Creating and managing high performing remote teams

It’s tough enough managing the people you see every day. The challenges of getting things done from a distance, whether that means different sites or different countries, can cause even the most experienced manager sleepless nights. Geography can be the key enemy of great leadership.

Let’s remind ourselves of some of the ‘stories’ we hear about remote teams.

  • They’re not interested in the company
  • They TUPE’d over – they didn’t really want to work for us!
  • They just want to come to work, do their job, then go home
  • They don’t have access to computers, so there’s no point communicating with them
  • I can’t manage them from a distance
  • Their local manager/supervisor knows what s/he is doing
  • I don’t have time to go driving all over the country/flying around the world
  • It’s different in the North/Middle East/United States/EMEA etc
  • They are too busy for me to go interfering
  • I can’t afford to pay for team briefings, training , flights etc
  • The client is happy with their performance, so I don’t need to worry about them

How much easier would life be if you were able to manage them more effectively, keep them motivated, reduce churn and increase productivity? You don’t need a magic wand, just some simple, practical tips.

It takes special Leadership skills to successfully manage remote teams.

1. Trust and honesty – trust your local manager/supervisor and their teams – every single one of them. Answer their questions honestly and address tough issues as soon as possible. Don’t be tempted to rely on those based in your building to do the lion’s share of the work, or the most urgent jobs – share the workload fairly. Establish your team-specific “ground rules” – these are the unwritten rules that guide how work gets done in your team. For examples, do you have an open door policy? How are suggestions for improvements to be made? How does communication work amongst team members?

2. Clarity – ensure they all understand their objectives. As far as possible, allocate short-term projects, so you can tell early on if the work is on track. Any change within the team – be it to responsibilities, new ways of working, additions to or loss of staff – may mean that established, well-functioning teams sometimes revert to a stage where their roles, responsibilities and objectives need to be reviewed and re-clarified. As their manager, it is imperative that you take the lead in defining these roles and responsibilities early on.

3. Focus on results. You need to measure the output from individuals and local teams, rather than processes. This also allows you to intervene quickly if you spot the early signs of under-performance. Encourage people to take small actions so they don’t become overwhelmed. Check in regularly with their progress.

4. Communication – understand their styles of communication, learning, managing, motivation – and adapt yours to suit them.

5. Feedback – are you catching them doing things right? Start every contact you have with a simple question ‘what’s been going well?’ and listen actively to their responses.
The keys to giving great feedback are:

  • Give praise publicly, give criticism in private
  • Be sincere
  • Choose your timing carefully – do it as soon as you can after the event
  • Ask for self-assessment
  • Focus on specifics and don’t mix it with other messages
  • Limit feedback to a few important points.

6. Role model – consistently demonstrate the behaviours you want to see in your teams, starting with the ‘T’ word – trust. Do you want them to speak positively about the company, the Client, their work? Then you must, too – all the time, to everyone you interact with.

7. Networking – build relationships with key people who can help you manage – the supervisor/manager, the receptionist, security guards, key communicators within the team. Find common interests at all levels of the wider team and help people work more closely by sharing knowledge. Find yourself a mentor – someone who has been there and done it – and learn both from their successes and the challenges they faced.

8. Use technology – use simple methods of communicating that will make your people feel they are in the same building as you – instant messaging, tele- and video-conferencing, webinars, intranet sites, or shared systems such as SharePoint or Meeting Place. If you are working with an international team, it is useful to have interpreters on hand and to be aware of cultural differences.

Communication is the glue that holds teams together; this is even more relevant when your team is dispersed. Not everyone is comfortable with the ‘virtual world’, so you might need to make yourself available by ‘phone on a regular basis at a time to suit them, or perhaps send them a printed newssheet. When a new person joins the team, make every effort to meet them in person – it will make your life easier later on. Your people will form their impressions not just on the words they read or hear, but also on the tone of the message and non-verbal signals. Don’t assume you know what works best for them – ask. After all, people are not inspired by words they cannot hear.

Contact Liz Kentish, The FM Coach on Tel: 01778 561326 / 07717 870777 or email: for more management solutions for your high performing teams

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