Over the last couple of months, I've come across Leaders who want to know better ways to be effective while managing remote teams. It's no secret that it's becoming more common to be a part of a regional or multinational team no matter the industry. Navigating the right way to lead remote teams can leave you feeling like you have little control.
My experience with remote teams has been with application developers in India and with a worldwide sales force over 20 years ago. While the ease of managing remote teams has definitely improved over the last 20 years, one thing remains constant: Effective Communication.
There are two extremes of outcomes when remote teams aren't managed correctly. They can often feel like they are being left out or not as important. I can't imagine that is an outcome you would want, but if you don't handle these teams with intention, then that will be the case.
The exact opposite is true as well. I've seen managers stress over the unknown and the insecurity of whether someone who is remote is making progress on their work. They tend to micromanage these people much more than the rest of the team.
I believe both of these scenarios can be pulled back into line thus ensuring your team feels as one no matter where they are located if you have a solid communication plan and approach. Here is my recommendation:
Have a clear process of how you as a team are going to work. It can be a simple or complex plan, depending on the group you are managing. This plan will include the steps below, but should also outline how often you will formally talk, expectations in those formal conversations, what tools you will use, and how to approach needed ad-hoc conversations. If it's a task-dependent group, you might include things such as status reports being due each Friday at 2:00 pm.
Anytime you communicate with a remote team, that communication must be clear. It is too easy for things to derail if you leave anything up for interpretation. Remember you or the rest of the team aren't readily available for them to ask clarifying questions when they are unsure. Of course in your plan (step 1) you should state what to do if unsure, but consider the scenario where they think they understand what you have said but you meant something completely different. In that situation, they wouldn't ask for help and keep working in their merry way...not knowing they aren't going to deliver until after the work is complete. Better to be safe and over-explain if needed.
Focus on goals or outcomes, not activity. This is to address the nervous Nelly Leader who can quickly move into micromanaging. If you want to ensure they are making progress maybe break the goals down in smaller steps to create check-ins. This gives you both a bit of security that things are definitely moving and moving in the right direction.
Have regular scheduled 1:1's. If you have seen any of my videos or other posts, you know you should be having these regularly with EVERYONE on your team. With remote teams, I would highly recommend that once a month these 1:1's should be face to face via a video call. Here's the kicker, this call should be mandatory meaning neither one of you can cancel it. Even if you feel there isn't much to catch up on, keep the call. It's important for each employee to know they are part of the team and that you value them, so keep your appointments. Also, the reason why I say video calls is because you need to learn their body behavior. This way you can pick up on queues when things might not be going well. You can't always read that in an email.
Have regular team meetings where your remote team all video conference in. This could be monthly or quarterly, whatever works for you. My only caution is that if your team consists of both in-house and remote people, everyone attends the team meetings. Don't have monthly meetings and say the remote staff only need to attend quarterly. This may sound like common sense, but it happens and it's the quickest way to build an "us and them" environment. Be consistent.
My last recommendation when managing a remote team is to be available and approachable. Unfortunately, this might mean you are contacted out of your normal BAU hours, but if you want to be a Leader focused on excellent delivery then the remote team needs to be able to reach you when they need you. Again, in step 1 you should outline how this should be done so you aren't being bothered with things you can handle during normal business hours.
There are many tools you can use to help you accomplish the six steps above, but the tools will not make them happen. You have to make them happen, lead by example and you will build the team you want. Some tools to consider:
Skype (Skype for Business)
To sum up, if you build a communication plan and processes and stick to them then you will be able to Lead your remote team effectively and see excellent results.
Do you manage a remote team? Share with us your experience so we can all learn. What has worked well, what hasn't? Leave a comment below.
Lead with Greatness everyone!
An extra thought, if you are hiring for a remote team make sure you carefully consider the questions you are asking the candidates. It's one thing to know if they can do the job, it's another to know if they are the type of person that can work alone or with a team away from the boss. Ask questions regarding self-management, have they worked remotely before, what do they feel will be their biggest challenges. It will also be helpful to discuss how you like to work with remote teams, you can usually get a gauge on if they are in agreement with that approach or not. Good Luck!