Leading and managing remote teams to work effectively
Managing remote teams is similar to managing regular teams, but it requires greater emphasis on building trust, fostering communication, implementing team processes, and utilizing technology. Keeping your finger on the pulse of the team’s progress and individuals’ work will be essential to knowing whether or not your team is on track. You will also need to have a good understanding of technology and excellent technical support to ensure that your team network is performing at its peak.
It can be a challenge!
When you try to manage teams across different geographical regions and perhaps time zones, you have a situation that can be difficult for even the best manager.
Communication is essential to keep all team members on board and up to date on the most pertinent details of their tasks and the latest revisions including:
- Schedules (project, work, holiday)
- Outcome of meetings (decisions, action plans, minutes)
- Other information
It is up to you to manage the interaction of the team members and ensure smooth communication between your team members. After communication, another critical challenge as a manager of a remote team will be building and maintaining trust and cohesion with your team members.
How to Successfully Manage a Remote Team
90% of your problems will be people problems, and only 10% will concern utilization of technology, so it is smart to address your people’s issues first.
1. Set up your communication plan: Outline what needs to be communicated, how it will be communicated, who needs the information, when do they need it, and what happens if communication breaks down. The communication plan should also outline meeting structure—when are they needed; what will be their purpose; in what format will they be held (chat, video conference, teleconference, combinations of methods); who will be in control of the meeting; and who is responsible for publishing the outcome.
2. Outline the decision making process How, as a group, will you make decisions; what is your back up plan to make a decision; what escalation path have you set when a decision cannot be made if your prime decision maker is either unavailable or unable to decide.
3. Determine your conflict resolution strategy How will you deal with conflict and what are your rules for avoiding them.
4. Distribute goals, roles and responsibilities It is very important for everyone to know what his/her task is. Set out the goals, then communicate who does what, including their specific responsibilities.
5. Ensure fair work distribution This may need to be adjusted as time goes along and the project or work changes.
Now that your plan is in place, you should get to know your team. If you can’t see them face-to-face, pick up the phone and talk to them. Let them know what you will be expecting of them and ask for their input. Determine how much time they can realistically expect to be working on your project. If at all possible, have face-to-face meetings, especially when the team is initially launched, or when a new member joins in. Face-to-face connections help build trust quickly, and it is trust that strengthens relationships on the team. Use video conferencing to enable members to make more of a personal connection as they initially meet to facilitate better communication in the future.
- With expectations set for each team member, check in regularly to monitor their progress and provide them with feedback (both good and bad). Make sure that they are well informed of the workflow – not only what is expected of them, but what other team members are responsible for and how their work affects them.
- Stay on top of your meetings. Make sure that they remain productive and produce the desired output such as brainstorming, editing documents and files, and making decisions. Ensure that the right decision makers are present at meetings to ensure that decisions are made on a timely basis.
- Even if the meetings are video conferences or teleconferences, they will need the same level of preparation, if not a little more, to be well executed. Keep your remote workers in the loop and motivated to work.
- Encourage collaboration on ideas and decisions to keep them connected. Keep your communication consistent to avoid the trap of “out of sight, out of mind”. And make a plan so that team members can easily contact you.
- When you are unavailable, contact someone in authority who can ensure work progresses when issues are encountered. This will involve you determining an escalation path including decision-making authority levels.
- For meetings, take advantage of video feeds, conversation streams, access to documents and slide presentations, and even smart white boards that can be hand written on at one location and the images then printed at others. Meetings may take a little more preparation to ensure that sites can link-up properly, so appropriate time and resources will need to be made available at all locations prior to meetings.
Tips to Successfully Manage Your Remote Team
- Try to have an initial face-to-face meeting and incorporate team building activities to build trust as you launch your remote team – this will help you dramatically if problems arise later.
- Establish strong procedures around communication– phone, e-mail, and video conferencing etiquette and corporate guidelines for sending and replying to email and phone calls. Establish how meetings will be scheduled and who needs to attend.
- Determine how work will be managed and information shared, reviewed, and modified (develop a change control procedure).
- Vary the time of meetings so that no one group or individual is consistently having to meet after hours.
- Can’t meet face-to-face? Then try distributing photos of team members on a communication list, or attached to their chat identity so that team members will be able to relate to each other personally.
- Put multilingual people in key positions to bridge the language barriers, and make sure the team members know who they are.
- Encourage social interactions between remote teams.
- Test video conferencing equipment thoroughly before each and every meeting.
- At any virtual meeting, have someone make introductions at the beginning of the meeting and include what their responsibilities to the team are.
- Make sure everyone participates, otherwise, silence will be taken as agreement.
- Encourage personal communication whenever possible such as face-to-face or over the telephone, as long as it does not interfere with the work being done. Remember-technology tends to be very impersonal and can easily lead to misunderstandings.
- Keep your information tight, such as up-to-date mailing lists, to keep everyone informed of current questions, answers, and general progress on work being done.
- Watch out for cliques that may form that tend to work independently of the team. Cliques tend to seek each other out instead of going through proper channels, so it is in your best interest to keep in the loop.
- Keep your eye on groups that have worked independently in the past, especially home-based employees, to ensure that they are fitting into the team and working well. Keep in mind that these workers function well alone and will tend to gravitate toward that mode of operation.
- Ensure your team is attuned to cultural sensitivities. This may require cultural sensitivity training and should be done as close to the beginning of the team forming as is possible to avoid misunderstandings.