At Workplaceless, we speak regularly with experienced and newly remote leaders and clients who feel that for the most part, their teams are operating smoothly—they’re just experiencing a few “hiccups.” But really, who isn’t experiencing hiccups, especially in 2020? … into 2021? … and into 2022?
As we dig deeper into some of these hiccups, we often uncover true gaps in skills, processes, and overall alignment that are hurting business performance. It’s vital that leaders can determine whether a hiccup is temporary and easily remedied, or rather a warning sign indicative of a deeper issue with harmful future effects.
To that end, here are seven of the most common symptoms that indicate your team is working suboptimally, and where we know remote work training is the most effective intervention to ensure the long-term vitality of your remote team or organization.
1. Team Members Experience Miscommunications
Charles: “But during last month’s company call you mentioned that the top priority was to deliver on the repeat customer strategy.”
Polina: “Yes, but in my follow-up Slack message I shared that we’ve shifted to the outbound sales workflow as our top priority.”
This exchange, or something like it, is a sign that your team is experiencing miscommunication issues. Wires are getting crossed. Visual communication clues, which help determine context, are missing. Team members waste time trying to find information or to determine which communication channel they should use. Important information gets lost in long emails or Slack threads. Decisions are not documented and shared. Ultimately, miscommunication leads to confusion, conflict, inefficiency, and low employee morale.
Often, we see teams switching tools to solve for miscommunication—yet, the cause of miscommunication is never the tool. The cause of miscommunication is the lack of a shared understanding about expectations—and that’s where remote work training comes into play. Remote work training helps workers and managers gain the skills needed for effective remote work communication and guides teams in creating agreements, like a Communication Charter, to manage expectations.
2. Deadlines are Missed or Delayed
Let’s start by saying that especially this year, when the demands on professionals—professional women in particular—are being compounded, it’s critical to give a little grace when it comes to getting work done.
However, if deadlines are regularly missed or pushed back without team members taking responsibility or providing notice or details, clearly something isn’t working. Workers may be overworked and don’t know how or feel safe communicating that to superiors. Leaders may not be clearly outlining what is expected of team members and where to go if there are roadblocks. Obviously, missed deadlines can affect the company’s revenue and expenses, so it’s important to get to the root of the problem.
Many times these misses can be attributed to poor time management or poor performance management. A more accurate identification of the problem is a combination of both, compounded with inconsistent processes and underdeveloped virtual communication skills for workers and leaders. In all causes, remote work training can help.
3. Team Members Feel Disconnected From One Another
“It’s just not the same.” We’ve heard this again and again, and it’s true—connecting with team members in virtual environments is not the same as in the office. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create deep and beneficial relationships remotely. The problem is that many teams are simply trying to replicate what they do in an office in a Zoom room. Hint: that’s a mistake.
There are two components to the disconnect: missing out on casual conversations that foster trust and relationships, and feeling “out of the loop” when it comes to the knowledge that’s being shared and decisions being made. Both components result in lower productivity and lower employee engagement.
The solution begins with rethinking the ways teams communicate digitally and leveraging tools that are specifically designed with virtual connections in mind. But building a connected team and healthy culture takes a continuous commitment. To align culture in a digital environment, you need to adopt remote-specific skills and practices, then reinforce them with shared rituals, which can be established organically or with the guidance of an experienced remote training facilitator.
4. Days are Filled with Video Calls Where Only a Few People Participate
If you are finding that at the end of your days you haven’t gone anywhere, but you are still completely wiped out, you are not alone. Days filled with video conferences have proven to be incredibly taxing. Also, meeting filled days are completely contradictory to the proven productivity benefits of remote teams due to the power of asynchronous communication. When days are filled with ineffective meetings, workers don’t have time to actually get work done. That means the workday blends into the evening, which leads to remote worker burnout and disengaged teams, which leads to poor performance, … you get where we’re going with this.
We also see virtual meetings that are consumed by leaders “sharing information,” and when the floor opens up for questioning there’s radio silence or the chat box is a series of questions from one participant. Leaders, if this is happening to you, you are wasting everyone’s time. There are significantly more efficient ways to share information with your team and get feedback that you are underutilizing. It’s also possible that you’ve contributed to a culture that doesn’t create a safe space for all voices to be included and heard.
But with all the “tips” and “free guides,” it can be simultaneously overwhelming and challenging to find the tools and processes that will best support your team. Teaching the skills needed to effectively utilize and manage asynchronous communication, and thereby freeing up meeting and employee time, requires training specifically focused on the remote productivity outputs.
5. Gossip is Commonplace
Sure, not every team member is going to get along. And there are appropriate times when workers need outlets to vent about frustrations at work. However, when gossip about fellow team members takes hold of conversations, your team culture has taken a turn for the worse. Leaders need to have the skills in their virtual tool belts to nip these culture killers in the bud.
Some red flags to watch out for:
- In meetings, talking about team members when they are not in the virtual room
- Secret channels or email threads that talk about team members that are not part of the discussion
- Certain team members are consistently left out of discussions and gatherings
These are all signs that team members—and the managers that lead them—need training on developing and fostering a positive work culture, specifically in the areas of trust and collaboration.
6. Managers are Micromanaging
This is a hefty one, as many times team managers are unaware of their micromanaging behaviors and especially the negative impact this has on the engagement and performance of their team. How can employees give upward feedback about micromanaging? Some experts suggest creating space for awareness by using the sentence “When you do X, I feel that I am being micromanaged, and it leaves me reacting like Y.”
It’s even better when leaders can self-identify some of the techniques that are plaguing them. Are you a micromanager?
- Do you have daily video conference check-ins with your team members?
- Do you use screen monitoring software?
- Are your team’s goals based on hours worked?
- Do you pay attention to when employees “clock in” or “clock out”?
- Do you need to sign off on every single communication or deliverable?
Oftentimes, micromanagement in a virtual environment is a result of the manager’s anxiety about the unknown. They likely still have the business targets they are expected to achieve but lack the familiar comfort of being able to see their team members working towards those goals side-by-side in the office.
These can be hard habits to break. It requires an investment in learning and practicing the skills to lead remotely. Specifically, training that addresses the placeless mindset that is required to support sustainable remote work.
7. People Are Not Taking Their Vacation Time
Workers often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when communicating with a leader that they are overworked and need the time to disconnect and recharge. At Workplaceless, we’ve instituted a mandatory paid time off (PTO) policy that is tied to individual performance.
However, this is just one indicator of employee mental and physical health concerns that can plague remote teams, especially as the pandemic continues to impact employees. Others include:
- Expressing symptoms of burnout
- Disclosing struggles with work-life integration
- Withdrawing from conversations
- Not contributing
- [see additional warning signs 1-6 above]
If these symptoms are left to fester you will see team members quitting—and you likely won’t understand why.
For the future of 82% of businesses, there is going to continue to be some type of remote work, and leaders must dedicate the time to learning how to lead remotely and how to best leverage the strengths of their employees in a virtual environment.
As we’ve highlighted throughout, these signs are often just the visible outcomes of larger problems common in remote teams. These problems have a negative impact on a company’s bottom line, and these are the problems we solve.