How do you manage a team that you can’t physically see?
It can be a daunting challenge to take on, especially if the majority of your team sits in different geographical locations, and travelling to each of those locations is not possible in a short period of time. This is now a common phenomenon for many organisations, both large and small, and remote setups are fast becoming the norm in our very connected modern world of technology.
Here are some tips on how you can better manage your remote team:
1) Communication is key
Don’t leave remote workers trying to read your mind. Distance amplifies uncertainty and it is the role of the remote manager to provide a sense of structure, precise objectives and performance measures. If there’s anything you need to do more of, it is to communicate more.
It is useful to set up a team meeting at least once a quarter to bring everyone together on video. This helps foster a closer bond among the team members.
2) Set up regular 1-on-1 catch ups with your team
Even if it’s for just 10 or 15 minutes, it is always good to have some airtime to catch up. Your team will appreciate you for taking time to speak with them and to hear their challenges or concerns.
I normally do this at the start of the week with my direct reports. Each catch up usually lasts 15 minutes where we cover the critical and urgent issues that need attention.
3) Set up your instant messaging (IM)
Instant messaging tools such as Microsoft Lync are very useful when you want to get a quick response. It is not as intrusive as a phone call and less formal than an email.
Explore the different functionalities of the IM client you’re using. Chances are, the client you’re using supports “group chat”. This is very useful if you want to pull a small group of people together for a quick chat.
Instant messaging also comes with another advantage. It allows everyone in the team to see each other’s presence. IM clients allow you to set your own status to “available”, “busy” or “away”. Being able to see each other online gives the team a sense of “virtual presence”.
4) Update and share your calendar
It is very likely that you and your team are working across different time zones. Coupled with the fact that you don’t get to physically see each other, this can cause difficulties in trying to locate and catch hold of each other; especially when the day’s packed with back-to-back meetings. This can be extremely frustrating for people when they have urgent or time critical issues to resolve. Thus, having an updated calendar and sharing it can help solve some of these issues. Also, if you are going to be engaged for the whole day, make use of the “out of office” notice to inform others that you will take some time to respond to their emails.
5) Watch your language
Unless you’re going to be having a “face-to-face” conversation via video with your remote team, communicating via other channels may deprive you of expressing vital body language.
Thus it would be wise to keep to the safe side and not try to be too “humorous”. The intent may come across very different, which may have a less than desired effect.
For example, you should avoid asking your staff the question “where are you?” the moment he or she answers the phone. I’m sure the intent is to ask if this is a convenient time to have a conversation, but by asking where the person is, it could come across as though you are checking on their whereabouts.
As always, do feel free to comment or drop me a note if you have any interesting tips of your own to share.
If you'd like to know more about the best tools to help you manage a remote team, visit this page to find out how Polycom RealPresence video and voice solutions integrate with Microsoft Lync.
Eric Wong left Polycom as of March 2015. This blog post is his personal view and reflective of his thoughts while at Polycom.