Are You On? Six Steps to Simplify Remote Management
By Jim Bain
and projects from across the hall is tough enough. Managing people
and projects from different cities, states, time zones, or countries
is infinitely more difficult. You might as well be on different
planets. And, as the world economy changes, this remote sort of
management is becoming more and more common. Whether your
organization has a sales force spread around the country, an
engineering group located across the state, or projects you might be
building across town, the lack of opportunity to “run into” the
other members of your team can be devastating to the team’s
performance. While there are certainly some advantages to a remote
workforce, its downsides must be recognized and either minimized or
The goal of most
organizations and sub-organizations is to deliver something of value
to their external customers, their internal customers, or both. As
such, the difficulty of managing people remotely has a direct impact
on both the productivity of the workforce and the quality and
quantity of the end product or service. To operate at peak
performance today, managers simply must learn how to improve their
interactions with remote employees.
behavior studies over the last five decades have held that
motivational triggers exist at differing levels for each individual.
The most basic of these needs, such as food, water, and shelter are
satisfied by means of a salary or wage and are not affected by the
location of the worker. Middle level needs, such as the need for
relationships, good work conditions, and the need to belong are
simply easier to satisfy when people work in direct contact with
each other. In other words, remote employees are much more inclined
to be dissatisfied with their work simply because it is more
difficult to develop the necessary relationships. There is limited
“face time.” Fortunately, if those management hurdles are cleared,
the highest level needs, such as achievement, the work itself,
recognition, responsibility, and advancement, are not only possible,
but often enhanced by remote working arrangements.
The key, then,
is to take creative measures to ensure that those remote
relationships are built and nurtured. Many people have experienced
that feeling that they think, act, and speak in different languages
than their spouse, their children, or their boss. They might as well
be from different planets! How can managers make sure that they are
on the same planet as their remote team members?
1) Start by agreeing on the outcomes you seek.
Engage in true two-way communication. Be specific about the desired
results of the work. Confirm that all parties understand the details
of the desired results. Agree on a “get well” date. When will the
project be finished? Remotely located employees have more
flexibility in the “how,” but need to have fairly specific goals and
objectives on the “what” and the “when.”
2) Get out of your office and go see your remotely located
Whether you schedule your trips to your remote locations on a
regular basis or a more haphazard basis is not critical. Visiting
their turf, their offices, their project sites – is! Back in
the 1970’s this was called MBWA – Management by Walking Around.
People want to see you so that they feel as if they have access to
you and so they know that you care.
3) When you can’t get out to see your people, institute a
daily or weekly “How can I help you?” call.
At an agreed upon time, if you and your remotely located people have
not yet talked, part of your responsibility as a manager is to find
out how you can help. This regular call will go a long way to
building the trust that occurs more readily when they are just
across the hall. Make this call one of your good habits.
4) Use technology to its fullest potential.
Nearly, everyone is aware of e-mail. Videoconferences, on-line
virtual meeting sites such as Second Life, and social networks like
Facebook and Twitter, are excellent examples. While there is no
substitute for face-to-face interaction, current technology can get
you pretty darn close. This is also an excellent way to bridge the
generation gaps that are developing in today’s workforce. If you are
a baby boomer, learn to e-mail, text, and maybe even Tweet your
gen-X and gen-Y employees. They will appreciate the effort just as
inhabitants of a different planet would appreciate you learning
5) Walk a mile in their shoes.
The construction business is a great example. The office personnel
find it hard to understand the difficulty of working out of a hot
dusty pick-up truck with paper spread everywhere, no place to fill
out all of the necessary forms, and Burger King bags on the
passenger seat floor. Develop a “day in the life” program. Set up
opportunities for staff from different groups in your organization
to spend a half or whole day job shadowing each other. The
experience will help different functions understand the difficulties
each group faces when working away from the “head shed.”
Take the time to
communicate with your people in any form available. It will help to
build those relationships so necessary for job satisfaction. Start
by asking your people about their lives, their work, their needs.
Then shut up and listen. You’ll be surprised what you learn.
increasing incidence of remote management can directly and severely
impact the job satisfaction for your remote employees. Decreased job
satisfaction has a negative impact on productivity and performance.
The reality is that special measures must be taken to alleviate
those issues. Using these tips will help you practice the first
three rules of effective employee management. And they
are…communicate, communicate, communicate!
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