Remote work is here to stay. According to a survey by McKinsey & Company, 35% of people with jobs have the freedom to work remotely full time, and 25% can do so sometimes.
Employees’ preference for remote work is well documented. And many workers say they’re less stressed and more productive when they don’t have to go to the office. But everything isn’t rosy when it comes to remote work.
So if you manage remote teams or support them as an HR leader, it’s essential to become aware of the possible pitfalls of remote work so that you can help alleviate them.
Set Clear Expectations
The good news? We can now work anywhere, anytime. The bad news? We can now work anywhere, anytime. While remote employees savor the flexibility of working from home, that flexibility has a flip side. Studies have found that remote workers tend to work longer hours. The idea of “leaving work at the office” seems like ancient history now.
Never disconnecting from work can lead to stress and burnout. To protect remote employees’ well-being, Gallup recommends allowing them as much flexibility as possible while making clear that no one is expected to be “always on.”
As a language training firm that works with global companies, we can add to that advice. If bosses and remote employees work in different countries, they’re also likely in different time zones. For example, an email that a manager sends during lunchtime in Dallas hits a Tokyo-based employee’s inbox in the middle of the night. So managers must reinforce the idea that global employees don’t have to sleep with one eye open to monitor their inboxes.
2. Support Middle Managers
We’ve all been through a lot of adjustments in how we work over the past few years. But a recent survey by Slack found that middle managers are carrying the highest stress load amid all the changes we’ve experienced. Globally, 43% of managers said they are burned out.
An article in Harvard Business Review sums up the situation: “Leaders are expected to attend to employees’ mental and physical health and burnout (while also addressing their own), demonstrate bottomless sensitivity and compassion, and provide opportunities for flexibility and remote work — all while managing the bottom line, doing more with less, and overcoming challenges with hiring and retaining talent.”
All of this means that executives and HR leaders need to pay special attention to the managers in the trenches every day. One way to support middle managers is to provide training to help them navigate the increasing challenges of today’s workplaces. However, it’s also important that this training fits into their schedules and doesn’t become just one more thing to do.
3. Cultivate Connections
Perhaps the biggest challenge for remote teams, though, is creating and maintaining a sense of connection among team members who don’t regularly see each other in person. A survey of executives found widespread worries that remote employees will quit because they feel so disconnected. Among employees themselves, 72% said remote work doesn’t provide enough opportunities to socialize with their colleagues.
Again, as a language training firm, we have some extra insights into how the connection issue affects global companies. As an example, let’s imagine Elena, a Mexico City-based employee of a multinational organization. She’s just gotten a promotion that in the past would have involved moving to New York to work at company headquarters. Now, however, her company supports remote work, so Elena can stay in Mexico City. While she’s happy to remain close to friends and family, she’s also having trouble forming connections with her new colleagues.
Elena had thought her English skills were strong, but now she struggles to keep up with conversations during conference calls with her English-speaking colleagues. And since she and her co-workers aren’t in the same office, there aren’t as many opportunities for small talk that would help her both practice her English skills and get to know her U.S. teammates.
We’ve seen time and again that language training helps build stronger relationships on teams where employees are based in different countries. There’s a bonus, too. Language classes can help employees who aren’t co-located bond because they’re engaging in a different kind of activity together. The shared experience can open doors to other non-work-related conversations.
Can Language Training Help Your Remote Teams?
All organizations still have a lot to figure out when it comes to maximizing the benefits of remote work while minimizing the downsides. Solutions must be tailored to the needs of your company and your people.
If you believe that language training could benefit the productivity and engagement of your remote teams, we’d love to tell you more about our offerings.