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How to be Present as a Virtual Manager

I spent a large portion of my career as an individual contributor. But today I live and breathe collaboration, and the time I spend working with and managing my team of communicators here at PGi makes for some of the most rewarding moments in my day.

Except here’s the rub: the other parts of my job involve a great deal of travel and work away from our Atlanta headquarters. And my team also has the freedom to work remotely as their responsibilities and workload allow, much like the 70% of workers in our recent survey.

How do you effectively manage teleworkers, especially when you’re a teleworker too?

Trust – on Both Sides

Building an effective remote team hinges primarily on trust. It’s the trust that your workers are doing what you pay them to do, even if you’re not always there to check in. While a lot of the personality traits and behaviors required for telecommuting can be vetted during the hiring process, you never really know until someone comes on full-time whether their personality is a good teleworking fit. That level of trust is earned, and it’s earned over time.

But that street runs both ways. If you’re going to be an effective teleworking manager, your team needs to trust in you as well. They need to know that you’re still there to solve problems, break up workflow and political logjams and give direction as needed, whenever needed. If you’re not holding up your end of the bargain, the whole relationship falls apart—and it won’t be your team’s fault.

Setting the Standards

Regardless of your personal work style and methods, telecommuting is impossible if you’re not properly technologically equipped. Being able to sift through the noise of emails, texts, calls, calendar invites and meetings, all while working primarily away from a desk on a smartphone or tablet, can make it daunting simply getting your bearings, much less getting any work done.

Set the standards of efficiency and collaboration amongst your team. Utilize all of the tools your team is equipped with for remote collaboration, whether it’s file and document sharing, web conferencing, social business platforms or internal messaging and presence tools. Your team will look to you as the telecommuting example; if you want them using a tool, you better be prepared to master it yourself.

Keeping the Door Open

I try my best to keep an open door policy for my team. I, like most managers, keep a busy schedule; but if someone really needs me, they can pop by quickly for a chat.

Many people feel this experience is lost when you or your team (or both) are telecommuting, but it simply doesn’t have to be the case. There are any number of ways to reach me when I’m not in the office, thanks to how ubiquitous our smart mobile devices have become. Sending me a quick email is no different than poking your head in my door to see if I’m free. And I can easily answer a call or jump into my iMeet® room straight from my smartphone, maintaining the level of availability and accessibility I strive to offer my team and keeping the virtual door open, as it were.

Telecommuting is more than just sending an IM or email or jumping into a virtual meeting. It is a series of practices, processes and philosophies, on the parts of managers and employees that makes remote work possible.

About Sean O'Brien

Sean O’Brien is PGi’s Chief Administrative Officer. He oversees the company’s Legal, HR and Program Management organizations and manages Corporate Development, M&A and Acquisition Integration. In addition, Mr. O’Brien leads Corporate Strategy, Executive Communications and Global Facilities Management.

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