When I was managing people within a busy financial institution, every single person who reported into me was within shouting distance!
It was easy for me to get an instant update on the status of a particular account or where a specific project was stalling.
I simply walked out my office and spoke face-to-face with the team member.
Today, that’s almost impossible, as most of my team are either out with clients or running consultancy or training sessions somewhere in the world. We need a model that works in situations where people are in different time zones, never mind different offices.
How can we effectively manage our people when they are now working virtually? What’s the best way to manage remote workers?
Well, when I am asked how to manage a remote team, I normally answer with ‘Don’t!’
Yes, don’t manage them. Instead, create a world where they can manage themselves, and adopt a leadership approach where they become leaders of their own results.
What’s the best way of doing this? Here are five ways to successfully lead a remote or virtual team:
Plan to establish and deepen the relationship with every team member with regular and valuable meetings.
These can be done on-line, of course, but you must schedule specific meeting times with them as a team as well as individuals. Do this via skype or videoconference, rather than phone.
Seeing a person’s face in front of us changes our level of involvement and behaviour with that person. Your relationship with them becomes closer and you create more of a bond with them.
Make sure you connect with them informally, too, not just leaving the calls to catch up on work. Humanising the connection can make a person feel they are part of a team rather than just a remote worker.
You simply cannot manage the activity of every virtual team member. You haven’t got time to keep tabs on what they are doing every minute or hour.
Instead, set goals and objectives and ensure you monitor results.
Allow team members to determine their best way of achieving the results you require and support and delegate to them appropriately. Be clear about your expectations, the objectives you expect to be met and any deadlines you are keeping them to. Then let them work on the ‘how to get it done’.
Project management tools can be ideal to keep track of deadlines. They also send alerts and reminders for deadlines and give you a quick daily, weekly or monthly overview of what needs to be done, by whom, and by when. Whichever application you use, make it viable and effective for the specific team you are working with.
A basic management technique that we often fall short with is giving employees ongoing feedback and support. Many employees – at all levels of an organisation – believe they don’t get enough feedback from managers on how they are performing. This can be especially true with virtual and remote workers.
Managing a virtual team does not abdicate you from the responsibility of giving quality feedback and support. Because they won’t be in the office as often, they may miss out on the latest news and background information. Ensure they are included in newsletters and kept up-to-date on news items within the business. Give them the support that makes them feel they are still part of a team, however remote that may be. Feedback often on how you think they are doing and do this more frequently than you might think you need to do.
One of the issues with working from home or in a remote location away from the office or normal working environment is that people can feel lonely and isolated. Not everyone copes well with this style of working. Most people do not have this issue and love the freedom that comes with working from home, but it’s important to check in from time to time and make sure everything is working for them.
A quarterly or bi-monthly assessment is vital to ensure your people are coping well with the demands of the remote environment. If you’re able to do these more formal reviews with them regularly, you show their value to you as a team leader and you encourage them to communicate with you on a more regular basis.
Managing a remote team can have its benefits and drawbacks. If you are able to concentrate on what needs to be achieved, rather than how to achieve them, you create the systems that tap into the creative nature of every remote team member, and this should give you the trust you need to allow every person in your team to flourish.