If we ask managers, “should you delegate tasks to remote team members?” the answer is almost always a resounding, “Yes!” After all, they are smart, talented people and we’re paying them to add value to the team— of course we should delegate to them. The reality doesn’t always reflect this, though. Many remote workers complain that the plum assignments go to “those suck-ups in the main office” or that they don’t always hear about projects or special work they might be interested in.
Leaders always have reasons for the decisions they make, they just don’t always hold water. In speaking to managers about their delegation habits, we have found some assumptions that may explain the perception gap. Among some of the things we hear are:
- People who choose to work from home are choosing lifestyle over career, and aren’t interested in such tasks. (This may be true, but not always)
- This work will require a lot of supervision and it’s easier to do that when someone’s in close proximity to me (Then maybe we need to reexamine the way we set expectations and metrics)
- People in the office are often the first to volunteer (maybe because they hear about the opportunities before those out in the provinces)
There are some questions you need to ask yourself as a leader when considering delegation.
Do you know what everyone’s career and personal development plans are?
Not everyone who works from home is explicitly choosing work-life balance over potential career success. Some are quite happy to trade not having to commute and being able to work in their cargo shorts for the “rat race.” Others still want to grow and develop new skills and financial opportunities. Are these discussions part of your ongoing coaching conversations? Are you asking your remote team members what their aspirations are, and what they want to work on, or are you simply working on a transactional level?
When you decide to delegate a task, are you looking at the whole team or are you letting proximity and availability influence you?
Quick, name your team members. Odds are, you started with the people who share space with you and worked your way out into the rest of the team. This bias to proximity is helpful when organizing information. When you start thinking about who is right for which task, though, the first person you think of may or may not be the right person for the job in the long run. Taking the first volunteer might get the delegation off your plate, but might not be the best long-term answer or help other members of the team who need the experience or could do the job better or at least as well.
If you can’t think of tasks to delegate to your remote team, ask 2 questions: What should “somebody” do, and what shouldn’t you be doing?
Leaders should delegate tasks for two reasons. The first, is that something needs to be done right now. The second task is for the development of the person completing it. Many times your remote employees are perfect for those developmental projects. The problem is that we’re often so busy just trying to get stuff checked off the list, we don’t give enough thought to these types of assignments.
If you’re wondering what kind of things make for good delegation, consider these two questions. First, have you found yourself saying, “somebody should…..” (clean up the database, identify our ten top lead generation tools, look into a new webmeeting platform) We all have a list of things that would be nice to do but we never get around to. Maybe these can be given to team members who have an expressed interest in building new skills or proving their commitment to the team. The second set of delegation tasks are the things that you know you shouldn’t be doing but need to be done. Do you have tasks that take up a lot of time but interfere with more important work? Maybe this can be delegated to someone else.
If we start with what needs to be done, and then look at all the members of your team before leaping to conclusions about who should do it you may find there are plenty of opportunities for those who aren’t in your location to contribute to the team and build their skills and visibility to the larger organization.
What challenges have you experienced in effectively including remote team members in projects or tasks with far-reaching implications? Any good stories to tell? We’d love to hear them!
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.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.