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:
Choose the right team players
Define your team purpose
Develop strong team dynamics
Give feedback and reward performance
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:
Be very selective about hiring remote employees to ensure they are not only knowledgeable, but also independent, self-disciplined and solid communicators
Avoid remote roles for new employees who need to develop contacts in the same office with mentors and peers
Be extremely clear about roles and responsibilities to avoid indecision and slow processes
Post photos of each team member to build familiarity, and attach those photos to meeting invites
Create online share drives for joint work projects
Add notes to meeting requests to ensure everyone knows the agenda and topics to be discussed
Use phone calls to communicate rather than always opting for email or text, and integrate video technology to make long-distance conversations more personal
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
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
Follow up after calls with a recap to clarify action plans and reduce misunderstandings
Build stronger connections by optimizing face-to-face meetings and trying to make them as productive as possible
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
Help team members build their own support systems by encouraging them to network with peers and access multiple resources
Assign projects to small groups so individuals can begin developing deeper relationships with each other
Avoid becoming the bottleneck for decision-making by empowering employees to act independently
Be creative in your team communications, perhaps using videos instead of the standard email updates or reports
Keep team members informed about group progress and achievements so they all feel aligned to the organizational goals
Implement a consistent program to share information from upper management with your team so they feel “in the loop”
Schedule in-person gatherings for vision, strategy and planning meetings, as well as celebrations at mid-year and year-end
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
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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