Leadership

Successfully Managing Remote Teams

Posted at December 13, 2012 | By : | Categories : Leadership | 2 Comments

Leading Virtual Teams

Today, there are more remote teams, or virtual teams, than ever before. With the rapid advance of technology and the recognition of flexible working conditions, remotes teams are fast becoming the norm for many organisations.

Certainly there are synergies in the skills and attributes required to manage both online and offline staff, however managing remote teams does come with unique challenges. Over the course of my career I have seen many people who manage remote teams struggle to prevent their employees feeling under appreciated and alienated from their fellow team members. Remote staff, by virtue of their physical isolation, can easily become demotivated and feel they’re missing out on opportunities for advancement. Often these employee concerns are a direct result of poor communication and mismanagement. Sadly, I’ve seen good leaders who have failed to effectively manage their remote teams and lose the trust and respect of their staff, and in turn lose confidence in their own ability to successfully lead a team.

Having led remote teams across all Australian states as well as overseas based staff in various time zones, I wanted to share with you 4 helpful hints that have been instrumental to my management success.

1. Create a strong team culture

Simply through daily association, office based team members quickly form rapport through face-to-face meetings, informal conversations over lunch and opportunities for external team bonding such as after work drinks. Remote staff largely build rapport with their colleagues through telephone calls and email. If telephone calls aren’t answered and emails not returned, remote staff will quickly feel disengaged and isolated from the team. Therefore it’s important to establish a team environment and continually fuel a communicative team culture. Look for opportunities to foster communication through socialising. One remote team that I managed engaged in an annual football tipping competition that created some friendly banter each week. Remember to celebrate every team member’s birthdays, arrange a Christmas Kris Kringle and always make an effort to celebrate wins during your weekly team meetings. Most importantly ensure your entire team have the opportunity to meet face-to-face at least twice a year.

2. Communicate effectively and regularly

Communication is key to effectively managing remote staff. Ensuring you make yourself openly available to your remote team members is equally important. Naturally there’ll be times when you’re unavailable due to meetings, travel commitments and personal leave, so make sure this is communicated to them. There is nothing more frustrating to a remote staff member than being told second hand that you’ve taken annual leave for the week. Respond to their emails quickly and keep in regular contact via phone or even a simple SMS. Set a weekly team meeting at the start of the week and provide updates so everyone is on the same page and clear on expectations.  Too many times I’ve seen managers cancel or reschedule weekly meetings with remote staff rather than maintaining consistent communication, even if there is very little to report or share with your team. A quick 5 minute meeting is better than no meeting at all, especially for remote staff who are motivated by regular contact. Go beyond telephone calls and utilize resources such as Skype and GoToMeeting.

3. Getting the technology right

Establishing the correct technology for remote staff prior to them commencing in their role is critical. This should be standard practice for any induction and onboarding process for remote staff.  They must have access to shared server directories, access to high speed internet and even providing them with webcams is a good idea. Use webinar technology to conduct virtual training sessions and set up dedicated phone numbers for team members to engage in regular conference calls. Whilst the IT department is always in high demand, it’s a good idea to build rapport with the iT help desk team so they can prioritise assistance to your remote team members when required.

4. Lead by example

This is perhaps my strongest advice. Managers who lead by example are more likely to engage their staff to become high performers. If you want your team to do certain things and behave in certain ways, you need to be visually doing those exact things.  Be responsive to emails and voicemail messages. Give recognition both individually and in team meetings. Provide regular and timely feedback, both positive and constructive, to develop your team. Don’t ignore poor performance, bad behaviour or conflict amongst your team. Ask your team questions and take time to listen carefully to each of them. Share your ideas freely and encourage the same. Own the responsibility to admit mistakes and share lessons learned. Avoid micromanagement and empower your remote staff to achieve their goals and meet targets by their own means.

Do you lead a remote team? What management tips have you found work for you?

 

For more detailed information about these ideas and how to effectively lead remote teams contact us at www.hamiltonmanagement.com.au or telephone Adam on +61 (0)401 333 965.

 
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About Adam Hamilton

Adam Hamilton is the Director of Hamilton Management, a specialist management consulting company working within the travel, tourism and hospitality industries.

Comment

  • Sabine

    December 13, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Very good article! As an employee who’s been managed remotely in various companies including in my current role I can strongly agree on your points.

    Unfortunately lots of senior managers/ team leaders are not being trained enough to manage virtual teams successfully!

    I wills share this link with my employer.

  • Beverley

    December 14, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Great points Adam particularly point 2 which I think a lot of companies struggle with.

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