How Do You Manage a Remote Team?
As a manager in today’s workforce, it’s likely you will remotely manage at least one member of your team. Remote managing takes a different skill set than simply being a good leader. An entire training industry has emerged that offers courses on how to best relate to diverse cultural and geographically disbursed teams. But we wanted to go ahead cover important highlights of what it takes to manage a remote team.
There are three key factors to consider when you manage a remote team. Master these factors, and you will be on a path to being a great manager of remote workers.
1. Need the Right Team
It doesn’t matter how great a manager you are – there will be no way you can create and manage an all-star team if you don’t have the right people in place. A good manager understands the strengths that each team member brings to the table, and then encourages and coaches that attribute to be the best it can be. Of course, easier said than done.
The first step is to observe what skills and knowledge everyone has on your team. People will tend to fall into roles such as “the organizer,” “the creative force” or “the doubter.” Each role has a place, which when combined can create a high-performance team.
When managing a remote team, the same factors are in play. The difference is that you are not always in the same room so you miss the naturally occurring “hallway” conversations – a great way to stay caught up and to coach problem solving or providing support. If members on your team work remotely, you will need to be more proactive on how these conversations happen.
Trust is a key component in building any team – remote teams are no different. In the words of Richard Branson, as stated in this interview, “Companies should trust people to work at home more. Commuting kills so much time and energy that could be spent creating.”
Effective teams are led by managers that trust each person on the team is doing the best they can to achieve a common goal. A feeling that all belong is critical – it won’t matter as much were someone works versus what they are doing.
To that end, when you manage a remote team it is critical to be able to communicate quickly to address issues or challenges as they arise. Challenges need to be shared, as do successes, regardless of where members of your team are located. This brings me to the next factor.
2. Need the right tools
To achieve near real-time collaboration when working on a group project, you need a common technology standard for communications. Fortunately, there are many to choose from today. In fact, the biggest challenge is standardizing on one platform. For startups, this can be a challenge since funds may not be as readily available. Employees might need to use what they already have. Several free (or very low-cost options) work great.
Large organizations have different challenges. For example, larger companies often grow by acquisition. This means every time a new company joins the mix, they bring with them a potentially different set of email applications, phone systems and telephone numbering hierarchies. This is a bigger challenge than overcoming budget restrictions since bureaucracies can make it very difficult to implement change and standardize communications. Sometimes a short-term solution is needed until a long-term standard can be established and rolled out.
For communications, a conference calling service, ideally with video capability, is a “must have” when managing a remote team today. The benefits of easily setting up a group call to discuss an urgent matter must be easy to do and quick to set up on the fly. Voice Over IP telephone systems are cost effective, and are loaded with features that include chatting / instant messaging and the sharing of documents for group discussion.
For coaching, in the absence of walking down the hall to see how one of your staff is doing on any day, it can be very difficult to see the “telltale” signs of when an employee has mentally checked out, or, if they are struggling with overcome a specific challenge. For those employees that might now be frustrated, and at risk of leaving, you need a way to be made aware of this potential before it is too late. If this person could be coached on how to improve their performance or on how to overcome a challenge they previously felt was unattainable, they might get reengaged with your team.
Once again, there are applications available that can help provide this type of visibly when your team works remotely. Applications such as Prodoscore provide excellent visibility on how employees spend their time, what types of communications occur, and what timeframe they are doing them. This information can be valuable to gain insights and be a more proactive manager.
3. Need the right set of processes
The final factor is all about the process. Once you are sure you have the right members contributing to your team, and you have the right tools to collaborate, communicate and coach improvement, the next step is to ensure everyone is working with best-practice processes that are efficient, provide necessary checks and balances, and can contribute to a high-performance team.
When working remotely, employees need to know how to handle the processes that are part of their positions. What role must legal be involved with closing sales contracts? How are customer service requests processed? Who is the person to approve travel requests? These are just some of the basic processes that must be clearly identified and explained.
The last thing a remote manager wants is for their remote workers to spend hours trying to figure out who is the person to approve what, or how to do administrative process. Those working in an office might simply go down the hall to ask an administrative assistant or other “go-to” person a quick answer to these types of questions, but remote workers don’t have this luxury.
Processes evolve over time. However, it is easy to forget about the team in the field and not communicate changes, or take time to train and coach. Sometimes there are the “untold” rules necessary to get business done – these are not often documented, but are just as important to ensure a smooth set of standard processes on how you run a team.
In conclusion, great managers will do well – regardless of their team. These professionals know how to bring out the best in their team, encourage collaboration and create a group of workers that are greater than the sum of their parts. Remote workers are not always visibly present, so extra effort must be applied to keep them in the loop, get them in the corporate offices (monthly / quarterly meetings) and establish opportunities for teamwork and team building so they too can be a viable, contributing member of your team.