As more and more businesses begin to see the value in remote working, and as increasing numbers of the workforce demand the ability to work remotely, managers need to think in different ways.
While the many benefits of creating and building a remote workforce are clear, its important to know how to manage a team that you don’t see everyday. Not only that. In many cases, managers are tasked with overseeing the work of team members and mentoring a team they’ve never even met. Its a new and unique question for them. In fact, learning to manage remote teams could be one of the most important new skills for work in the 21st Century. A style of management built on the same flexibility and fluidity so fundamental to remote working.
Modern managers, faced with this move to remote working, need to recognise the opportunity they have in front of them. It’s important to create the same cohesion amongst a remote team that they’d expect from working together in an office. People need to feel connected, that they are an important cog in the machine, just as office based staff would. Just because they’re not in the building, doesn’t mean they don’t have questions to ask, or an opinion to offer. Remote workers need to have a say just like everybody else. Just as they’ll need feedback like everybody else. Access to support, tools and resources will help.
With so much research pointing to the benefits of remote working to both businesses and their people, it’s important for managers to focus on the ‘what’, rather than the ‘how’ or ‘when’. The conversation needs to be about the quality of the work, rather than how or when it gets done. Its about productivity, not clock watching. That said, there’s a business to run here and we need to be able to reach our teams, so setting core hours into the day provides some much needed structure.
Communication is everything. In any situation, any workplace, keeping the conversation open is always important. Even more so when dealing with remote working teams.
While many tools are available to enable and strengthen these connections, the human element is still critical to good team management. Little things count, they can make a big difference. Your remote worker will remember moments outside of the work relationship. Send them a birthday card, call them on their work anniversary, remember them with a gift when they can’t make a staff party. Our basic human relationships depend on these moments.
Do you know whet your remote workers need? Have you asked them? It’s a cast iron guarantee they need more than an email address. Simple answer. Ask them. Initially they may want support via a regular scheduled Skype call. Maybe engaging as part of a community is a major thing for them, social media groups, forums and chat rooms etc. They might just want to be left alone to get on with the work. But if you, the manager, don’t ask, they almost certainly won’t say.
All the things we’ve looked at here are available to office based staff. Community, collaboration, tools and resources, and human contact are part of their every day. Your remote workers shouldn’t be any different. As with everything, when it comes to what’s important in team management, remote working needs investment, not just in financial terms, but in terms of trust, and importantly, in terms of time.
It’s down to managers to make telecommuting work, by providing the opportunity, and keeping the remote team close. They may be out of sight, but they should never be out of mind.
This article is part of our larger guide all about Team Management.