Working from home has seen a sharp increase in popularity following the events of the past few years. It’s more common now, both in business use and employee expectation. As a result, HR must be aware of the challenges for remote teams, and how to tackle them.

Difficult commutes. Annoying colleagues. Office layouts that make getting peace and quiet impossible. Working from home means employees get to skip some of the annoying or inefficient aspects of an office-based role. But that’s not to say it’s working on easy mode.

For one thing, people working from home still face many of the same challenges they would in the office. Difficult targets or bad software are frustrating, no matter where you are. But, just as there are some obstacles you’ll only find in-office, there are also unique challenges for remote teams specifically.

So, in this article, we’ve broken down what a simple employee check-in can do for your remote staff. But, as usual, let’s summarize some things first.

The most significant challenges for remote teams

Some of the most challenging roles are the ones with a lot of autonomy. And that’s something which is heavily associated with working from home. Or in any de-centralized location. For that reason and more, there are specific challenges for remote teams. And you can easily overlook them if you’ve only worked in an office.

Remote workers can miss out on vital communication

We may be in the era of online communication. Even so, remote workers can miss out on feedback and other important information. Of course, it may be a common challenge for remote teams. But the fault also lies with managers and HR departments not taking adequate steps to support remote and hybrid employees.

On average, remote workers get fewer instances of feedback than in-office employees. That’s according to a paper produced in collaboration by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the University of Iowa, and Harvard University. It’s a serious problem where remote workers are, as one employee put it, ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’

So, in part, it’s that remote workers are easier for managers to overlook. But it’s also the result of remote workers having fewer opportunities to network professionally or socially.

And, while that study’s primary focus was feedback, it’s not the only thing remote employees can miss out on. Companies need to take a digital, remote-first approach to communication. Otherwise, remote workers miss out on all kinds of info. Between in-person meetings, and informal discussions, it’s easy for even someone in-office to be out of the loop.

Employees who work remotely are often overlooked

Let’s get one thing straight. There may be plenty of challenges for remote teams. But, despite that, they generally prove themselves to be equally or more productive than in-office colleagues.

But, like we said, they’re often out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Think of managers looking to assess the contributions of their team members. The people they see working alongside them will naturally make more of an impression. Without any sort of quantifiable record, managers have to rely on their gut feelings. That’s where personal biases like these can creep in.

And overlooking the contributions of any employee is a great way to make them feel undervalued. It also means they’re more likely to be viewed harshly, because their positive impact is being ignored. And that leads into one of the other challenges for remote teams…

Remote workers can feel a lot of pressure to prove their commitment

It’s an outdated mentality, for sure. And, with the work-from-home boom of the Pandemic, we’re seeing attitudes change. But there’s still a holdover of people who look down on remote workers.

People working from home can often fear judgement from management or their co-workers. In particular, they’re worried about getting written off as lazy or uncommitted. It’s one of the challenges for remote teams that has a direct link with toxic culture.

And, given the way some employers treat their remote teams, those fears don’t seem totally unfounded. Some companies saddle their remote workers with dubious productivity-tracking software. Frankly, the issues with these applications could fill an article by themselves. And they actually did, as a matter of fact.

These pressures can make it difficult for remote workers to switch off. They often try to compensate by staying at their desks longer, working more than 48 extra minutes a day, on average.

It’s harder for remote workers to influence workplace culture

In theory, we all influence the work cultures of our employers. But the reality is that the opinions of some have more sway than those of others. And we don’t just mean how leaders and managers have more say than rank-and-file employees.

Being there in person gives you more opportunities to make your voice heard. You’re harder to ignore because you can talk to everyone around you. So, let’s say office-based staff are having a bigger impact on work culture. It stands to reason that work policy will favor office workers over remote staff.

It’s one of the most difficult challenges for remote teams to overcome without assistance. So, in order to support them, HR must try that much harder. Fortunately, that’s where an employee check-in can save the day!

How an employee check-in helps remote teams

Our employee check-in is an asynchronous feedback tool for managers and their employees. But check-ins benefits HR too. They’re designed to monitor engagement and sentiment, while enhancing the effectiveness of performance reviews. They can be as frequent as you like. But we find a weekly basis to be ideal.

Our employee check-in comes in two parts. The first is a small set of questions personalized to each employee. There are a range of question formats, and each employee’s question set can be tweaked and changed whenever managers see fit.

The second part is regular goal-tracking. Managers can use either SMART Goals or OKRs. These serve as a consistent, immediate progress update. But they’re also a handy form of performance documentation the employee fills out themselves.

What our employee check-in is not

When we talk about a weekly employee check-in, we specifically mean the process outlined above. We’re not, in any way, referring to any kind of 1:1 meeting, email discussion or informal conversation. These things might be referred to as “checking in” for the purposes of casual discussion. But they’re not what we’re talking about today.

Check-ins enable two-way communication

A weekly employee check-in is light-touch and asynchronous. This makes it the ideal way of generating a dialogue between managers and employees. HR should encourage managers to use a mix of the qualitative and quantitative question types. The former give context by letting employees put things in their own words. And the latter provides a metric for HR’s sentiment analysis.

A weekly update schedule means employees always know their next check-in is right around the corner. First off, it gives them a way of raising complaints and concerns. Second, because you can respond to their answers directly, it’s a way they can ask questions. This ongoing feedback process helps to compensate for the opportunities they miss out on.

Encourage remote team recognition with a check-in

One of the major challenges for remote teams is not feeling valued by the wider organisation. So HR should encourage managers to take full advantage of recognition questions in their check-ins.

Managers can’t be everywhere at once. But recognition questions mean other people can catch the excellence you miss. When your remote team members collaborate, they can hype up each other’s accomplishments.

Aside from making the recipient feel good, recognition serves one other vital purpose. It increases the visibility of remote staff in your organisation. So, hard-working remote staff can push back more effectively against negative stereotypes and harsh assumptions.

Goal-tracking lets results speak for themselves

Of all the challenges for remote teams, the inherent distrust is especially crushing. Especially when it’s backed up by draconian tracking software. At that point, it’s just micromanagement by an algorithm.

With a weekly employee check-in, a remote team’s hard work speaks for itself. Managers (and anyone they pass updates up to) can see whether someone’s hitting their goals at a glance. This is a much more effective way of gauging performance than rating someone on their click rate, or number of seconds spent on a webpage.

When the hard work of remote teams is clear for managers to see, it will make it easier for them to set healthy boundaries. This should be a priority for HR, because if it isn’t, your remote workers will be at serious risk of burnout.

And, to be honest, we could probably keep going. It’s true that everyone can benefit from a weekly employee check-in. But, for remote workers, the difference it makes can be even more significant. It’s a valuable lifeline for employees fighting for legitimacy, and to not get overlooked.