How to manage remote teams and direct reports is an increasingly important topic. Paradoxically, though, there seems to be far less written about it than how to manage direct reports in traditional working environments. This is indicative of one of the biggest miscalculations that a manager can make when preparing a people-management plan in that satellite workers are no different than their in-office peers. By building clear expectations early and avoiding some common mistakes, people managers will find that managing remote teams is not that dissimilar to managing their employees in the office.
How to Manage Remote Teams: Things to Remember
To reiterate the main point to remember when dealing with how to manage distributed employees, it’s important to treat them the same way as anyone else on the team. Ultimately, they are all just people who want to contribute to the success of an organization and be adequately rewarded and valued for their contributions. Of course, to assume that remote workers require no different attention or strategy from any other employee just because they have the exact same motivations and value as an in-office one is a fallacy. Therefore, it’s important to remember these key tips for how to ensure long-term success with remote workers.
- Do Remember to Get to Know Each Other: The relationships that grow between coworkers, regardless of where they fit into the org-chart, are built heavily on in-office interactions. Make a point to replicate some of the non-work banter that occurs around the water cooler by making time for more collegial talk during conference calls or video chats.
- Do Set and Keep Regular Interactions: Focus here on quality over quantity. Establishing a predictable cadence of communications and sticking to it is far more important than getting in more face-time just to have it happen more often. For satellite offices, it’s also a good idea to get an actual in-person visit as early as possible into the relationship and then stick to just a quarterly or yearly visit as necessary. Otherwise, a predictable video huddle is sufficient for most employees.
- Do Use Technology to Close the Distance: Speaking of video huddles, there are a host of virtual communications tools for business that are designed to make collaboration between time zones as easy as collaboration between cubicles. Whether it is using mobile apps that manage telephone extension status or video tools like Google Meet, harnessing the full benefit of hosted communications tools will be pivotal to making remote workers feel closer.
- Do Keep Expectations Consistent: This goes for everything from setting clearly outlined goals and deadlines to making sure that significant achievements are rewarded and recognized. Sound familiar? That’s because, again, this needs to be the approach managers take with leading all of their in-office employees, too. What makes this particularly important for remote workers, though, is that managers should avoid making geographically separated employees feel like they need to work harder to offset their location flexibility. Additionally, their coworkers need to see that management’s expectations and consequences, both good and bad, are the same for everyone no matter where their desks are located.
How to Manage Remote Teams: Things to Avoid
When planning on how to manage remote workers, it’s just as important to develop working relationships that encompass all of the above pointers, as it is to avoid certain pitfalls, as well. After reviewing the above list, great conditions for some of these may be more difficult to visualize. That’s why it’s useful to also look at the specific situations below that a manager should be wary to avoid.
- Don’t Change Standards Based on Location: Having a uniform rubric on what any specific role will be assessed, rewarded, and sanctioned is going to avoid a lot of headaches. This way, managers don’t need to vary their expectations based on where an employee conducts his or her work, but rather what the type of work, or at what level of seniority, it is being done. Nobody, inside or out of the office, will appreciate the appearance of inequity here.
- Don’t Try to Force Communications: Stopping by an employee’s desk for small talk is fine, but if that employee is in the restroom, staying at their desk to talk when they return might come off as a little awkward. That’s essentially what it’s like to call or video-chat a remote employee to chit chat if they aren’t at their keyboard. And because knowing if he or she is there isn’t as immediately obvious, that’s why it’s best to not try random conversations, but rather build time into predictable ones for those types of personal conversations.
- Don’t Ignore the Contributions that In-Office Employees Get Recognized For: Similar to but different from establishing uniformity on what is expected from each employee is to establish what is expected from the manager, as well. Regular work throughout the course of the day that may garner a note of praise because the manager is there to witness it occurs when they aren’t around, too. Managing remote employees will be easier when everyone knows that the positive attention of the superiors will be spread as evenly as the workload is.
Continue Learning How to Manage Remote Workers
Management is as much a learned skill as it is a practiced one. That’s why it’s important to hone the craft as much as possible. Additionally, having the right tools to execute on effective remote working relationships is invaluable, as well. Following these steps above and remembering to establish clear expectations early on and admit missteps early will yield dividends in the long run. Also, it’s critical that everyone on the flow chart endeavor to stay teachable, which is why we’d love to hear some of your best advice and experience on what has worked (or not worked) when managing remote workers. Tell us your stories on Twitter and Facebook, and maybe we can include them in our next series of pointers. Thanks and happy managing!