November 13, 2015
Poor communication and working practices among remote teams is widespread, a new report by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) claims. Organisations are failing to capitalise on the potential for remote working to improve performance and efficiency with 88 percent of remote workers struggling with inconsistent working practices and miscommunication, while 83 percent feel overwhelmed by emails. Although 84 percent of remote workers report improvements to their work-life balance, a lack of team identity can cause isolation and loneliness. The study with over 1,000 remote workers highlighted a range of potential benefits for organisations with a remote or geographically-dispersed workforce, including increased business reach, improved productivity, cost and time savings, and access to a more diverse set of skills and experience.
But remote team members reported a number of barriers to effective working, including over-reliance on email, inadequate or unclear communication and a lack of shared identity and focus.
ILM’s report “’Going remote: Leading dispersed teams’” found that almost nine out of ten (88 percent) remote workers felt their team struggled to ensure consistency of practice, with the same number highlighting the increased risk of misunderstandings when teams are not co-located. More than eight out of ten (83 percent) remote workers felt overwhelmed by email, as teams fail to capitalise on alternative technologies, such as video or audio conferencing, to enable regular collective communications.
ILM Head of Research and Policy, Kate Cooper, explains: “We know that remote teams are a reality of the modern workplace. By 2020 it is predicted that half of all full time employees will be working remotely*. But this poses a real management challenge, it is harder to manage team members if you rarely meet in person. This research shows that many managers of dispersed teams are struggling to get the basics right and develop a clear shared focus and team ethos.”
The ILM report recommends a tailored management approach that recognises the special characteristics of remote teams, including the lack of visibility and face-to-face interaction, which can make it harder to build and maintain trust. In some cases, this lack of interaction leads team members to feel isolated. ILM highlights the value of a clear shared plan and definition of team goals, supported by regular face-to-face team communications to build interpersonal relationships and avoid over reliance on email.
“E-mail is a real problem for remote teams, with over use consuming huge amounts of time and energy,” advises Kate Cooper. “What is more, we found that a lack of face-to-face interaction can lead to feelings of isolation and even paranoia. Regular, scheduled daily or weekly team meetings by video and audio can reduce inefficient email dialogue while also enabling a greater sense of shared identity, values and purpose.”
ILM’s recommendations are to:
- Create a clear shared plan – ensure everyone has a clear picture of team objectives, deadlines and how each member will contribute.
- Build a team ethos – focus on creating a collaborative team culture, with regular face-to-face interaction and social time.
- Use the right technologies – set strict guidelines on email usage and replace with chat and video tools wherever appropriate.
- Instil a sense of balance across your team – monitor workloads, watch out for signs of stress or isolation and create an open culture where employees can raise concerns.