by Wayne Turmel
When you hear the term, remote team what do you think of? For many, it means the boss sits in one place, while the individual team members usually work from home, or another office, or the other side of the planet. If everyone has an assigned place in the office or plant, they aren’t considered remote workers. But what if they’re not at their desks on a given day?
I thought of this recently as I visited a client’s headquarters. “We don’t have a lot of virtual teams. Most of us come into the office every day,” I was told. Sure enough, we walked from reception to her office and passed 20 or so desks, each with pictures of family, pets and photos from vacations as well as stacks of files waiting to be tackled. There were twenty people who “work” in that office. I saw exactly eight people.
“So and so was working from home two days a week.”
“She’s in our Moline office today.”
Everyone technically works in the office, except over half the people were elsewhere at this exact moment in time. Yet work still needs to be accomplished, decisions made, ideas shared, and deadlines met. Does this sound familiar?
None of this is to imply work isn’t getting done. In fact, I’m not even saying there’s a problem, although by insisting “everyone works here,” even when a large number of them aren’t actually there at the moment, you have to wonder if my client has a clear picture of how things get done.
I asked a couple of questions of my client, and I would ask the same of you if this situation is familiar:
Does everyone know where everyone else is working on a given day?
I can imagine a scenario where voicemails are left, or assumptions are made about who has access to information that may or may not be accurate.
Does everyone have equal access to the information they need when they need it?
Access to electronic files, shared drives and the knowledge trapped in the brains of your colleagues has to be available “on demand” from wherever people happen to be. Is it?
When discussion, collaboration and brainstorming occur, is everyone’s head in the game?
Are people as focused and effective working remotely as they are in the conference room? Do people participate and contribute as well on a virtual meeting as they do when you’re all together? We would all hope so, but is that the reality?
Do people view “working from home” as a reason to check out and avoid each other?
This isn’t a knock on those who need to put their heads down and get important work done without distractions. It’s just important that teams have rules about respecting each other’s space while still allowing us to share and access the information we need to get our own work done.
Again, none of this means it isn’t working, or can’t work. What it does mean is that you have to be intentional. You must carefully put processes in place, establish team norms around notifications and communications, and set the expectation that wherever you are, the work gets done to the same level of professionalism. Without that your team is working on hope and good intentions.
Here’s the question for you: Even if your team isn’t remote 100% of the time, are you prepared for when people aren’t at their desks?
As you can see, leading teams that work remotely, even if it’s just some of the time, demands a different kind of leadership and management than what we think of as “traditional.” I’d encourage you to take a look at our Remote Leadership Certificate Series. It can help you add these remote leadership tools to your toolkit and allow you to have a nice “feather in the cap” as you establish yourself as a leader.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.