To many employers, managing a remote workforce is like phone sex. You get the job done efficiently, but you lose the personal touch.
Some managers point to the difficulties of managing a remote team: the loss of “serendipity” or “corporate culture”, less opportunities for impromptu brainstorming sessions, or more control over each employee during the workday.
But managing a remote team successfully requires only a few “tweaks” to a manager’s focus.
Set clear expectations, including metrics, deadlines, and hours.
My first remote manager told me (in a sales/recruiting role), “I don’t care what you do. Just make me money.”
When my manager finally told me that he needed me doing 30 or more cold calls each day to build my deal pipeline, the competitor in me clicked into overdrive, and I started ripping down deals.
Setting regular business hours could help give your team an idea of when they are expected to be available and responsive, though this is less applicable to teams across different time zones.
Utilize Videoconference Technology.
Many 100% remote companies utilize some version of the weekly all-hands-on-deck meeting to discuss status of projects and goals for the week.
Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime, and the variety of videoconference platforms on the market can help remote team members capture some of that face-to-face interaction.
Periodic In-Person Meetings.
Depending on where your remote team is located, you could have team meetings as regularly as once a week.
If your team is spread across a larger geographic radius but, say, on the same continent (such as across the continental U.S.), you can still have day-long meetings once a quarter.
I have worked with remote teams that have been separated by continents (one person in Europe, one in Asia), and the full team still managed to meet at least four times a year over business trips that lasted a week or more.
It’s Okay to Micromanage…sometimes.
Let your team know that you are watching – you know when they are on the computer via that green dot by their name (such as in Gmail), and you expect answers to emails and completion of certain tasks within a certain time.
One former remote supervisor required his team to keep a daily log of all phone calls made (including voicemails left) and PDF it to him at the end of each workday.
This may be a bit much, but a remote manager should not be afraid to ask their team for accountability.
Hire a Manager with Remote Work Experience.
Whenever I am interviewing for a job with a large telecommuting component, I always ask the candidate whether they have experience in a telework situation.
It should be a prerequisite that all managers possess some experience as a remote worker managing their own workflow and being managed by a remote manager, even if they have not managed teams before.
Train New Employees In-Person.
When I started my first remote work job (based in Hong Kong), my new employer asked me to spend 6 weeks in the States working side-by-side with my two immediate supervisors.
In-person interaction speeds up the training process and helps people learn how to do their jobs better. If one team member improves her performance, other team members can more readily learn from her if the team shares the same space.
Managers of a remote team must take care to share the improvement tricks that boost one team member’s performance, and encourage the team to do the same. Take a page from fitness blogs where contributors share tips that helped them achieve certain milestones.
While certain roles lend themselves to working in a shared space, and a 100% remote setup might not make sense for all companies, revising your managerial strategy to account for the unique dynamics of a remote team will help eliminate most of the perceived drawbacks of telecommuting.
If you are a small business owner or manager curious about how to optimize your remote team, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org