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Managing remote teams

According to a recent research by Harvard Business School, companies that allow their employees to decide where and when they want to work increase productivity, reduce staff turnover and cost. Prior research focused on the productivity effects of working from home, but the ‘working from anywhere’ concept offers a new level of flexibility and can be beneficial for both businesses and employees. Flexible and remote work arrangements are becoming increasingly popular, however they also come with challenges as remote teams often feel lonely and isolated. A study of 2000 employees and managers globally discovered that two-thirds of remote workers aren’t engaged and more than a third never get any face to face time with their teams, although 40 percent of respondents believe it would help to improve working relationships.

Effective collaboration

Managers often worry about remote employees multitasking, mixing personal activities with work and as a result, working less. There are also concerns that allowing employees to work remotely decreases collaboration and communication and constrains the informal learning that takes place in the office.

Whilst in the age of digital communication there are some very effective ways to communicate and collaborate, what’s missing from emails and phone calls is body language. This can often lead to misinterpretations which can create stress and anxiety, affecting morale and engagement. When there is no immediate response, people start second guessing and become frustrated which creates even more distractions. It is therefore essential for remote teams to create rules for clear communication and expectations. Merck is a good example with digital communication norms which make collaboration more effective with email acronyms used internally such as ‘4HR – Four Hour Response’ or ‘NNTR – No Need To Respond’.

Equal recognition

Remote workers should be able to participate equally in any meetings and team events and get recognition for their contributions publicly. The lack of recognition can contribute to attrition – according to Gallup’s research employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year. A simple gesture of naming individuals responsible for the good work can be very meaningful to employees. Gallup’s research suggests that while 28% of employees say the most-memorable recognition comes from their manager, nearly as many - 24% say it comes from a high-level leader or CEO.

Regular and frequent check ins with remote employees using face to face, video or voice contact are essential. Leaders need to communicate trust, listen and discuss workloads and progress on projects without micro managing. Remote employees need to be clear about the expectations, so they can live up to them and are never left in the dark about projects, roles or deadlines. Leaders who are available during remote employee’s working hours, even if they are in a different time zone, can make employees feel that their manager goes above and beyond to maintain an open door policy for all employees and make them feel valued.

At Acumen we have over 18 years’ experience designing and delivering leadership development programmes that help organisations and individuals solve real life challenges and succeed. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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