6 Steps to simplify remote management

James S. Bain

Managing people and projects from across the room is tough enough; managing people and projects from different cities, states, time zones, or countries is infinitely more difficult. You might as well be on different planets.

As the world changes, remote management is becoming more and more common. Whether your organisation has a salesforce spread around the country, an engineering group located across the state, or projects you’re building across town, the lack of opportunity to “run into” the other members of your team can be devastating to the team’s performance. While there certainly are some advantages to a remote workforce, its down side must be recognized and either minimized or avoided completely.

The goal of most organisations and sub-organisations is to deliver something of value to their external customers, their internal customers, or both. So difficulty in managing people remotely has a direct impact on both the productivity of the workforce and the quality and quantity of the end product or service. To operate at peak performance today, managers must learn how to improve their interactions with remote employees.

Motivation and behaviour studies over the last five decades have held that motivational triggers exist at differing levels for each person. The most basic of these needs – food, water, and shelter – are satisfied by means of a salary or wage and are not affected by the location of the worker. Middle level needs – relationships, good work conditions, and belonging – are easier to satisfy when people work in direct contact with each other. In other words, remote employees are much more inclined to be dissatisfied with their work simply because it is more difficult to develop the necessary relationships. There is limited “face time”. Fortunately, if those management hurdles are cleared, the highest level needs – achievement, the work itself, recognition, responsibility, and advancement – are not only possible but often enhanced by remote working arrangements.

The key is to take creative measures to ensure that remote relationships are built and nurtured. Many people sometimes feel that they think, act, and speak in different languages from their spouse, their children, or their boss: They might as well be from different planets.

Here are 6 key steps to managing a remote team successfully:

1. Start by agreeing on what outcomes you seekEngage in true two-way communication. Be specific about the desired results of the work. Confirm that all parties understand the details of the desired results. Agree on a “get well” date, when the project will be finished. Remotely located employees have more flexibility in the “how”, but need to have fairly specific goals and objectives on the “what” and the “when”.

2. See your remotely located people when you canWhether you schedule your trips on a regular or more haphazard basis is not critical; visiting their turf, their offices, their project sites is! People want to see you so that they feel they have access to you and know that you care.

3. When you can’t get out to see your people, institute a daily or weekly “How can I help you?” call This regular call will go a long way toward building the kind of trust that occurs more readily when employees are just across the hall. Make this call one of your good habits.

4. Use technology to its potential Everyone is aware of email, if not videoconferences, online virtual meeting sites, and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. While there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction, current technology can get you pretty darn close. This is also an excellent way to bridge the generation gap in today’s workforce. Younger generations will appreciate the effort, just as inhabitants of a different planet would appreciate you learning their language.

5. Walk a mile in their shoes If you are in the construction business, for example, your office personnel may find it hard to understand the difficulty of working out of a hot dusty pick-up truck with paper spread everywhere and no place to fill out all of the necessary forms. Develop a “day in the life” program. Set up opportunities for staff from different groups in your organization to spend a half or whole day job shadowing each other. The experience will help different functions understand the difficulties each group faces when working away from the “head shed”.

6. Care Take the time to communicate with your people – in any form available. It will help to build those relationships so necessary for job satisfaction. Start by asking your people about their lives, their work, and their needs. Then shut up and listen. You’ll be surprised by what you learn.

The rapid increase in remote management can directly and negatively affect the job satisfaction of your remote employees. And since decreased job satisfaction has a severe impact on productivity and performance, special measures must be taken to alleviate those issues. Using these tips will help you practise the first three rules of effective employee management: communicate, communicate, communicate!

Reprinted with the permission of James S. Bain, MBA, author, speaker, consultant, coach, and founder of Focus on the 5, a division of Falcon Performance Institute, a consulting and corporate training firm focused on productive performance. Look for Jim’s soon to be published book, Never Pass on a Chance to P – A Roadmap to Peace in Your Life. For more information, visit www.falconadv.com or call 352-854-4015 (US).


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