The trend toward remote work has been building for years, and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic only accelerated it. In your career as a manager or executive, you will likely have remote teams with some personnel located in different time zones, if not on different continents.
Remote teams may be temporary project teams or permanent company departments. In both cases, leading such teams requires creating a process for the team to come together and collaborate successfully.
Consider implementing a remote team management approach that includes these six steps:
1. Develop an Orientation Process
Because remote personnel work off-site and don’t always have the same access to information as on-site employees, immerse them in your company culture with a formal orientation. An on-site two-day process is ideal, but you may have to virtualize the experience. Use this time to familiarize employees with your company values, resources and processes, and to encourage engagement with the team. To further promote a sense of belonging, appoint a leader from your team to make a welcome call. If possible, make some of the professional development opportunities your company offers on-site available to remote workers.
2. Provide a Short Bio of Each Contributor
Before getting down to business, email team members a sheet detailing the functional areas of expertise each person brings to the team. You may include recent achievements, certifications, qualifications, expected roles and why the person is vital to the team’s success. It’s also a good idea to provide links to LinkedIn profiles.
During the first conference call, present each team member by name and provide the same information. Participants who are officially introduced with a bio are much more likely to engage. It is better not to have participants introduce themselves, as that makes some people anxious and reduces their focus on other people talking as they await their turns.
3. Use Virtual Team Management Tools
The trend toward remote work has resulted in some great virtual team management software. Tools like Asana for project management, GoToMeeting for online meetings, Slack for ongoing communication, DropBox for file sharing, When I Work for project and time tracking, and Basecamp for advanced project management can be customized to your team and workflows.
4. Communicate Expectations
The less you actually see your remote workers, the more important it is to calibrate your communications perfectly. Maintain regular contact, but avoid micromanagement when staff are engaged in autonomous tasks. Manage expectations and results, rather than activities. Begin setting expectations through written materials, including operations manuals, project briefs, and process guidelines. Hold a remote weekly group conference call for progress updates and accountability, and let remote workers know when you are available for individual discussions.
5. Offer Encouragement and Reward Performance
Although remote employees do not typically receive as many informal signals as their in-office peers indicating their managers are satisfied with their work, they still talk with family at night and reflect on their day of work. If they feel unsupported or underappreciated, they won’t likely stay with the organization. Provide encouragement by talking with them about how their work supports the company objectives and offer feedback, praise, and even bonuses for exceptional work. Institute incentives that recognize and reward performance. Make sure that the program is equal and fair, and provides a level opportunity for both in-house and remote workers.
6. Monitor Signs of Trouble
When managing remote workers, you cannot observe the same signals of fluctuating morale that you can with an in-person team. Yet there are clear red flags that an employee is losing connection with the team or interest in the work, including lower productivity and output, short and abrupt communications and reduced ideation.
Regardless of how teams are organized — in one location or across time zones — many of the same principles apply. Individuals need structure, a sense of belonging, feedback, recognition and fair treatment. Virtualized teams need guidance and processes to bond, build trust, and collaborate that approximate what they would experience on site. As a manager in the age of remote work, mastering these skills will play a major role in your own career advancement.
Learn more about SIUE’s online MBA program with a Project Management Specialization.