Managing Remote Work Teams: Part II

Thanks to technology and globalization, more and more business teams are working together across state lines and international borders. Many corporations employ “dispersed teams,” where a manager in New York may communicate daily with colleagues in Boston, Los Angeles, and Singapore.  But even with an array of new Web-based collaboration tools at their disposal, most managers find handling remote teams extremely challenging. In order to get the best out of your far-flung employees, you need to establish a clear communication routine, take extra steps to build trust, and review processes often to make sure they’re working for everyone. Whether your employees are in other company offices, working from home, or a little bit of both, these tips will help keep your team running smoothly.

 Build a Strong Team, Starting with You

Goal: Make sure you’re up for the task of managing remotely.

Managers who run dispersed teams successfully share several traits. They work a lot, they travel — some more than half the time —and they thrive on their work and the culture they’ve created.

“Remote managers need more energy, because a lot of what you have to do is transfer that energy to your team,” says Juliana Slye, who manages remote employees as director of the government division at software maker Autodesk, based in San Rafael, California. The successful remote manager has the following traits:

Passion. A remote set-up won’t work unless your
employees are motivated and running in sync — collaborating, asking
each other for help, sharing ideas. That energy has to start with you. You don’t
need to start each day smiling from ear to ear, but if you’re annoyed
every time an IM breaks your train of thought or you’re not good
about remembering to check in with people, running remote teams probably isn’t
for you.

Availability. Good remote communication requires extra
effort. You need to go out of your way to address issues that would come up
naturally and spontaneously if you all worked in one place. When your staff is
spread across a number of time zones, they need to feel comfortable calling you
at odd hours — even if it’s dinner hour. Beyond the
guidance or answers you can provide, which allows them to move forward with
their work, your availability shows support, which helps strengthen your
relationships with everyone. That said, establish reasonable guidelines about
when to call.

Patience. A two-hour dinner with an employee across the country
may take up two days with travel time. And it may take two hours instead of 10
minutes to schedule a conference call. The lesson here? Budget extra time for
common group tasks. This doesn’t necessarily hurt productivity. For
instance, conference calls are usually shorter and more to the point than a
meeting in person, where members of the group are bound to do more small talk.

Reliability. By doing what you say you’ll do —
whether it’s helping solve a problem or sending a new laptop —
you foster trust. Your reliability shows respect for what your workers are
doing. Without that, they’ll quit asking for help, and you’ll
fall out of the loop. “Trust is particularly important in distance
relationships,” says management consultant Debra Dinnocenzo, author of
“How to Lead from a Distance.” “You build trust
through actions that demonstrate reliability, integrity, and familiarity.”

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