Throughout the age of instant messaging and Internet connections, technology has helped businesses streamline operations. In particular, long-distance communication is simpler than ever. Today’s team members are spread throughout many time zones, working from home, in coffee shops, and sometimes in offices across state, country, or continent borders. While this can be beneficial on an individual basis, managers working with remote teams must understand the unique challenges that come with this scenario. Here are a few ways that managers can successfully lead a geographically-diverse team.
Keep Communications Clear
In an office setting, employees and team members often bump into each other, making time for idle chat by the water cooler and walking just a few feet to ask a question. However, on a remote basis, employees don’t have that luxury. Tim Doctor co-founder Rob Rawson has worked extensively with virtual and remote teams, and has found that the failure of these teams comes from isolation: “They [team members] kind of forget about the other team members, live in their own world and do not communicate or collaborate as much as they need to.”
To compensate, managers should encourage the use of communication software, such as Slack, Skype, and WhatsApp. This software provides a chat room that acts as a conduit for advancing overall collaboration. In addition to using such software, Rawson writes that managers should understand when to use specific types of communication—for instance, video chat would be best for more interpersonal, emotional issues, while emails are great for quick information.
Establish a Vision
Think of an assembly line for vacuum cleaners, with cords, bands, and other small items sectioned off from one another. For an individual stationed at the section with gears, It’s hard to see how a handful of cords will become an appliance. These individuals don’t have a clear image of the big picture; in the same vein, remote team members can’t always visualize how their small tasks add up to create the overarching product or service. In this regard, it’s vital for managers to establish a team vision. While much of this falls under the realm of clear communication, it also involves a product manager attitude, one that requires emphasizing the vision and communicating it in a variety of ways.
Set Goals and Expectations
When working remotely, team members don’t always worry about managers looming over their shoulders. Even if that isn’t your management style, any manger—in-house or remote—should set clear, well-communicated expectations for the team. Similarly, goals should be established and regularly referenced. The best, most achievable goals are ones that are concrete, answering the journalistic questions of who, what, where, why, how, and when. If expectations are exceeded and goals are met, be sure to express your gratitude to the team. Communicating with team members should not just be done when managers need a task completed; wins both big and small should be celebrated.