Working remotely: how to find out if your team is struggling

With the spread of the coronavirus worldwide, labor sectors that underestimated or were reluctant to join the use of technology in specific sectors and functions found themselves without a way out: either they adapted to cyberspace, or they would be left behind. From there, there were both benefits and complications. Although technology is ready to serve as an essential tool at work, it does not mean that employees were ready for it. Turns out the pandemic only advanced the inevitable.

One of the challenges that goes through not only the employees, but also the person in charge of the team, is being able to end up encountering daily obstacles in the change between the face-to-face and remote work activities. If you see an employee who respected and worked on deadlines with some difficulty, perhaps it is because they are facing challenges in the home environment. With this in mind, it is extremely important to monitor the processes, advances and achievements minimally made by each member of the team.

The usual cues you pick up by watching or talking to team members in neighboring cubicles aren’t available to you. And those who work from home are sometimes hesitant to complain about problems, fearing that their concerns won’t be appreciated or understood. In a perfect world, you’d be able to spot the signs and help a struggling employee before they become isolated and disconnected. And though there are some proactive steps you can take to prevent remote employee isolation, you should also watch out for both obvious and subtle indications that your remote employees are struggling.

The biggest obstacle for a manager in charge of a remote team (or when working with remote employees in general) is having a complete overview. This includes keeping track of collaboration, productivity, results, manager-employee relationship, team morale, performance and everything in between. As a manager, you are doing all this remotely, behind a computer and have no personal contact with the employee(s).

With that in mind, here are some main points to help you identify possible difficulties your members may face and the signs they may present.

Delay deadlines

Delaying deadlines is not a rarity at work, it is the frequency of practice that will reveal whether any cause for concern is needed. The so-called home office turns out to be, even if it seems the opposite, a little heavier because it is necessary to take turns between professional and domestic work, which can cause overload and exhaustion – especially in the case of employees who have a family.

At the same time, it can also be a sign of lack of organization, time management and the very productivity that the member offers. Sometimes, even communication within the team can become a factor, which brings us to the next point.

Communicative failures

Adherence to the use of technologies has shown us that many of the face-to-face meetings can be made official through messages and e-mails. However, these resources are not a substitute for the need to align some processes, update the progress of appropriate work and explain new plans. This means that meetings require complete focus and attention, which can end up being difficult working remotely.

Known as “Zoom Fatigue”, the phenomenon points to the overload of attention needed in video conference calls and that have led some people to exhaustion during quarantine, according to Katty Zúñiga, psychologist and researcher. As if that were not enough, there is an occurrence in our brain called ultradian rhythm, responsible for regulating concentration. It is also in charge of keeping our brain focused for an activity for 90 minutes. However, after this period, the mind becomes overwhelmed and loses its commitment.

That is, changes in plans and new decisions that are taken in the course of long meetings, if not directly notified, can cause communication failures between the team, requiring monitoring for adjustments.

Absence of collaboration

It is customary, in face-to-face work, that in the division of tasks, even if it is well distributed, team members help each other when the task load decreases. Even though in remote work this should not be different, not only the overload but also the lack of intimacy and space should consequently lead to the lack of cooperation.

Mood changes

Sudden changes in mood and behavior were aggravated during the pandemic period. That is, remote work can cause triggers that trigger stress, anxiety, depression and even burnout syndrome. if an employee who was once an engaged, active member of all meetings and workshops has become withdrawn or quiet, it could be due to stress or emotional fatigue. That is why it is important, as you do not have access to meet your members in person, to understand their behavior in videoconferences, conversations and to show concern and availability of assistance.

When remote employees feel connected to their teams and involved in projects, they can be among your most productive—and happiest—employees. But if they start feeling isolated or left out, that can change quickly. Unfortunately, as a manager, it’s sometimes difficult to know when a virtual worker is feeling disconnected. 

How to help your team

According to the 2020 Buffer report, remote workers’ biggest challenges are communication and collaboration, loneliness, having no way to “disconnect” and distractions at home, as you can see below.

As a responsible for the team, you should pay attention if they have any problem adjusting to the remote model, helping by applying:

Encourage communication

  • Organize regular individual meetings
  • Use technology to your advantage
  • Show your team that you are available for any queries and notifications

Encourage a positive culture of remote work

  • Hold meetings with the entire team to build a relationship
  • Encourage your team to rest at the end of the workday

Provide the necessary resources for employees

  • Invest in improving your employees’ soft skills
  • Build bridges between your employees and those in the HR department, who can provide additional support.

Now more than ever, it is essential to emphasize the importance of your team’s well-being. If the above signs are perceived, the manager must demonstrate some of his concerns while making it clear that the employee’s employment is not in danger. The emphasis should be on providing the employee with the support and resources available to adapt to remote work. In certain cases, even listening can be enough to relieve stress and anxiety and help them get back to productivity. In other cases, other measures must be used.

If more concrete assistance is needed, book an appointment with the representative of the HR department, who can take care of the situation as necessary. If one of the employee’s problems is loneliness, for example, consider suggesting that he stay on calls and video calls with a coworker. HR representatives should also offer tips on how to better structure a day. This might include setting small goals for each hour, setting aside time for a committed lunch break, and creating a designated workspace—for the latter, this space should be somewhere separate from where the employee relaxes.