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Working Remotely: Managing Your Team Effectively

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review states that most organizations haven’t decided yet the balance between working in the office and working remotely. Whatever the balance ends up being in your organization it’s likely that there will be some remote work. And now that people can be working from anywhere, some of the remote workers may even be working in other states.

For over 10 years I managed consulting teams with offices in 6 cities in the USA and Canada. My team was highly regarded by their clients, they were productive, and they worked well together.

Here are my tips for managers who are new to managing people remotely, or would like to be better at it:

Leverage technology.

At a minimum everyone will need access to phone and internet (preferably high speed). You’ll need a conference bridge and to have a video-conference app such as Zoom, google hangouts, or Web-ex. And make sure everyone at home has adequate security on their computers.

Be clear about performance expectations.

Make sure your staff know what is important. This should include the measurable things (sales goals, tracking project deliverables, customer satisfaction calls / day etc.) as well as “softer” goals…people need to have good relationships with clients and other people on the team.

Be prepared to change priorities.

In times of uncertainty and volatility, priorities may change quickly. What made sense yesterday may not make sense today. Be ready to change direction when needed and make sure your team is aware of this.

Have a regular time when the whole team gets together on-line.

A weekly meeting at a minimum. The meeting is an opportunity to tell people what’s going on in the organization (what you know and can tell them, what you don’t know) and to give people an opportunity to ask questions. It’s better you hear the questions and answer them sincerely and honestly than leaving answers to the rumor mill. The rumor mill is rarely positive. At the regular meeting, invite everyone to share what is going well and what isn’t. Take action to correct things not going well.

Treat everyone with the same amount of respect.

 You don’t want to be seen as having favorites or treating some people better than others. Make sure everyone has the same information about the business. Not doing this can be divisive to the team.

Find the “right” level of oversight for everyone.

Your experienced staff who you trust can get less oversight than inexperienced staff who may be new to the work they are doing. It helps to explain your thought process on delegation, so people understand your motives and don’t think you are playing favorites with anyone.

Be available.

Make it easy for people to ask you questions. Your team is less informed than you are and will have personal worries. When possible, listen and offer reassurance or support or even direct them to your EAP program if you have one.

Encourage teamwork and the spirit of “we’re all in this together”.

Having team goals and having the team develop a “Team Vision” is a good bonding exercise and sets the stage for good working relationships. It’s a really good way of engaging people you don’t see very often and seeing a different side of the people in your team.

Be open and honest.

People are looking for stability and certainty. How many days in the office will there be? How will my work and value be measured? Will I be overlooked for promotions if I’m in the office less than some of my co-workers? What growth opportunities are coming up? These are valid questions, and you may not know all the answers. When you don’t know the answers it’s better to say so, and try to find out what you can.

Be as flexible as possible about the hours people work.

Many people will be balancing care for their kids (who may also have some remote school days in addition to vacation time) and maybe care for elderly parents. Employees may not be able to work 9 – 5 anymore. Work with them to find the best options for them while meeting the needs of you and the organization.

David Green

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