I came across this article “Working Remotely: 11 Project Management Experts Weigh In on the Pros and Cons” earlier this week, and it got me thinking.
Having done a mind-blowing amount of research on team management and remote leadership, I was surprised to uncover a few tips that I hadn’t yet seen, at least in the context of remote leadership, and I thought I’d share them with you.
For example …
If one person dials in, everyone dials in
Even if you have a few people in one location, every team member calls in separately, rather than having a few meet in person and the rest call in. The reason? So that everyone has the same meeting experience and no one is at a communication advantage.
I think there is something to this. I know I have sit in on countless meetings where I am remote, calling into a conference room where three, four or more people are gathered. They talk among themselves, have side conversations, mention stuff I can’t see or hear. It’s very isolating to be the only remote person. If everyone is calling in, no one feels like they are on the outside listening in.
If having everyone call in just isn’t possible (or even something you will consider), at least set some strong meeting guidelines. For example, ban side conversations and only reference materials that remote employees can see.
Project managers must surface teamwork problems
We’re not just talking about asking “How are you doing?” and leaving it at that. You have to pry, force the issue and dig deep to ensure that people are working well together. It can feel like you are creating problems, and that’s why so many project managers don’t ask the hard questions. Still, it’s necessary. It’s way too easy for people to hide issues in a virtual setting. When issues come to light or productivity dips, do your part to get to the root of the issue. Otherwise the problem will persist.
Even if you can’t see teammates, still “observe” them
While the idea of observing coworkers to learn their ticks, preferences, triggers and so forth isn’t new, the idea that we can apply it to our remote coworkers is very interesting.
The goal here is to figure out what people like and don’t like, their habits and rhythms, and their overall work process so that you can work more effectively with them. While it may be a little trickier to do that with people you may never see and rarely speak with on the phone, it is possible. You just have to pay attention. How do they most often communicate, for example, via email, IM, Skype or over the phone? Are they formal or more casual when you speak? Do they schedule every interaction or simply call or message you in real-time, as issues pop up. Most important, if you are ever in doubt, ask.
However, remember, it’s not all about doing what makes other people happy, either. It’s finding a happy medium, so that everyone experiences less frustration.
For example, I’m in Virginia, and I work with a California-based client, who almost always contacts me between 10 p.m. and midnight my time, so 7 to 9 p.m. his time. I know to check my email first thing each morning and can anticipate a 10 a.m. or so deadline for any tasks he sends my way. The content is there waiting for him when he gets to work the next morning. I only call him if I have questions, otherwise, all communication is done via email and IM. We’ve fallen into a rhythm that works for both of us.
Command-and-control won’t work
This one isn’t new to me, and I personally believe it applies to every team, on-site and virtual, but I think it is worth reiterating, because it is contrary to what many virtual managers think. When team members are out-of-sight, you have no way of knowing if they are working. That’s scary, and chances are, some of your team members will take advantage of the situation.
Here’s the thing, though, if you try to micromanage their work, you will drive yourself crazy, and kill everyone’s productivity in the process. Virtual teamwork is built on trust, and you have to trust that your people will get the job done. So establish guidelines, rules and goals, but grant your people autonomy to meet their objectives and deadlines the way they see fit. Take the command-and-control approach only if a team member is failing at the job.
Do you agree with those points? If not, why? Share your ideas in the comments section below.
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