Managing Remote Work Teams, Part III

A dispersed team depends on people who can be productive without a boss roaming the hallways or a trusted co-worker sitting nearby. Team members should be motivated, disciplined, and flexible with their time, allowing them to connect with clients or co-workers in different time zones. People who like to quit at 5 p.m. aren’t the people who work well remotely.  They also need to communicate clearly in writing (since e-mail and instant messaging are the new standard for daily communication) and should be willing to suggest ideas, ask for and offer help, make decisions, and collaborate.

Here are a few suggestions for setting building a team that can work well at a distance.

Match people to the work. Extroverts and idea people tend
to like tasks that require frequent and ongoing communication. Make sure they’re
in an office with teammates they can collaborate with. Introverts and people
confident making decisions can work more easily at home or on solo projects.

Match work to the time zone. If some employees are working
while others sleep, try to avoid assigning work that leaves team members
perpetually in the hurry-up-and-wait cycle, as their counterparts half a world
away complete their part of a project.

Assign backups. For the most critical tasks, make sure
you or someone else in your group can fill in on a moment’s notice,
like when someone is ill or quits. (And make sure you can access a remote
worker’s files and contacts from afar.)

Sign an agreement. Specify when and how much a person may
need to work, times they need to be available, performance objectives, and
frequency of in-person meetings. This codifies expectations and provides
something tangible for your employee to refer back to.

Assess. At least a few times a year, ask what’s working and what’s not, then make changes if necessary. Withdrawal is
a common sign of a problem. Even if a person is meeting deadlines and producing quality work, they may be unhappy if you hear from them less and less.

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