"The times they are a-changing" goes that old Bob Dylan song from 1964, and never more so in the 21st century, when increasingly advanced technology has brought the global community together like never before and more and more companies are employing remote workers from across the country and the world.
But remote work comes with a new set of challenges. Without having the kind of day-in-day-out face-to-face interaction that most people are used to in traditional employment situations, how do you ensure quality communication and management so that your business can continue to grow and succeed in the marketplace?
Managing remote employees requires different leadership skills than managing on-site workers. Instead of having one team to manage in person, managers need to learn how to work with wholly and/or partially remote teams without being biased in favor of local employees, find ways to ensure that employees are on task or able to produce to meet the company's needs without micromanaging, and build trust and loyalty without being able to rely on in-person skills like body language and visual familiarity.
If your business requires the support of remote employees and telecommuters, and you are in charge of leading and managing the remote team, here are several leadership skills that will help you do just that:Conducting and facilitating virtual meetings
Whether you are using video conferencing or the good old telephone, it is imperative that you as a manager of remote workers, learn how to effectively conduct long distance meetings. What does that mean?
- Know how to use your own technology: Whether or not you have a technician, you should know basic troubleshooting for your hardware and software, whichever equipment and programs you need to use to communicate with your remote workers. Nothing wastes time like dropped audio, frozen frames, or technology that doesn't work like it's supposed to in the middle of an important meeting. The faster you can troubleshoot any tech issues that pop up, the sooner you can get things done.
- Understand how to present yourself on video: That means making eye contact with the camera (and not necessarily the screen on which your employee's face is projected), and addressing employees by name in a multi-person virtual meeting so people know who you are speaking to (since you aren't able to use normal body positioning cues to nonverbally direct your comment at a specific person as in an in-person meeting)
- Create a simple structure: so that people know when to speak and so that employees have the chance to ask questions or follow up at the end of the meeting if anything is unclear.
Sometimes remote management may feel just like juggling. You might be working with telecommuters from different parts of the country or globe at the same time, each working on different aspects of the overall project. So, one of the remote manager's biggest tasks is to keep track of all the moving pieces while keeping the big picture in mind.
You will want to develop simple, powerful systems for employees to report their progress regularly, perhaps one that other team members are able to view and contribute to. It might be through email, but something like a Google Doc may work even better.
Moreover, sometimes your team members may need to communicate between themselves to coordinate different aspects of the project. Using a platform such as Slack could help facilitate this conversation and keep you appraised on how each piece is developing in real time.Maintaining reasonable work life balance for yourself and your employees
When you work with telecommuters, you're bound to come across time zone issues. It isn't fair to expect certain employees to always attend meetings at uncomfortable times, so keep that in mind when you hire remote employees as well as when you work with employees on scheduling tasks. Keep in mind what time zones each of your employees are living in when you decide on meeting times and deadlines. A little consideration goes a long way to keeping your telecommuting workers happy and productive.Communicating well in writing
Email and text is the best and quickest way to talk to your remote employees when you don't have the chance to see them face to face day in and day out. But written communication comes with its own set of expectations that can be quite different from spoken communication. Whereas in spoken communications, hearers can see your facial expressions and body language, that is not the case in emails.
If you aren't careful, you could end up creating a tone in your emails that is different from what you actually intend to convey. Be cognizant of things like capitalization, greetings and sign offs, use of emojis, and how these factors create a subtext to every piece of communication you send out. Furthermore, don't expect that your remote employees can read your mind, especially if you are working with international telecommuters who grew up in a culture different than yours.
The key to writing a good email is to leave nothing to the imagination. Spell everything out clearly and remember to recap important points. Write as clearly as possible and re-read everything before you send it out. And if you still feel that you cannot communicate effectively by writing, consider going with a phone call or video call instead.Encouraging cohesion and commitment
One of the key skills of a great manager is learning how to motivate employees to do their best work, and this core purpose doesn't change when you are managing a tele-team, even if the specific methods and means might. Because your teleworkers are living far apart from each other, it can be difficult to facilitate a team culture where everyone is working together toward a common goal, but a wise manager will learn how to communicate the company mission in such a way as to clearly get everyone on the same page pulling toward the same goal. Managers need to link the team to the bigger picture, using available technology to foster communications not only between the manager and the employees, but among employees themselves, creating team loyalty and cohesion.
A great leader of a remote workforce is considerate and a good communicator. Someone who can do the practical aspect of the job (such as keeping communication lines open no matter what technology you are using) as well as the abstract element: such as motivating and inspiring individuals through excellent communication skills and demonstrated care for people.
Teleworking is here to stay, and the wise manager will adapt to the opportunities and constraints of the new system rather than demand that everything continues the way it has under traditional work models. For more information about how to become a brilliant manager of a telecommuting team, feel free to contact us today!
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