3 Common Remote Work Challenges (And Solutions) for Small Businesses

COVID-19 shutdowns have challenged business in brand new ways.

Over the last several months, many companies have made the tough but necessary decision to switch to remote work, due to the global pandemic COVID-19. While there are several perks to telecommuting such as better work-life balance and time saved on community, there may be some disadvantages to working remotely. Some of the most common challenges to working remotely are:

  1. Communication challenges, namely having to wait longer for response and being unable to communicate face-to-face
  2. Organizational challenges like being unable to supervise your employees in person, and distributing the workload remotely
  3. Lack of social interaction, which may impact morale and motivation

The good news is these challenges all have soltuions. By applying these solutions you can automate and streamline a host of remote business operations. Keep reading to discover tips and tactics for approaching some of the most common remote business challenges you may be experiencing.

Challenge #1: Communication (Or Lack Thereof)

In the traditional office setting, face-to-face communication with colleagues is the norm. But, this is not possible in a remote environment. So, you have to rely on valuable communication apps that help you stay in touch with your colleagues. While remote work online is entirely possible, it can be an adjustment for those who are so used to just walking over and talking to a coworker at any given moment. A

lack of one-on-one in-person interactions can sometimes cause inconveniences such as waiting longer for a response or realizing conference calls may be ineffective for large groups. But both of those challenges have potential solutions that make working from home just as effective as working in the office.

Uncommunicative Colleagues? Be Patient and Follow Up

Let’s say that you sent a message to one of your colleagues in order to learn more about your current project. It’s been an hour, and he still hasn’t responded. There could be several reasons why: maybe he’s taking a lunch break, meeting with the client, away from his desk or overwhelmed with today’s tasks. Generally speaking, taking a longer time for response is a common challenge for remote teams.

Try these two tips for solving communication issues while working remotely:

  • Be patient. While you’re waiting for a reply, you should aim your attention to other assignments. Whatever you can do alone, do it. Thus, you won’t procrastinate on any important tasks. Besides, your colleague will definitely have an explanation for his belated reply. But, if you haven’t heard from him in a day, follow up with him and/or another teammate or manager to get the information you need.
  • Be available for your team. If you’re a manager, you need to make sure that your team members are using the communication app of the company’s choice, be it Slack, Microsoft Teams or anything else. Your employees need to actively use this tool during work hours. As for you, their team lead, you should let your workers know that you’re available for them. If they have any concerns or questions throughout the day, encourage them to talk to you about it. In addition, you can set up some rules. For example, making calls for any urgent matter, but using chat for anything less time-sensitive. And encouraging your team to update their status to indicate if they’re on lunch, out of office or away from their desk for another reason.

Conference Calls Ineffective for Large Groups? Host Smaller Breakout Meetings

Not being able to speak to your coworkers in person usually means switching the conversation to online — by having video conference calls. However, conference calls might not always be the best solution for larger teams. Here’s why: if there are too many people at the meeting, there’s a chance that someone won’t be able to express his/her opinions or may talk over one another.

Here are some tips to make video calls more effective for remote workers:

  • Organize video meetings with smaller groups of people. As a remote team manager, you can ask yourself: Who should be at this meeting, according to their positions in the company? Then, simply invite only those colleagues. In addition, be sure to send them the meeting agenda ahead of time. Encourage your employees to read the agenda and prepare their questions or ideas for the meeting. That way, everyone will get the chance to speak about their concerns.
  • Find online communication tools that suit your needs. The effectiveness of the conference call service you use will impact the flow of your meetings. Zoom, a popular option, has the ability to record meetings. If your team is working in various time zones, recorded meetings are useful for employees who can’t make it to the meeting when it happens — they can watch the recording to catch up. Another practical element of Zoom are “breakout rooms.” Here, the moderator can create smaller groups of people out of the total number of participants. Then, if needed, the moderator can gather them all again.

Challenge #2: Managing a Remote Team

Managing a remote team is quite different from managing an on-site team. You won’t see your colleagues other than during conference calls. You’ll stay in touch with each other via online communication apps. In general, trust between you and your team will be an essential element of your overall success.

Remote managers may be concerned about being unable to supervise their employees in person and distributing the workload remotely. But, both of those challenges have easy solutions.

See: How to Cut Costs Without Disrupting Business Operations

Can’t Supervise Employees in Person? Track Tasks Online

When working remotely, employees might find it hard to avoid distractions, such as social media, partners or roommates. Sometimes, you and your employees may use up some work time because of these distractions. That’s why remote leaders usually worry that their workers will miss their deadlines or are generally working less when at home.

On the other hand, employees working from home might have an urge to be more tireless than when they’re in a traditional setting. The reason behind this behavior is simple: since there are no supervisors around, workers would want to prove that they’re still working hard. Also, working from home creates indefinite boundaries regarding work and home. It’s easy to let your work day slip into your free time when both happen in the same environment. Therefore, employees might experience burnout when working from home, too.

Read: Working From Home? 8 Home Office Essentials

Check out these tips to solve this remote work challenge:

  • Avoid micromanagement. Being compelled to control the work of your team does not mean that you have to check on them too often. Instead, let them find their own pace. As long as they succeed in completing their tasks on time, you have nothing to worry about. Instead of micromanaging your employees, you can ask them about their progress and whether they need help. This way, your workers will feel that you can trust them, and they’ll be more reliable. Of course, if some of your employees are constantly missing the deadline, that’s a red flag. Be sure to talk to these workers and solve this problem but don’t unnecessarily micromanage productive employees.
  • Automate the work of your team by tracking the team’s progress. If you’re looking for a more detailed way to manage your team and their progress, try using time tracking tools. That way, your employees will have to log in their working hours on a daily basis. Besides, they can also add additional information, such as the name of the project they’re currently working on. So, without any micromanagement, you’ll have an overview of everyone’s progress. Thus, you’ll know if your employees are completing their tasks on time.

Delegate the Workload Remotely

Delegating work within a remote team might be an arduous task for managers. There’s a chance that some employees end up with more complex tasks. On the other hand, there might be some workers with only a few simple assignments.

Here are some tips for this remote work challenge:

  • Take advantage of team management apps. In order to make sure that each team member has an equal amount of work, you should start using a project management tool, such as Trello, Asana, JIRA or another option. Therefore, delegating work will be a much easier job for you. Furthermore, your employees will have a clearer perspective of the project and they’ll be aware of all due dates. Aside from project management apps, tools for file storage and sharing are also extremely practical for remote teams. For instance, try Google Drive or Dropbox.
  • Establish a check-in system. It’s key you briefly check in with each of your employees daily and set a weekly one-on-one call where you can discuss challenges and tasks in more detail. One option is that every morning they can send you a list of all tasks they have for today and how they plan to structure their workday. Having these insights will help you analyze the workload for each employee. If someone’s planning to dedicate their time to assignments that are not urgent, you’ll be able to switch their priorities as needed. Moreover, workers will focus only on high-priority tasks and they won’t be overwhelmed by work.

Read: 7 Reasons to Start an Online Business

Challenge #3: Lack of Social Interaction

Unlike working in a traditional setting, when telecommuting, employees won’t be socializing with each other during work hours. That leads us to our next challenge: a lack of interactions may cause loneliness. Luckily, managers have their options to make their employees feel connected again.

Lack of Interaction Causing Loneliness? Try Virtual Social Gatherings

Being socially isolated can affect the mental health of employees. Before any major problems occur, here are some tips that remote leaders should consider:

  • Promote socialization within the team. Video meetings don’t always have to be about work. For example, you can organize a weekly non-formal call for the entire team such as a happy hour where everyone catches up and has a drink at the end of the day. Ask them how they feel, if they have any plans for the weekend or find any other non-work topic. Having these casual calls will make your workers feel more comfortable and less lonely. Eventually, you’ll get to know each other, and your relationship will thrive.
  • Organize virtual gatherings. You can even make separate channels in the communication tool your team is using just for fun. These channels should be open to everyone who’s in the mood for chat. Moreover, you can create video meeting rooms that are available for the whole team. So, whenever someone’s having a break, they can pop in and socialize with other colleagues. There’s only one rule: not to talk about work. Additionally, consider fun virtual activities like trivia or other online games.

The Bottom Line

In general, the main challenges that may occur when managing a remote team are those regarding communication, organization and social interaction. But by seeking solutions, you’ll be able to streamline your remote business. Furthermore, these routines will be beneficial to your team members, too.

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