Five reasons remote teams fail

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Apr 20 2020 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

As many managers are now discovering, leading a remote team can sometimes feel like an entirely different kettle of fish to leading a physically co-located one. But actually itís the same fish, just a different kettle.

If we think about what teams need to do (and leaders need to help facilitate) - share information, collaborate, offer assistance to each other - the job is the same whether our desks are adjacent or whether we're working at home or even thousands of miles apart.

Working remotely does pose the challenges in unexpected ways, however. Adjusting to our work and communication being mediated by technology instead of relying on our age-old instincts means we have to re-think how we do certain things.

Here are five ways in which remote teams struggle - and five things that newly remote managers need to think hard about:

1. The team lacks a compelling vision and purpose. Is everyone pulling in the same direction for the same reasons. While we often think we do a good job of this, working remotely makes it very easy for people to become very focused on their own tasks and work at the expense of the overall team.

2. Team members donít hold each other accountable for their work and deliverables. Because we donít see each other all the time, and donít have a lot of accidental or incidental communication with people, we donít know what they Ďre up to until a project is finished and a deliverable is madeÖor not.

Remote workers often develop a ďtunnel visionĒ where they are worried about their work, and on the relationship with the manager. If you are unwilling to confront a co-worker, or ask for assistance, working virtually becomes a very convenient excuse. Working remotely actually requires more proactive communication, not less.

3. The team doesnít have shared leadership. In the project management world especially, we are often tasked with leading teams or groups where you have no authority over the individual members (oh, but you get all of the responsibility/blame). When someone has a ďreal bossĒ as well as their responsibilities to the team, the potential is ripe for conflicting priorities, mis-spent time and confusion.

4. Team processes arenít effective, or at least not adhered to. Working virtually and remote from each other requires clear, explicit processes. How do you communicate? What technology will you use in which ways to help share knowledge, collaborate and allocate resources? Often, when people are unclear as to chain of authority, roles and scope of influence, the default choice is not to communicate or take action.

5. Individual relationships with the manager. One thing doesnít change, and it doesnít matter if you are remote or not. The number one factor in whether someone stays or goes, or functions at a high level or just putters along, is their individual relationship with the manager. Working remotely doesnít lessen the importance of good communication, effective coaching and influenceÖ. But it sure makes it different than what weíre used to.

There are many organizations with highly functional, productive and motivated remote teams, just as many people who share an office are mired in despair and unproductive behaviors. These five things, though, raise questions organizations managers and individual workers need to think about if theyíre going to do the best work they can.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.