Be an Effective Leader of Your Remote Fleet
The adoption of the internet has created a drastic change in the way we do business around the world. Now, we can reach out to people around the planet and have face-to-face conversation with them as easily as we could with a friend living right down the street.
This has given rise to virtual teams – teams who work outside of the traditional office environment. While many small business owners are working from home or out of their homes, many large companies are embracing this way of doing business, finding that the lower cost of real estate and other assets while getting the same or increased level of productivity make the option very attractive.
While both Yahoo! and Best Buy have shut down their remote working policies, Unilever supports 100,000 of its 171,000 employees working remotely, reports Forbes.
Despite the financial benefits of working with remote teams, running a remote team is not the same as running a team in your office. If you find yourself managing a team made up of both local and remote employees, there are a number of practices you must employ in order to create a successful, productive team.
Knowing the Team
Your first job as a manager is to get to know the group. An article in Business Insider reports that more communication is needed to manage remote employees as you need to discover what each person’s preference is to be effective. Some people are comfortable with email communications, while others prefer teleconferencing. Some employees may not do well with either of those and may need a videoconferencing approach. Some team members need explicit instructions with the details laid out for them. They may need help scheduling their time to complete the work when you need it. Other employees can manage their own time and just need a task description with a due date.
Once you know your team and their individual preferences, you can tailor your communication approach to meet the needs of the majority of the team.
Traditional Approaches Don’t Work
The typical weekly team meeting has been a business staple for decades, but it’s not the most effective way to manage remote teams.
In the traditional office setting you can walk by an employee’s workspace and get a quick status of their work. That doesn’t pan out with remote teams and you can’t rely on employees to contact you the moment there is a problem. Remote teams often feel like they have to try to resolve issues before they contact the home office. Short daily check-ins are more helpful for you to know the status of work and gain visibility to any issues that may arise.
Tools for Remote Management
Technology has produced some great tools to help managers with remote resources. Services such as Freeconferencecall.com provide various options for teleconferencing. They offer toll-free numbers, call recording and playback and detailed reports of call time and participants. PC World recommends Google+ Hangouts as a free way to videoconference with up to 10 people. Skype is also useful although it requires subscribing to the Premium service for multiple participants. Tools such as Google Docs, Dropbox and SkyDrive provide collaborative work environments where files can be shared and worked on by the entire team. These cloud-based tools allow access from any location at any time. These are ideal options for teams with people across many time zones.
Remote Teams and BYOD
The ability to use their own laptops, smartphones and tablets is a benefit and morale booster for remote teams. People become comfortable with their personal devices, so they’re natural tools for them to perform their jobs well. Implementing a mobile device management solution such as MDM by Blackberry lets you track any type of device being used on the network. You also have control over device access and the ability to wipe company data from a device reported as lost or stolen, keeping all team members and the company safe and secure.
Keep the Team Working Together
Don’t segregate the team by physical location. An “us vs. them” attitude easily gets created this way. Assign team members to projects based on skills and interests regardless of location. Help these small groups work with each other and develop their own best ways to communicate. This maintains the camaraderie and cohesion needed for a healthy team to be productive.
At the end of the Day
Working with remote teams can be practical, rewarding and effective if you keep in mind that the working environment is different than that of sharing an office with the rest of your team. While you may not be able to reach across a desk in order to reach out to someone, with the right framework in place, you can build a lean, mean growing business machine.
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