If you’re new to leadership or have been leading in a traditional team (everyone more-or-less in one place at one time), managing a team with remote members, even if it’s only people who telework a couple of days a week, can seem like an entirely new challenge. While parts of the job will have changed dramatically, most of the job hasn’t changed all that much. But how do you know what’s different and what’s the same as it’s always been?
Here are 4 questions to help you focus and wrap your head around the job…
- What’s the job that needs to be done, and how sure are you that everyone knows it?
- In a traditional setting, how often would I communicate with the team, and how does working remotely change that?
- What tools do I have to help my team communicate, and what are we missing?
- What concerns do your people have, and how do you know?
While these questions may not seem earth-shatteringly new, you should notice that each of them has two parts. The first part asks the logical question, but the important thing is the second half. Essentially, we’re asking you to answer the question, and then follow up with the really important question: so what?
Basically, asking ourselves questions is useful only if we go all the way and apply those answers to our work.
Are we really sure that everyone is aligned on the work to be done, and your team’s purpose? The “so what” here is that there needs to be constant checking and explicit discussions about what you’re doing and why. In a remote environment, it’s easy for people to become focused on their own work and task at the expense of teammates and the big picture. If we aren’t always checking for agreement and mutual understanding, we may find ourselves working hard on the wrong things.
Management and leadership have always been hard, and working remotely adds a level of stress and complexity to what’s already a tough gig. It often helps to think first about what needs to be done, then how we do it. Remember that Queen Victoria ruled half the world and never held a single conference call. It’s do-able if we’re mindful of what needs to be done, then find a way to make it happen.
Technology is both the cause and the cure for much of our communication trouble in a remote world. It’s basically impossible to do our jobs without it. But this requires understanding what needs to happen; then of all the tools and gadgets out there, which will help us get the job done? Remember that there are three components to using tech efficiently: Understanding what needs to be done, applying the right tool to the job, and using that tool well. This means that open, honest conversations, ongoing coaching and training may be necessary to get everyone on the same page here.
Finally, the biggest challenge for many managers is that we don’t see the faces of the people we’re working with as they’re working. We ask Alice, “how’s it going?” She says, “fine” and we move on. We don’t see her banging her head on the monitor in frustration or struggling to meet that deadline until after the fact. In fact, if she makes that deadline, we might never know there was a problem. Getting real input on how things are going, what struggles people experience and what could be better takes honest conversation, trust, and (most importantly) taking the time to ask open-ended questions and really listening to the answers.
These four questions really sum up the job of a remote manager: it’s the same as any manager with the complicating factor of getting good communication added in. So ask yourself both parts of these questions on a regular basis, and don’t forget the so what. That’s where the work comes in.
Join us for a FREE Webinar on May 16, Preparing Managers to Lead Teleworkers and Dispersed Teams. Learn more and register here.
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.