Managing a team of professionals is a tough ask at the best of times. It requires navigating a diverse set of strong personalities, overseeing plentiful projects over and above your own, and finding just the right balance of diplomacy and directness. All of which is challenging enough if you and your team are all in the same office.
But today’s managers are having to come to terms with a whole new challenge – overseeing the work and wellbeing of teams spread across the globe. As the remote working phenomenon rapidly gains momentum – the number of off-site employees has increased by a whopping 80% or so over the past decade – team leaders are being forced to throw out the rulebook and find new ways to foster positive team dynamics across continents and time zones.
Understandably, many managers are not exactly charmed by this emerging trend. Not only does a displaced workforce make keeping tabs on individual players that much more difficult, but it also presents a logistical nightmare when it comes to creating and maintaining a flourishing corporate culture, particularly when teams comprise both on- and off-site workers.
That having been said, many of the world’s most successful organisations, among them Automattic, Mozilla and GitHub, operate almost exclusively within the virtual sphere, and have certainly seen no adverse impact to their bottom line or employee engagement rates as a result. In fact, if anything, these have actually improved across the board.
So perhaps it’s simply a matter of a change in perspective. Applying a tried and tested management model to a new and ever-shifting landscape is undoubtedly going to be fraught with difficulties – simply put, managers are never going to be able to exert the same level of control over their teams as they once might have done. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, studies show that workers who are left to their own devices generally tend to demonstrate significantly higher levels of productivity, not to mention increased satisfaction within their roles. Well that’s half the manager’s job done already! The question is: how do you strike a balance between leading effectively and allowing your remote workers to lead themselves?
Here are 4 tips to help you successfully manage a remote team:
MAKE YOUR MEETINGS MATTER
When managing a remote workforce, it’s by no means imperative that you meet daily in an attempt to recreate a semblance of office-like normality. However, it’s vital that when you do choose to meet, you make the most of it. Virtual get-togethers can be tricky things to get right, and it’s very easy to lose the attention of listeners if they’re not directly involved in the conversation. So make sure that your meetings aren’t simply a case of one-way conversational traffic – open up the floor to all attendees, and offer everyone a chance to contribute and have their say. That way, you’ll sustain focus and ensure that your employees aren’t in fact taking BuzzFeed quizzes while you’re trying to relay important information.
KEEP THE OFFICE DOORS OPEN
Even if you’re separated from many of your team members by continents and oceans, it’s still important to make them feel like they can get in touch with you at any time. Of course, that’s not to suggest you give everyone the option to call you at any time of day or night. However, it’s important that you employ a virtual open-door policy, using a tool like Skype or Slack to enable easy, quick interaction. Not only will this help to reduce any bottlenecking, but it’ll also help to foster a sense of camaraderie and support, something that’s important irrespective of location.
ENCOURAGE WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Remote workers tend to have some trouble establishing boundaries between their work and personal lives, given the fact that the two essentially exist side by side. There’s no door to shut, no traffic to contend with – just a never-ending no man’s land in which work and play are entirely interchangeable. As such, you need to establish boundaries for your remote workers, and guard against burn out by enforcing hourly limits each day. It might seem counterintuitive, but by cutting back on their daily output, you’ll extend the longevity of your most promising employees.
KEEP THE BIGGER PICTURE IN SIGHT
It’s sometimes easy to overlook remote workers when big things are happening in the office. Out of sight, out of mind and all that. However, it’s important that the big moments in your business are ones that are shared across the full workforce. Sure, you might not all be able to get together and celebrate over a slice of cake, but it’s important that you do your best to involve all members of your team in any significant wins or losses, as it helps them to understand and invest in the bigger picture.