Last article we discussed some of the down-side to working remotely (either from home or from an off-site office). We discussed some techniques an employee can stay in the spotlight, even when they are not located in the same site as their reporting manager, cohorts or those making the salary decisions. Today, we’ll cover the challenges and solutions from the managerial position.
A primary concern for a manager is : as your team starts to grow apart in location, how do I assure the team doesn’t also “grow apart as a team”. How does one keep a cohesive workforce across both distance and time zones?
Also, when your team is remotely spread out, how does a manager effectively determine:
- How many hours are they actually working? If the manager doesn’t know how many hours they are actually putting in, how do they know how productive their employees are being?
- And there is the “out of sight, out of mind phenomenon” as well. Managers have many issues that cross their path in a day. How do they ensure that the employees that do not cross their paths are getting the right amount of attention, feedback and guidance?
- How do 2nd line managers effectively compare performances across their departments?
Communication is the key to keeping your team close-knit, even when they are far apart. Consider the following recommendations.
- Clearly articulate your vision. If you don’t know where you are going, how can you effectively steer the ship and command your crew? Clearly articulating your vision is only the first step. You must also understand how it translate or “what it really means to each role in your organization”.
- Articulate your measurable goals that you need to accomplish for your vision to materialize. For instance, if your vision is to increase sales by 50% by year-end, you need to identify reasonable milestones and projects that will accomplish those goals. If your vision is to deliver on-time, quality service or products, you need to identify reasonable requirements, the needed talent/technology and appropriate resources.
- Verify that everyone is on board and understands your direction. Merely reporting your vision, mission and goals does not guarantee that your team understands your direction. You need to verify that they understand not only your vision, mission and goals – but what impact your vision has on their position, their performance goals, and their career path. Ask each employee to paraphrase your vision with “how does this impact my position” perspective. Have a candid conversation on what this mission means to them, their value and how they specifically fit in the big picture. Often times, when the crew knows exactly where the ship is headed, they can do the steering themselves, with very little interference from the captain.
- Identify clear roles, expectations and responsibilities. Write these role and responsibility description for each organizational title as well as the entire “promotional ladder”. Have candid conversations with each employee to show them what is required for each ladder rung. Understand where they see themselves in the organization today, next year and in 5 years.. Make sure each rung, role, and responsibility actually supports your vision and goal. Using a generic template that has little association with your mission or business goals will not be as effective.
- Clearly outline your communication plan with each employee. Your communication plan may be different depending upon how your employees work best, which time zone they are located, and job role. To be an effective manager, you don’t necessarily schedule meetings at your convenience. You need a communication plan that is both effective and efficient for both side of the table. Also, consider web conference calls or SKYPE technology even for one-on-one meetings. Don’t depend on phone calls where you cannot see your employee’s reaction and body language. Realize that silence on the other end of the phone may be interpreted as “agreement” on the managers’ end when it really is a “disgust, eye-rolling” moment for the employee. If weekly written reports are required, consider also scheduling follow-up phone or web conference calls to clarify, paraphrase what you’ve read or just to comment on their great accomplishments. If the majority of your team is onsite, and there is one or two off-sight, schedule special meeting times with those off-site employees using the face-to-face meeting technology we now have available to us.
- Design specific 2nd-line project exposure for your employees. Devise ways for your employees to get 2nd line management exposure. For instance, if you give regular status reports to your 2nd line manager in a general meeting, chances are that all the other managers of your same level attend that same meeting. Take this opportunity to bring in one of your employees to report on the status of one of their projects (or piece of your status report) that the 2nd line manager would be interested in. This exposes your employee to not only the 2nd line manager, but all the managers on your level that report to your boss. Your employee will appreciate the acknowledgement and continue to do great work. Also, knowing that they will be periodically reporting to the executive level inspires greater pride in their work and loyalty to you.
- Reward the behavior you want to repeat. Avoid creating a hero culture in which the only way to get your approval or acknowledgement is to “save the day”. If it’s impossible to get your product or service out the door without heroics then your project management skills are lacking. Every once and a while, working a few extra hours to get a high-profile product or service out is necessary. But when working 12 hours, 6 days a week is “situation normal”; the problem is with the employee’s (or your) project management skills. If you turn around and continually reward and promote the people that continually work late and on weekends, then you send the message that bad project management skills is not only acceptable but applauded. In reality, the behavior that you want to promote and repeat is efficiency and productivity. Employees that are effective with their time and talent; who are proactive in avoiding time-consuming errors are the ones that should really be highlighted. Employees that are on top of their craft, are accurate labor estimators, are self-aware of their own abilities (and gaps), and networks with those who can fill their gaps are not the ones working late to correct a “stop-production” defect that they overlooked or created.
- Highlight the right things to upper management. Often times when there is a problem, that problem is highlighted to the upper management tier and therefore, those that fix the problem (which often are the same people that created the problem) are publicized as the “hero” to that same upper management tier. What about the people that devise a solution before it becomes a “high-level visible problem”? Encourage a repeat of that behavior by inviting those employees to share their secrets with your 2nd line and cohorts. Unfortunately we are also in the habit of reward those that work late with extra compensation time-off. What about acknowledging people that have perfect on time, no hassle delivery records with a bonus of extra time off? Recommend those folks to write, publish and present their secrets to conferences and trade shows. Reward them with additional travel and time-off when they present their papers at various speaking engagements. Bottom line: Highlight and reward what you really want to encourage.
These are just a few recommendations to stay ahead in these fast moving times. You can still have a close-knit, smoothly running team even if they are scattered around the world. It just takes a little extra forethought, a little ingenuity and willingness to try something different.
Times have always changed. “The only constant is change” is old news. What is different today is that things change faster. These days we don’t have the luxury to get comfortable with our current methods. To stay ahead, we need to be comfortable and be at ease with “change”.