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10 Productivity Killers and How to Overcome Them When Working Remotely

Out of bed, coffee in hand, laptop out—voila, you are ready for work! No commuting by overcrowded public transport. No noisy colleagues alongside you. No chit-chatting about this and that. No queues in front of the coffee machine.

Remote work comes with great perks. What you may like most about working remotely is the level of independence and flexibility over your work. You can complete tasks anywhere you want, from your bedroom to a coffee house. You can even travel while working. 

But being an efficient remote worker is challenging, as well as managing a high-performing virtual team is. Your team and you may face many productivity pitfalls on the road to mutually beneficial collaboration.

This article will deep dive into the top ten productivity killers of distributed teams, and methods on how to overcome them. Follow these tips maximise your productivity - no matter where you or your team is.

Communication issues that kill team productivity

1 – Keeping team communication unstructured

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Paint the picture: Kelly has written about a new task to John in Skype and set one-week deadline. Then she sent all the necessary files to him via Gmail. All files except the zip archive ones. Kelley uploaded these zip files to Google Drive and sent the link to John via WhatsApp. Getting no reply from John in Skype during the week, Kelley got nervous and angry. She didn’t know that John had already completed the task and sent it to her in WhatsApp…

Communication is crucial for getting people from different cities or countries to achieve common goals and staying productive.

When your team members aren’t sitting right next to you, communication should be intensely clear and specific to get work done. The key here is to elaborate rules and stick to them – whether it’s a mix of daily one-on-one’s by phone and having everyone on Skype group chat in the meantime, or any other system that works well for your team.

2 – Ignore the power of tech tools

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The Evolving Workforce Project has conducted an in-depth study on productivity and remote working and found that: ‘83 percent of global employees believe that technology advances have enabled them to be more productive and see this increasing in the future.’ 

Thankfully, we no longer use pigeon post or learn the basics of telepathy in order to transmit a message. Today there’s an ocean of communication tools out there designed for improving remote team’s productivity. You have likely heard of Slack, a popular Silicon Valley messaging startup, and its alternatives: Stride (former HipChat), Flock, Chanty business messenger, etc. Which one should you choose? It depends on your distributed team size, communication needs and budget (or the lack of it). 

Whatever you choose, here’s a power tip you should try using a team messenger: Organize its interface into relevant sub-groups and team chats depending on the structure of your company. This structure will prevent your communication from being messy and unproductive.

To make things even better, employ video conference apps like Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting for your remote team meetings.

3 – Overlook two-way feedback between team members

– Is the task clear?

– Yep!

– Great, get down to work. Buy!

Stop, stop, stop! Here comes a tricky question. What important stage of productive team communication is missing? The answer is quite simple. The lacking thing – is feedback.

Remote employees are still employees who want to be heard and understood. They may have ideas for improving the way the entire company works.

Therefore, bringing feedback and non-judgmental listening are the main factors that ramp up team productivity.

Collaboration issues your remote team’s productivity suffers from

4 – Not streamlined online collaborative workspace

Collaboration is a crucial part of team productivity. Even a small issue in the project lifecycle is a possibility for chaos. Do you manage projects in spreadsheets coloring boxes on a grid? If so, that ‘small issue’ is only a matter of time.

Alternatively, when companies become better at project management, productivity can improve by over 60 percent. That’s a reason why you have to switch to more professional tools – tools that will save your time, keep all documents in order, and help you collaborate effectively in real time with your remote team.

If you decide to utilize such tools, start with comparing collaborative software’s reviews and features to make a decision.

5 – Failing to measure productivity

– Hi Kelly, greetings from London! Are you ready with your weekly article for our blog? I need it ASAP.

– Hi John, I stopped writing the article in order to finish another task. Did you not know about it?

Speaking of remote team’s challenges that are solved with collaborative tools, tracking productivity is another one. What exactly are other team members working on? Which milestones have they completed? Is your colleague whom assistance you need, available for cooperation right now? Collaborative software can give you answers to all these questions. What might be companies’ top priority is to create clear goals with measurable milestones and distribute responsibilities along projects.

6 – Not respect each team member’s time zone

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A team member in USA says to his colleagues in India, ‘Let’s hold an one-to-one meeting on Thursday 1PM.’ Try to solve the following riddle: When will they talk? Probably, this conversation won’t take place. 

Working in a distributed team, it is not enough to set deadlines and schedule video calls. You should do this smartly. The importance of knowing and respecting time zones helps you determine when will be the best time for performing tasks and holding meetings.

For tasks that are not time bound, allow remote workers perform them within daylight hours in their time zone. When it comes to your calls or meetings, always choose a period, when everyone is supposed to be working no matter their location. These simple strategies lead to increasing overall team’s productivity.

7 – Underestimate the importance of meetings

Almost everyone hates meetings. Almost everyone doesn’t like to attend them. Almost everyone knows that virtual meetings are pivotal for remote team’s life. How to get most out of meetings and stay in synch when there are a lot of time during the day when employers are offline? You can accomplish it in several ways: 

  1. Forget about useless meetings for every little update. Instead, meet only when there is a clear agenda.
  2. Set a timer. End the meeting when the time is up.
  3. Invite as few team members as possible, and only the relevant ones.
  4. End a meeting with a straightforward result.
  5. Replace some meetings with daily updates, when each employer shares their work progress in a particular channel in your team chat.

Engagement issues that decrease overall team’s productivity

8 – Skip new employees onboarding

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Who is that? What does she do? Where does she live? These are the questions within your team which you have to fight with in order to improve productivity. What will help companies with this challenge is various onboarding activities:

  1. If you can, bring new remote workers to the office for their first days in the company so trainings and onboarding can happen in person.
  2. Spend a couple of days with each new hire on various video chats to walk them through the daily processes and their role.
  3. Provide new employees with all necessary tools, instructions how you work, and invite them in your team chat’s conversations.
  4. Assign a person who will be a virtual mentor for a new worker. Having a helpful buddy that guide a newbie through all the things they should learn, is really handy.

9 – Not pay attention to remote employee social isolation

When your nearest colleague lives in the neighboring country, your office birthday party can be a little bit lonely. Working in a distributed team, you physically unable to grab a cup of coffee with your colleagues before work. Or have a beer after. Therefore, taking some proactive steps towards supporting team’s relationships is way too important for distributed companies.  

When you get together with your remote colleagues via Google Hangouts or whatever, ask them about their personal lives, or better yet, start off by telling them something about yours. Don’t be afraid to encourage social interactions and take part in similar activities. Being social does not reduce productivity and work output. Contrariwise, it keeps employees happy, engaged and productive. Moreover, set up a casual chat open for sharing non-work-related content, jokes, GIFs, and everything in between. 

Obviously, team spirit won’t materialize overnight. You will create it through thousands of everyday interactions. Thus, don’t strive for immediate results. Enjoy the process instead.

10 – Hire the wrong people

The majority of people don’t tell the difference between great workers and great remote workers. But a great in-office employee isn’t necessarily a great remote worker.

Distributed working is a skill like any other.

There are many talented professionals who work much more productively in an office than from a remote location. Knowing this principle is important to ensure maximum efficiency for a distributed team.

Look for a remote team player who is highly motivated, proactive and communicative. Hire them on trial basis. At this period they will be able to demonstrate crucial abilities of a remote worker: managing time, dealing with various tasks, and delivering output. Or they won’t be able to show desired results. Both in the first and in the second case, you will know your next step—to hire or fire.

Final thoughts

Generally speaking, working on a distributed team has some specific advantages and challenges, just like traditional in-office working. By and large, all teams share common issues. However, remote work requires different tactics to make sure that things run smoothly in three major productivity areas: workers’ communication, collaboration and engagement.

To keep all these areas streamlined, you should constantly keep in mind your company’s needs and be focused on results. All above-mentioned strategies are only effective if they help achieve business goals. Eventually, overcoming team productivity killers is not an ultimate goal. It’s easy to get lost in a world of ideal processes and workflows, but unless they contribute outcome, they’re unnecessary. Therefore, define your remote team’s productivity killers and create a specific mix of tactics on reducing them, instead of chaotically using everything in a row.

What productivity challenges do you face working remotely? What techniques do you employ to overcome them?