5 Questions Good Managers Ask When Managing Remote Teams

By 2010, 26 million people were working remotely in just the United States alone! According to a study by the research firm IDC, the global mobile workforce will reach an impressive 1.3 billion workers (37% of the world’s working population) within the next 5 years.  In a Mashable.com survey of senior leaders and managers of Fortune 500 companies, 61 percent believe that their companies will allow more and more people to telecommute over the next 3 years, making coworking’s intimate relationship with entrepreneurs a thing of the past.

If you’re a manager of one of these companies, these numbers must make you wonder: how do you integrate remote employees into your company while still maintaining a personal relationship critical to your company’s success AND contributing to your company culture? These are important questions for leaders to consider in the face of an evolving and virtual workforce.

Here are 5 keys to being a great leader for your growing mobile team:

1. Do you have an internal communication process?

Workbar’s CEO, Bill Jacobson, demonstrates video conferencing to the next generation!

Do you have a well-defined communication strategy to apply to your remote team? We mentioned some remote communication tools in our previous post, which include Podio, Google Hangout, Skype and Twiddla. For more sensitive data, you can set up private servers or company wikis (Related tips on Mashable.com). If you’re worried about a leak, work in tandem with your IT department to create firewalls for certain documents that will need a managerial sign-off before the documents can be accessed (More practical advice from the Microsoft Small Business Center).  Make sure to have a proficient integration process you can float each employee through to grant access, usernames and facilitate software orientations.

2. Are you wasting time getting lost in translation?

You are more likely to have less frequent communication with your mobile workers than with your in-office workers which means that every interaction you do have with the mobile team is that much more important. Have you thought about which medium is best for delivering each of your messages? Regular check-ins can easily be done over the phone or email using a standard delivery template; however team meetings and business strategy meetings are better suited for video conferencing with interactive tools. Important news or negative news should be handled with the most personalized methods you have in place, particularly if travel is allowed.  (Read more on Understanding and Managing the Mobile Workforce)

3. Are you focusing on the deliverables or the process?

Micro-managing your mobile employees can lead to increased stress and can cause breakdown in your relationship and morale. It can also be counterproductive and result in an inefficient use of time and resources.  Set clear expectations for your team, including timetables and well-defined deliverables as standards for evaluation and to ensure measurable progress.  Kate Keough is the VP of Operations at iTech US Inc and one of Workbar’s members; she shared how she’s defined her management process and where her focus is, “I manage a team remotely, which has members in 2 countries and 3 different states.  I have found that keeping a team cohesive takes proactive work.  I have weekly one-on-ones with my team, in order to stay up to date on past week activities, top priorities for their current week, and “blockers” that are tied to their quarterly goals. While I don’t believe in micro-managing, I do take time to define success factors, resources, time frames and restrictions for goals.”

4. Can your remote team benefit from local, flexible workspace?

Alex Crabb from Ink Communications manages the US Team in Boston and New York from Workbar

By understanding your worker’s needs and limitations, you can better understand how to support and manage them.  Make sure to invest as much time to get to know your remote workers personally as you would any employee.  The better you know them and how they work, the better you will be able to manage them productively.  While traditional office space does not fit the remote employee model exactly, there are flexible options, such as coworking and sharing office space that can give your remote team the traditional benefits of a workspace such as productivity, camaraderie, and the opportunity to form business relationships.  These types of spaces, like Workbar, offer month-to-month memberships, which give companies the option to offer this type of benefit to remote employees, even on contract.

5. How do company perks create culture?

Mobile workers often feel isolated from their colleagues and from the office culture. Consider joining professional networks and organizations to which you can extend membership for to your remote team.  Another easy and much appreciated gesture is treating your remote employees to quarterly gifts such as amazon gift cards or treating to dinner at their favorite restaurant – something fun they can use to enjoy life outside of work.  It’s a nominal expense for the company but it can go a long way to show appreciation and gratitude.  These types of perks are important and give your remote employees tangible benefit they can use locally.

As a manager of a dispersed team are you asking yourself these questions regularly?  Listen to your team’s feedback as it comes through and identify where problems exist and what solutions are available.  Network with other bosses of remote employees and see how they handle the situation.  And of course, keep tabs on all the new tools and virtual mediums that are constantly being developed to help virtual communities and cultures stay connected.

For more tips and resources, check our source articles below:

5 Tips for Training Remote Employees | Mashable
The “Work From Home” Phenomenon [INFOGRAPHIC] | Mashable
How to Manage the New Mobile Workforce | Forbes
Mobile Workforce Management Solutions | Microsoft Small Business Center
Understanding and Managing the Mobile Workforce | Cisco Study

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