Many organizations believe that one of the biggest
challenges they face when implementing a virtual office is managing
mobile or remote workers. It is unfortunate that they let this
perception stop them from reaping the many benefits of a more flexible
Remote management is not radically different from
managing people on-site. The biggest difference is a shift in
management style from "eyeball management" (assuming workers are being
productive because you physically see them at their desks working) to
managing by results.
By learning to mange by results rather than
activity, improving communication, and nurturing trust between managers
and employees the whole organization benefits. In fact, virtual team
managers have reported that their overall management skills increased
for both on and off-site workers.
There are 4 main keys to
leading remote employees. These tips for distance management will help
you work more successfully with your mobile workers and virtual teams.
Basics of managing remote or mobile workers:
- Managing by results, not activity
- Improving communication to stay connected
- Handling meetings and schedules
- Feedback and support
MANAGING BY RESULTS, NOT ACTIVITY
One of the most common fears that managers and executives have when considering virtual teams is, "How do I know my employees will be working if I'm not there to watch them?"
Well the simple answer is that you won't, not every minute. But
realistically, you can't be sure they are really working every minute
you see them in the office either; it is easy to confuse activity with
A manager's job is to provide specific, measurable,
and attainable goals for the remote employee so that he or she knows
what must be done and when. These can include reports completed, number
of calls made, and number of support issues resolved - or any other
appropriate measure of job productivity.It is important that the
employee and manager arrive upon a shared definition of the
deliverables and timetable together. This ensures that everyone is on
the "same page" and prevents miscommunication. It also ensures that the
goals and expectations are realistic.
A manager's value to an
organization is as more of a coach and mentor, not an overseer. This
move away from "eyeball management," and the resulting clearer
definition of employee job responsibilities, is one of the major
contributing factors to the improved productivity normally experienced
with virtual teams.
Shifting your focus to performance based management will help you build a more productive mobile workforce.
IMPROVING COMMUNICATION (STAYING CONNECTED)
communication is one of the most important elements to ensuring a
successful virtual team. This is one area of remote work that
technology helps make very easy. A variety of tools are available that
allow employees to stay in touch and collaborate.
obvious way to promote ease of communication with remote workers is to
have defined working hours. By clearly setting hours employees need to
be available, you can circumvent a common point of confusion and ensure
timely communication. Recognize, however, that there is a balance
between being in touch and being pestered. This balance must be
developed over time.
When remote workers are not immediately
available, or communication is not taking place in 'real time', another
area that can cause challenges is the timeliness of communication.
Managers and on-site coworkers are often concerned with not being able
to get in touch with remote workers when needed.
An easy, but
often overlooked, solution to this problem is to create a set schedule
for checking and responding to voice messages and e-mail. This can be
hourly, twice a day, or whatever is appropriate for your situation.
This schedule, along with an expected response time, allows everyone to
rest assured that their messages will be received and a response is
There are also a variety of practices managers can
implement that assist remote employees to stay "connected" and still
feel like part of the gang at the office. These include having
regularly scheduled phone calls, including virtual team members in
impromptu lunches and other social events, and routing more informal
information, memos, and FYI items to them.
HANDLING MEETINGS AND SCHEDULES
serve a variety of crucial purposes for any organization or team
project including sharing information, keeping up to date on
developments, making decisions, reporting on progress, brainstorming,
and exploring ideas, plans, and alternatives.
Keeping track of
everyone's schedule and including remote workers in meetings can appear
daunting to an organization investigating virtual teamwork. By being
creative with time management and using technology and tools properly,
these can become non-issues.
There are web-based groupware and
virtual office platforms as well as dedicated software solutions
available that manage group schedules and shared calendars. These allow
both on and off-site employees to access current schedules and
up-to-date information on last minute scheduling changes.
important realization is that not all meetings need to be face-to-face.
If you use technology properly, remote workers can use a combination of
teleconferencing, videoconferencing, web conferencing, and groupware to
participate in meetings and attend presentations in real time without
the additional cost or time requirement to travel. These tools also
allow you to include remote workers in important ad hoc meetings that
For times when face-to-face communication is preferable or
necessary, schedule meetings when mobile workers and virtual team
members will be in the office. A simple approach is to schedule
consistent meetings such as a staff meeting the 2nd Tuesday of every
month or a team meeting every Friday. This type of regularity makes
meetings easier to plan around.
FEEDBACK AND SUPPORT
important but basic management technique that is often neglected is
giving employees ongoing feedback and support. Many employees - at all
organizational levels - feel they don't get enough feedback from
managers on their performance. This type of ongoing discussion takes on
heightened importance with virtual teams.
Regular meetings should
be scheduled between managers and remote workers to assess needs, give
feedback, and discuss problems. These are excellent opportunities to
agree upon the scope of work to be done, timelines, and deadlines.
important way to improve the relationship with remote or mobile workers
is to be sure to include them in feedback and praise. Many managers and
executives give feedback and praise to their employees in a very
informal way, often when they see these colleagues or coworkers in the
office. Remote employees don't have as many opportunities to bump into
the boss or a manager, so some extra effort is required to keep them in
This doesn't mean a lot of extra work, it's more a
presence of mind. Even using simple, quick ways of letting people know
how they are doing - such as a brief voice message or email, or a quick
note jotted in the margin of a report or memo - helps employees stay
motivated and on target.
Also, don't forget to occasionally make
a pat on the back public, like at a staff meeting. This assures onsite
workers that the remote workers are carrying their load and can
minimize any possible resentment that onsite employees feel toward
virtual team members and their work arrangement.
Fear of the
challenges involved in managing virtual teams and keeping them
connected are two of the most common obstacles organizations face. This
often prevents them from taking advantage of the power and flexibility
that comes with having a more mobile workforce.
Don't let these fears get in your
way. The necessary management techniques and strategies are not new,
they are the same things that good managers have been doing for years
to build trust and clear communication among their team. Using the
guidelines I've shared with you in these four key areas you can
effectively work from anywhere and keep your team connected!