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An Up-Close Look at Remote Management

Businessman working with laptop on airplane.

You land a new role. Exciting? Yes! But then you realize you’ll be managing people all over the country—or even the world. Time for panic? Not yet. Many more organizations today are structured to include remote teams, so you can benefit from their experiences.

The first thing to point out is that the task of managing remote employees basically requires the same leadership skills that you use for your direct reports locally. That should give you a little peace of mind, right? Consider a recent article on MindTools.com that discussed the challenges of managing a geographically dispersed team. The recommended strategy included the following steps:

  1. Choose the right team players

  2. Define your team purpose

  3. Develop strong team dynamics

  4. Give feedback and reward performance

  5. Promote team bonding

I’m sure those tactics sound familiar. The tricky part is applying them on a larger scale with people who don’t have the same office address.

During my years in the corporate world, I successfully led global teams using best practices for remote management. To determine how those best practices have evolved today, I interviewed a wide range of my clients and colleagues who have expertise in this area. They were kind enough to share some of their field-tested wisdom for managing dispersed teams, and I’ve included the highlights in the list below:

  1. Be very selective about hiring remote employees to ensure they are not only knowledgeable, but also independent, self-disciplined and solid communicators

  2. Avoid remote roles for new employees who need to develop contacts in the same office with mentors and peers

  3. Be extremely clear about roles and responsibilities to avoid indecision and slow processes

  4. Post photos of each team member to build familiarity, and attach those photos to meeting invites

  5. Create online share drives for joint work projects

  6. Add notes to meeting requests to ensure everyone knows the agenda and topics to be discussed

  7. Use phone calls to communicate rather than always opting for email or text, and integrate video technology to make long-distance conversations more personal

  8. Vary the timing of conference calls to be respectful of the business hours in other time zones, sometimes staying up late for Asia or getting up early for Europe

  9. Be efficient with group WebEx and conference calls, keeping those meetings to 45 minutes or less to avoid pushing the limits of the attention span

  10. Follow up after calls with a recap to clarify action plans and reduce misunderstandings

  11. Build stronger connections by optimizing face-to-face meetings and trying to make them as productive as possible

  12. Spend at least half a day with a team member if you’ve taken the time to travel to the remote location: tour a customer site, visit a local plant, meet your employee’s direct reports, or participate in a scheduled event

  13. Help team members build their own support systems by encouraging them to network with peers and access multiple resources

  14. Assign projects to small groups so individuals can begin developing deeper relationships with each other

  15. Avoid becoming the bottleneck for decision-making by empowering employees to act independently

  16. Be creative in your team communications, perhaps using videos instead of the standard email updates or reports

  17. Keep team members informed about group progress and achievements so they all feel aligned to the organizational goals

  18. Implement a consistent program to share information from upper management with your team so they feel “in the loop”

  19. Schedule in-person gatherings for vision, strategy and planning meetings, as well as celebrations at mid-year and year-end

  20. Choose fun locations for team meetings (not simply a hotel conference room) and include time for informal group meals or local activities that will allow people to cement more meaningful relationships and explore new places

  21. Remain respectful of different cultures, holidays and expectations among your heterogeneous team members, appreciating their differences and commonalities

Managing remote teams comes with a unique set of challenges, but it can also be extremely rewarding. For leaders who successfully connect a diverse group of people and leverage their strengths, the business results have the potential to be outstanding.

If you have a great tip for remote management, I’d love to hear about it.

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