  • Whether they should be available for communication during certain times of the day
  • How to handle communication with team members that work in different time zones

Additionally, encourage team members to overcommunicate. This will help to avoid misunderstandings and uncertainty, as well as prevent team members from having to redo work.

Hubstaff keeps their fully remote, global team in constant communication with a set of simple rules called a Communication Manifesto. It’s a written document that sets clear rules around how and when to discuss things with teammates.

The Communication Manifesto works because it’s easy to understand. Everyone on the team can use it as a quick reference to brush up on the rules, and managers use it to remind their direct reports what is expected of them.

When you implement new rules with your team, leadership should be prepared to reinforce those rules frequently. People learn by repetition, after all.

2. Scheduling

Teams that rely heavily on shift work may struggle with the shift to a remote work style. Managers might not notice that someone isn’t logged in on time until they see the issues caused by that missing team member, like a huge call wait time or a production bottleneck.

Even if your team is 100% reliable, scheduling issues like uneven coverage can be harder to spot when everyone works from home.

A lot of remote teams are spread across multiple time zones. In those types of teams, there might be team members who end their shifts before other people on the team even start theirs. This can complicate the process of scheduling meetings and make it harder for the team to find a common time to meet and collaborate.

Other scheduling issues might look like this:

  • People are suddenly logging a lot more or a lot fewer hours than you expect every week.
  • You’re having trouble keeping track of when people are online and when they’re away.
  • You set schedules, but your team members don’t follow them.

If any of these sound familiar, here’s what to do about it.

How to address it:

Start by determining how much overlap you really need for your team to function. Managers tend to overemphasize real-time communication when an asynchronous approach is often more productive.

Flexibility is one of the greatest strengths of remote work, but it takes some adjustment to your leadership style to get it right.

Default to asynchronous communication by using tools such as Slack. Only hold meetings if they’re absolutely necessary.

Most teams have too many meetings, anyway. Before scheduling your next one, think about whether the issue you want to discuss requires a meeting. Is it something that could be resolved through an email or Slack message? If it is, there’s really no need for you to organize a meeting.

On the other hand, if you do decide that a meeting is necessary, make sure only to invite those people that need to be there. There’s no need for the whole team to attend a meeting if the topic only concerns three or four people.

Other scheduling issues come from a lack of visibility. Use software to notify you when your team members start and end shifts. A great software tool can also tell you when team members are idle for longer than you expect during their work hours, and it can automatically create timesheets and process payroll based on logged data.

3. Workload management

It’s easy to see when someone is overwhelmed or underutilized when you’re working in the same office as they are. When people work remotely, it can be harder to understand how team members are doing and if they’re able to handle their workload.

This can become a bigger issue if your team members aren't proactive about discussing their workload and communicating the risk of missing deadlines.

A balanced workload means that everyone on the team is contributing, and nobody has too much or too little work to do. As simple as it sounds, this kind of balance isn’t automatic. It takes constant management to make sure you’re distributing tasks fairly and using your resources wisely.

Much like communication breakdowns, a workload imbalance can drastically impact your team’s productivity.

Workload issues can also cause extra stress in your team. When someone feels like they’re carrying a lot more weight than their teammates, they may experience burnout or feel like they’re being taken advantage of.

Fixing this problem has two parts: spotting the issue, then balancing the workload.

How to address it:

Time tracking and project management tools like Hubstaff and Hubstaff Tasks can help you stay on top of your remote team’s workload more easily. Keep an eye on the number of tasks assigned to each person, the work that’s in the pipeline, and the amount of time it takes for each team member to finish a job.

These tools will help you understand what team members are doing during work hours and how much time they need to get through their to-do lists. It’s also easier to rebalance workloads when you use technology to help. 

In a good task management tool, you can change the team member assigned to a task, and it’s easy for them to catch up because the history is all in one place. Use your time tracking data to help you plan ahead and make sure that each person has plenty of room to take on new work.

Additionally, don’t shy away from working with freelancers. There will be times when your remote team won't be able to handle all the work that needs to be done themselves, whether that’s because of poor planning or unforeseen circumstances.

In these situations, use Fiverr to find experts to whom you can outsource tasks and projects.

Sometimes, you’ll simply have more work than you have time to complete. That’s why setting priorities is so vital. Clearly communicate the priority of each task and project so that your remote team members can tackle the most important things first.

4. Building trust

Developing trust within your company takes time, focus, and a lot of work, even if you work in the same office as your teammates.

With fewer opportunities for social interactions between team members, it can be harder to build trust in a remote team. 

However, it’s crucial to build trust with your distributed team. Without it, you’ll struggle to build culture and keep your people engaged.

People that work in high-trust teams experience less stress and have more energy at work. They’re also more productive and take fewer sick days. 

How to address it:

Organize virtual team-building activities where team members can relax, have fun, and interact with each other in a casual setting. Some examples include virtual happy hour, movie nights, and trivia quizzes.

Hubstaff has seen great success with organizing virtual team retreats. These are online events that last anywhere from one to three days, during which team members participate in a number of fun activities together.

At the company’s last virtual retreat, team members taught each other how to cook tasty meals, competed in online multiplayer games, and even had a Murder Mystery party.

These social interactions are important to build real relationships. But they’re just the start.

Trust comes from reliability. You have to prove that you’re trustworthy, and that means that you do what you say you will, you follow through when people ask for help, and you act in your team’s best interest all the time.

If there’s already some damage to the trust in your team, start by creating a way for people to communicate with you anonymously. Hubstaff uses Officevibe for this.

Then, act on the feedback you receive quickly and decisively. Your team needs to see that you care about their wellbeing and success, and you may have to put extra effort into this while you repair previous damage.

5. Maintaining work-life balance

When people work from home, the line between work time and free time can become blurred. This can result in overworked team members and a lack of work-life balance.

While it might not seem like a big problem if your team puts in more hours, this habit increases the risk of burnout because it makes your team feel like they can never unplug and get away from work. 

During the pandemic, one common complaint during high-stress remote transitions was that it felt more like living at work than working from home.

Those that check their email during off-hours, stop to get a couple of things done after dinner, or work late into the night, are more at risk of becoming workaholics. Work addiction is a serious problem and can cause both physical and mental health issues. It can also have a negative impact on team members’ productivity and job satisfaction.

If you notice that you get a lot of messages outside of normal business hours or you come in to find that some people spent the evening at their desk instead of enjoying their personal time, you should consider how to improve your company’s work-life balance.

How to address it:

Start by encouraging team members to take time off. A lot of vacation time ends up being unused, so companies could definitely be doing more to encourage employees to use up their vacation days.

One way to get your team to take time off is to set a deadline for time-off requests. This should force team members to book some time off as soon as possible. You can also consider limiting or forbidding vacation time rollover.

Another way to help team members have a more healthy work-life balance is to offer flexible work hours. This will allow your team to plan their day in a way that works better for them. It will also enable them to work during those times when they’re the most productive.

Most importantly, set the example yourself. 

Don’t send emails during non-work hours. Instead, schedule them to send on Monday morning or whenever that person is scheduled to return to work. 

Take time off and talk about the fun things you did with your vacation. Encourage people to take mental health days and be honest when you need one for yourself.

Remember, you can work hard and still have a fulfilling life outside of work. That’s where the balance comes in. Find your own balance and help your team find theirs.

Solve your remote team’s challenges

Remote work has its set of challenges, but there are ways these can be addressed. Hubstaff and Fiverr are two platforms you can use to solve a number of your remote team's challenges.

Take advantage of Hubstaff time tracking, productivity measurement, and payroll management features to manage your remote team more easily. Then, use Fiverr to hire remote experts that will help your team stay on top of their workload and meet deadlines consistently.

Dave Nevogt
Dave Nevogt is the co-founder of Hubstaff. He leads a 100% remote team that builds time tracking and productivity tools, including the Agile project management software, Hubstaff Tasks.
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