One of the foundational roles of a great leader is to build trust—between himself and his team and among his coworkers. Remote managers are faced with unique challenges: they must create an atmosphere of trust, inspire employee integrity and actively lead teams in spite of working out of the office most—if not all—of the time. Effective communication is essential to establishing and maintaining rewarding professional and personal relationships with colleagues and team members within a teleworking environment.
The future promises increasingly dispersed work communities staffed by virtual and global teams. Telework is growing in popularity, and technology is making it happen. In fact, almost eight out of ten employees would choose a telework employment position over an in-office opportunity, even if that means up to a 10% decrease in pay. How can remote managers inspire greatness in absentia and turn their invisibility into a superpower?
(1) Build a virtual community that valorizes communication, collaboration and equality among in-house and remote workers.
What you can do today: When you have a mixed staff of both in-house and remote workers, have everyone log on to a video or web conference for your staff meetings to establish an equal platform. Team meetings are essential for communication and productivity, and managers must strive for a democratic atmosphere. Technology enables you to “level set” so that, even when your team isn’t aligned geographically, everyone is represented fairly. With virtual collaboration tools like iMeet, you can conduct regular face-to-face meetings with your entire team without remote workers feeling distant or left out.
(2) Set the pace through your expectations and example.
What you can do today: To succeed tomorrow, you must plan today. The three P’s—planning, preparation and process—can help bring order to the potential chaos of managing remote workers. Establishing clear written goals with each employee and conducting scheduled follow-ups provides a cornerstone upon which you both can build clear expectations and work processes. Within the structure, invite and integrate creativity. Encourage creative thinking as a part of your regular processes. Lead by example and encourage them to do likewise.
(3) Communicate well, and often.
What you can do today: Clear, effective communication is your best tool for developing and sustaining relationships with colleagues and team members and for stimulating team productivity. Being able to convey ideas and expectations eloquently and persuasively is especially important when managing team members in a remote or telework setting. If you haven’t already, set up a weekly one-on-one meeting (even 15 minutes will do) with every person who directly reports to you. If you have already taken this step, be sure to keep every meeting and start the conversation with a few minutes of “How’s it going?” small talk. Water cooler conversation for remote workers is non-existent, so establishing personal rapport and regular connection is vital. Be aware that the efforts you make today will help build a path to mutual trust, honesty and openness that will benefit your relationship in the future.
(4) Establish an environment of continuous improvement.
What you can do today: As a remote manager, it is easy to become invisible. This lack of a physical presence can either empower or hinder teams, depending on the strength of the manager and the investment she makes in herself and in those she manages. Use your low profile to strengthen your team by allowing them the freedom to rely upon themselves and create inter-dependent relationships. If you remotely manage an in-office staff, delegate a more senior staff member to shadow newly hired employees. Manage as any manager should: establish the larger rules and corporate protocol, and give your team space to fill in the gaps.
(5) Start with the “why,” not the “how” or the “what.”
What you can do today: People want to believe in causes greater than themselves. A key element in inspiring others is to allow them as much say in their role as possible. Keep them genuinely informed about routine matters of interest not just tactical and high-level information. Build a key set of goals at individual and team levels, then engage with everyone involved throughout the process to make and maintain the vital personal and professional connections that transform those goals into achievements.
Bottom line, I’ve found is that there’s little difference between managing employees virtually or in an office setting. The vital role of trust and communication remains the same. Like any good leader, remote managers accept responsibility for managing well, inspiring others and knowing which tool, which approach is right for the job. As experience and circumstance have shown, the more virtual a workforce, the more the quality of management and leadership matters.
Photo courtesy of eshplagami/Flickr
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