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How to Effectively Manage Teams that Work from Home

The new landscape of leadership: managing remote teams in the modern workplace.
Work from home interview
In this article

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Today’s guest: Mine Dedekoca. With 10+ years of remote work experience, Mine is a consultant, mentor and speaker on the future of work. She founded Happy Work Studio, helping organizations transform their workplace culture. Mine is also a founding member of Remote-First Institute, supporting companies in adopting remote-first workplaces. 

Mine’s expertise lies in developing strategies fostering engagement, productivity and well-being in distributed teams. Through consulting, she partners with leaders to implement flexible policies, cultivate psychologically safe environments and design robust remote systems. 

As a speaker, Mine shares insights and case studies on building high-performing remote cultures. She mentors startups and aspiring remote leaders on navigating remote work complexities.

Today’s topics: Exploring the challenges and their solutions when employees work from home. What effective leadership  looks like in remote environments. How to build a strong remote culture with clear communication while ensuring fairness.

Let’s dive in!

The Challenges of Handling Work From Home

  1. Alina from Tidaro: Hello, Mine, and thank you for accepting my interview invitation. I want to start with the following question: Which do you consider to be the 3 most important benefits of working from home, and the 3 main downsides from the employers’ perspective?

Mine: From my perspective, these are the 3 main downsides: communication challenges, performance management, cultural and employee engagement issues. Let me go a bit deeper on each of them.

  • Communication Challenges: Despite the benefits of remote work, communication among team members can be less straightforward without face-to-face interactions. This can lead to misunderstandings and delays in communication requiring employers to create communication patterns and frameworks.
  • Performance Management: One of the most frequently mentioned pain points is having visibility to the performance of the employees. With employees not physically present in an office, employers find it challenging to monitor and evaluate performance effectively. This requires the adoption of new management techniques and tools to ensure productivity and accountability.
  • Cultural and Employee Engagement Issues: Maintaining a strong company culture and high levels of employee engagement can be challenging when team members work remotely. The lack of casual, personal interaction can impact team cohesion and employees’ connection to the organization, potentially affecting long-term employee retention and satisfaction.
work from home

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  1. Alina from Tidaro: You really hit the nail on the head there, Mine…But…there’s always a “but”, right? How can employers address the downsides mentioned above?

Mine: Almost all of the downsides that the employers experience are due to lack of proper processes and technology. That’s why I strongly recommend the employers to revisit their processes and infrastructure before blaming “Remote Work” for their problems. 

Let me approach them one by one again:

Addressing Communication Challenges

  • Regular Check-ins: Employers should establish routine check-ins, such as daily stand-ups or weekly team meetings, to ensure the continuity of communication. This can also be done by video messaging tools like Loom to create the feeling of being connected. 
  • Robust Communication Tools: Investing in reliable communication tools (ie. Slack, Zoom, Discord etc.) can facilitate smoother exchanges between employees. It’s also important to create training documents or video tutorials about how to use this tools effectively
  • Clear Communication Protocols: Setting clear expectations about communication norms and response times helps in managing how employees interact. For instance, guidelines on when to send an email versus when to call, can streamline communication.

Overseeing Performance

  • Performance Management Process: Utilizing software that tracks performance metrics can help managers monitor productivity without being intrusive. These tools can provide insights into work patterns and help identify areas where support might be needed.
  • Results-Oriented Work Environment (ROWE): Shifting focus from hours worked to outcomes achieved encourages employees to work efficiently. By setting clear goals and expected results, employers can better assess performance based on output rather than time spent at the desk.
  • Regular Feedback: Implementing a system for ongoing feedback rather than relying solely on annual reviews can help keep remote employees aligned with the company’s goals and aware of their performance status regularly.

Cultural and Engagement Issues

  • Virtual Team Building Activities: Organizing online team-building activities can foster a sense of community and help employees feel connected. These might include virtual coffee breaks, online game sessions, or even remote lunch meetings.
  • Recognition Programs: Creating recognition programs that highlight employee achievements can boost morale and maintain engagement. This could be through shout-outs in company-wide meetings, newsletters, or special awards for standout performances.
  • Encouraging Informal Interactions: Encouraging informal interactions among team members, such as setting up ‘virtual water cooler’ spaces or interest-based chat rooms, can help preserve the office culture and strengthen bonds among colleagues.
  1. Alina from Tidaro: All of the challenges you mentioned above should be handled by the companies’ leaders. So, my next question is: what are some key qualities successful remote leaders possess? How can they effectively manage teams that work from home?

Mine: Successful remote leaders have these qualities: 

  • Strong communication skills: Successful remote leaders know how to convey messages in a way that is easy to understand and leaves little room for misinterpretation. They usually tend to over communicate not to leave their team members with any uncertainties. 
  • Flexibility: They are flexible in the mind and in action. They may not be fully in line with the change but they are flexible to adapt to the new conditions. They are highly adaptable, ready to handle changes and unexpected issues smoothly and effectively. I like to use AQai, an AI based adaptability quotient assessment that measures the level of adaptability of a leader. We then coach the leader based on the results.   
  • Providing psychological safety: Successful leaders provide a space where employees feel comfortable about expressing their authentic ideas without the fear of suffering from the consequences. They foster a culture of transparency and mutual trust. This also increases the camaraderie among the team members. 
  • Sense of trust: Successful remote leaders are not micromanagers. They set clear goals and expectations and trust their team members to deliver results on time in expected quality. Providing them this autonomy increases the self confidence and productivity of the employees. 
virtual meeting while working from home

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Reimagining Culture in Hybrid and Remote Work Environments

  1. Alina from Tidaro: You mentioned earlier some ideas on culture. Do companies need to reimagine their culture to encompass remote work? Can you elaborate on some specific strategies companies can use to build a strong culture in a virtual setting?

Mine: Yes, companies need to reimagine their culture to encompass remote work, since it’s a completely new way of working. Without a culture that is aligned with this mode of operation, people will feel isolated and disconnected.

Adapting the organizational culture for a remote setting involves rethinking engagement, communication, and collaboration practices to maintain a cohesive and vibrant work environment. When we help companies with their remote / hybrid work strategies, we start with defining the purpose and mission statements for their new way of working. We also touch the below mentioned areas to build a strong culture in a virtual setting:

  • Defining and Communicating Core Values: We redefine and communicate the core values to reflect remote work dynamics. We also emphasize values like flexibility, autonomy, and trust, which are crucial in a remote setting.

It’s important to ensure that all processes, from onboarding to daily work tasks, reflect these values. For example, if trust is a core value, demonstrate this by having fewer check-ins that focus on micromanagement and more on outcomes and milestones.

  • Enhancing Communication: Communication patterns and rules are crucial in Remote work settings. It’s important to keep lines of communication open with regular updates about the company’s status and future plans. This includes good news and challenges, fostering a transparent environment where employees feel informed and included.

We also encourage teams to utilize various tools to accommodate different communication styles and needs, including video calls, instant messaging, and collaboration platforms. This helps maintain clarity and ensures that no one is left out of the loop. We also create communication guidelines to guide them when to use which tool. 

  • Encouraging Social Interaction: Social interaction overcomes the challenges of feeling isolated and disconnected. Organizing regular virtual social events such as coffee breaks, happy hours, or team-building exercises that are not work-related encourages casual interactions among team members.
  • Implementing Inclusive Leadership Practices: Most of the remote work transition projects fail because of lack of leadership support. Leadership should actively participate in and promote the adapted culture. Their involvement in virtual activities and open communication sets a tone that encourages others to follow.

It’s also important to Include team members in decision-making processes when possible. This can involve regular brainstorming sessions or feedback loops where employees can contribute ideas and opinions.

  • Having Support Mechanisms and Wellness Initiatives: People have been seriously impacted by mental health issues for the last couple of years. We see that providing resources and support for mental health, such as virtual counseling sessions, wellness apps subscriptions, or scheduled “mental health days” off improves the mental wellbeing of remote work employees. 

Also training employees on how to manage their daily routine along with work is important. I like to call it the “Work-Life Harmonization”.  Promoting policies that support a healthy work-life integration and recognizing that home environments can vary greatly in terms of distractions and obligations helps the employees to embrace remote work in a healthy way. 

  • Performance and Recognition: Having concrete processes for performance and recognition reduces the need to micromanage. Companies need to adapt performance metrics to suit remote work. Their focus needs to be on output and quality of work rather than traditional metrics like time spent at the desk.

Developing virtual recognition programs that highlight employee achievements and contributions regularly, ensures that team members feel valued and recognized.

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  1. Alina from Tidaro: It feels overwhelming…but it definitely can be done:). Now, I have listened to the podcast episode from Empowering Workplaces where you were invited as a guest. You were saying that when you work with your clients to help them transition to hybrid or remote work you start with a project team that will end up pushing the change from the bottom. Could you dive a bit deeper into this?  

Mine: That’s right. I always start with creating a project team that acts as the champions of change within the organization. We make sure that the team is a diverse mix of employees from different levels, departments and generations  within the organization. Having an equal representation of different groups ensures that the team can address concerns and needs across the company.

It’s also crucial to choose members who are open-minded, creative and influential. We usually do a launch event about the project and do an open call for volunteers. I also make sure to get insights from the team managers not to miss any employees with these characteristics. 

The project team gathers feedback from all employees about the new processes we design during the project. Throughout the transition, the project team also advocates for the benefits of the new model, celebrating early wins and sharing success stories to build momentum and support for the change. This increases the level of adoption among the rest of the employees. 

Fairness and Equality at Work

  1. Alina from Tidaro: In the same podcast you mentioned that fairness is not equality. Could you expand a bit?

Mine:

Equality means giving every employee the same resources or opportunities. For example, giving everyone the right to work from home or giving them laptops. 

Fairness, on the other hand, involves understanding and addressing the individual needs and circumstances of each employee to ensure everyone has an equal access to required resources and also has an equal opportunity to succeed. For instance, a graphic designer might need a high-end computer with specific software, while a salesperson might require a reliable phone system and a travel allowance. Providing resources based on role-specific needs is an example of fairness. 

Another example is providing flexibility based on the role and personal circumstances of the employees. For example, it’s impossible to let a production line worker work from home but you can redesign the workforce structure to give them the flexibility to have off time during the week. This would decrease the friction between the blue collar workers and the HQ employees by creating fair work conditions based on the nature of their work. 

  1. Alina from Tidaro: What are some strategies companies can use to ensure a sense of fairness and inclusion for all workers, both working from home and from the office?

Mine: Ensuring fairness and inclusion in a hybrid work environment, where some employees work remotely and others are in the office, can be challenging. However, companies can implement various strategies to foster a sense of equity and belonging among all team members, regardless of their physical work location. 

It’s important to have consistent policies and benefits ensuring that all employees, whether remote or in-office, have equal access to career advancement opportunities, training programs, and project assignments. We have seen bad examples of companies letting only the onsite employees get promotions which is totally against the fairness approach.

It’s also important to have inclusive communication patterns. Using shared platforms for project management and communication to ensure all information is accessible to everyone, regardless of location.

Sometimes I receive objections about remote work, saying that it hinders the growth of relatively younger employees. Employers can offer equal access to training and development programs that can be attended remotely or have digital equivalents, ensuring all team members can continue to grow their skills irrespective of their location.

Employers also need to encourage open dialogues about hybrid work challenges and discuss strategies as a team to overcome them. This includes sharing both successes and struggles of working remotely or in-office, which can help in understanding different perspectives and fostering empathy.

empathy and belonging when it comes to teams that work from home

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Implementing these strategies helps in building a workplace where all employees feel valued, included, and equipped to contribute their best, ultimately driving organizational success in a hybrid work environment.

Alina from Tidaro: Thank you Mine, for accepting my invite. Now, both me and the readers have a lot to digest. You really shared much with us!

Conclusions

As I said earlier…there’s so much Mine shared with us about how to effectively manage teams that work from home. I’ll try to summarize some of her ideas below:

Remote Work Challenges and Solutions

  • Mine believes that the main challenges of having teams that work from home are: communication challenges, performance management difficulties, and cultural/engagement issues.
  • To address these, Mine is suggesting solutions like regular check-ins, clear communication protocols, performance management software, results-oriented work environments, and virtual team-building activities.

Building a Remote Culture

  • When reimagining the remote culture, leaders should define and share the core values, boost communication with clear guidelines, and encourage social interaction through virtual events.

I really love her quote here:

That’s why I strongly recommend the employers to revisit their processes and infrastructure before blaming “Remote Work” for their problems. 

  • Mine stressed the importance of support mechanisms like mental health resources and work-life harmonization policies.

Fairness vs. Equality

  • Mine differentiated fairness from equality, highlighting that fairness considers individual needs for equal opportunity, while equality provides the same resources to everyone.
  • Establishing fair performance metrics and recognition programs were highlighted for a healthy remote work environment.

If you want to get in touch with Mine Dedekoca, you can easily approach her on LinkedIn, here.

If you want some extra inspiration on how to run teams that work from home, you could also check our article How Atlassian is Managing Distributed Teams.

If you want to find out more on how to better manage remote working teams, check our Jobgether interview.

We also prepared a guide on how to manage hybrid work. Make sure to check it out! 

Picture of Alina Belascu
Alina Belascu
Alina is a digital marketer with a passion for web design. When she’s not strategizing she’s doing photography, listening to podcasts on history and psychology, and playing with her 2 dogs and cat.