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Managing Remote Teams – Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind?

With the recent rise in mobile working technology and flexible working hours, we are finding more and more teams that are separated from each other physically. While this might work well for everyone involved on a personal and productivity level, for managers it presents a whole host of new challenges. After all, managing a separate ‘virtual’ team that they don’t see on a regular basis can be difficult, and when the primary contact is phone or email it can challenge even the most experienced leaders.

Colette Johnson

With the recent rise in mobile working technology and flexible working hours, we are finding more and more teams that are separated from each other physically. While this might work well for everyone involved on a personal and productivity level, for managers it presents a whole host of new challenges. After all, managing a separate ‘virtual’ team that they don’t see on a regular basis can be difficult, and when the primary contact is phone or email it can challenge even the most experienced leaders. In fact, many virtual managers don’t proactively manage their teams at all, instead adopting the ‘out of sight out of mind’ approach. But this rarely works, and can cause a lot of problems for the business. So, how do you really manage a virtual team?

 8 Common Remote Management Mistakes 

First, let’s start with some common mistakes. These are the 8 mistakes we regularly see managers of virtual teams making: 

  • Assuming that team members understand what is expected of them at all times.
  • Expressing dissatisfaction with team members by email.
  • Too much group communication, coupled with too little one to one contact.
  • Not keeping team members in the loop with each other. This lack of regular communication causes misunderstandings and fosters mistrust.
  • Assuming the team is motivated and working efficiently.
  • Failing to spend time with the team, either virtually or in person.
  • Not keeping the team informed of the bigger picture and developments. A great example of this is not letting team members know how their contributions fit into the business priorities as a whole.
  • Trying to manage the remote team in the same way as the teams they work with physically every day.

Thankfully, most of these are easy to fix. 

Managing Remote Teams Successfully 

  • Remote teams need clear objectives that they can engage with, and the opportunity to have input with. It’s important that their objectives are discussed with them and reviewed on a regular basis in a more formal way than most office-based teams. Since the manager is not easily able to observe performance for themselves, they need to set up regular conversations with remote workers that enable both the team members and manager to give feedback on objectives and review progress made in an open and honest way.

 

  • Managers of remote teams need to give motivational and developmental feedback by phone or using a webcam and voice call. Never do this just by email. This needs to be an immediate two-way dialogue, and this kind of thing never comes across in emails very well. The performance conversation then needs to be followed up in writing – but only after a phone conversation.

 

  • Remote teams need weekly conference calls to review the past week and plan the week ahead. There should also be weekly one to one calls with team members to discuss individual issues and concerns. Since the team can’t just ‘pop in’ on the manager and vice versa, these need to be planned in carefully.

 

  • Weekly conference calls should be structured and well controlled by the manager to ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute equally and everyone’s contributions can be heard.

 

  • Remote workers may be susceptible to influences that are outside the manager’s control. Keeping in regular contact with them enables the remote manager to re-motivate them and keep them on track with their work, instead of getting distracted.

 

  • Always make time for remote workers – be available to them when they call and keep to your appointments with them. Doing this will make them feel like they are valued in the same way as on-site employees would be.

 

  • Keep remote workers in the picture. Make sure you copy them in on any company-wide issues that may give them a wider perspective of the business as a whole, or on any issues that might impact them. Don’t forget about them just because you can’t see them.

 

  • Remember that remote teams need closer and more structured management in general. Share their successes, make them feel part of a team and part of the organisation as a whole. Communication and feedback are vital – keep talking, listen and get their buy-in on decisions, projects and issues.

 

At Learning Curve, we understand just how challenging it is to manage a remote team, even if you’re an experienced manager. We also know that each situation has its own ins and outs and idiosyncrasies, which means that your needs will always be different. That’s why we don’t offer ‘one size fit’s all’ training solutions. Instead, we develop a bespoke training plan for your managers and leaders, designed to address your specific needs. This is followed up by one-to-one training and coaching to ensure the messages have been understood and help you put your new skills in practice. For more information, please just get in touch and book your free consultation today.