How to Manage Remote Teams

A finger on a map of the world to show remote teams

This post was originally published in the Newsletter for CIPD Management Toolclicks.  You can read the original article here.

Thanks to technology and globalisation, more and more business teams are working together remotely from different locations and sometimes different countries.

But even with an array of new Web-based collaboration tools at their disposal, most managers find handling remote teams challenging.

To get the best out of your far-flung employees, you need to set up a clear communication routine, take extra steps to build trust, and review processes often to make sure they’re working for everyone.

Whether your employees are in other company offices, working from home, or both, these tips will help keep your team running smoothly.

Step 1:  Start with you.  Make sure you’re up for the task of managing remotely.

Managers who are responsible for successfully leading a remote teams share several traits. They are hard working, they travel, they are happy to work outside of the usual 9 to 5 and they thrive on their work and the culture they’ve created.

Step 2:  Gather the right people.  Build a team that can work well at a distance.

A remote team depends on people who can be productive without a boss or a trusted colleague sitting nearby. Team members should be motivated, disciplined, and flexible with their time, allowing them to connect with clients or colleagues in different time zones.

People who like to work standard hours aren’t the people who work well remotely.

Remote team members also need to communicate clearly in writing (since e-mail and instant messaging are the accepted standard for daily communication) and should be willing to suggest ideas, ask for and offer help, make decisions, and collaborate.

Step 3:  Put technology to work.  Find tools that fit both the job and the people who use them.

When it comes to technology, there’s only one clear-cut rule: Let the work dictate the tool. Don’t invest in the latest technology or software and then try to figure out how it will be useful.

Phone, email, instant messaging, a company intranet, and a broadband connection are a good starting point. You can add collaboration software later and unify the technology if the investment seems worthwhile.

Step 4:  Master the art of communication.  Keep you and your employees connected in a helpful way.

Lack of communication and the frequency of misinterpretation are the most common complaints in most workplaces. Distance only expands the challenges.

Communicating well encompasses much more than the tools you use. It’s about how often you use them, what you say, and how you say it.

Step 5:  Build a sense of “We”.  Develop strong relationships to fuel motivation, collaboration, and productivity.

Research by Gallup shows that people with strong friendships at work are more motivated, loyal, collaborative, and productive. In a typical office, those relationships form naturally. Across remote locations, you need to foster not just your connection to your employees, but their connections to each other.

Step 6:  Manage by results.  Focus on the quality of your employees’ work, not their style of doing it.

The nuances of how people work, and when, become more pronounced when you’re remote, but they’re not a good basis for judging performance.

Pay less attention to the style of how an employee works – for example how long it takes an employee to reply to emails.  Instead, focus on the results: both tangible and intangible.

Tangible results might include the proposal an employee presents for next quarter’s operating plan and whether it’s comprehensive, on target, and on time. The intangibles are just as important: whether they collaborate well, make decisions on their own, deliver what they promise, anticipate problems before they happen, produce ideas, communicate clearly, take responsibility for their work, and go beyond the call of duty.

Managing a remote team requires all the skills you need for managing any team.  But you need some extra tools, techniques and strategies to handle the added challenge of people working in different locations and geographies.  [Tweet “Managing a remote team requires all the skills you need for managing any team. Plus extra.”]

What other tips would you offer?


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