The corporate environment is rapidly changing in today’s marketplace. There is increasing completion, globalization, mergers and acquisitions. The result is a more distributed workforce than ever, where employees are dispersed across multiple locations, or work in a virtual office, spending a majority of their time traveling to multiple destinations.
This creates a new realm of challenges in managing this type of workforce. There are different team dynamics, with a distributed workforce, that require different management techniques and skills to keep them motivated, productive, on track, and trained.
Managing a remote or mobile workforce is very different from managing a team based in one central location. The days of walking down the hall to review and monitor employees is becoming less of a reality in today’s companies. True, many management techniques and skills parallel those used in managing a central based workforce, however, there are 6 key additional techniques needed, that a manager of remote employees would be remiss to ignore.
1. Increased Communication – Often managers assume that they will have less communication with their employees when they are remote – because they cannot easily walk down the hall to talk with them. However, the reverse of this is true; managers of a distributed workforce need to work harder to have more communication than those whose employees are located in one office. Because of the distance, a remote manager needs to ensure that their employees do not feel isolated. The increased communication helps to make employees feel more connected with their team and company. As such, remote managers need to make sure they have multiple avenues to be accessible to their employees.
2. Establishing Respect – Many remote managers make the mistake of trying to establish their credibility through demands and force; a type of “because I said so” approach. People need reasons and explanations behind actions; this conveys respect for their thoughts and feelings; enough to include them in the rational. It doesn’t mean a manager needs to evoke consensus, but it will display respect toward their team which directly builds it in return. Respect is earned, not demanded. Those that demand respect actually destroy it. A manager’s communication style sets the tone for how the team will communicate with them, the client and each other.
3. Building a Team Culture – Because employees of a distributed workforce are in different locations, it is tougher for them to feel a part of the company and team, which is critical to their overall motivation and drive behind company initiatives. That is why it takes a concentrated effort by remote managers to build a team community and culture for their employees. Managers can do this by fostering inter-team communication, creating partnerships amongst remote employees for projects, and by forming virtual water coolers and opportunities for small talk, re-living past successes, humor and experiences.
4. Creating Accountability Through Self-Monitoring – The conundrum for most managers of field teams or distributed workforces is how to ensure that the job is getting done without micro-managing. Because a team of employees spread across multiple locations is not as easy to monitor with drop-in daily observations, like a centrally located team, many managers can overcompensate by trying to over control those things that they cannot see. Manager’s want their team to reach all set goals, but without smothering them. The key to ensuring happiness with a team’s performance levels and their happiness with their ability to spread their wings, is a combination of clearly outlining goals, creating responsibility, and generating individual accountability with a self-monitoring system.
5. Training – In field teams, the speed at which you build competency with new employees is more important due to costs and less visual daily interaction. Therefore it is important to have any initial training be conducted with face-to-face mentoring either by the manager or team piers to ensure the employee can work independently as soon as possible. For all remote employees, on-going mentoring and training is critical to keep them connected to the company, goals and team ,as well as allowing a manager to more quickly identify performance issues before they have escalated too far. Managers of field teams should think of each employee’s development as a continuous process.
6. Disciplining and Conflicts –Conflict between remote team members can create more issues than if they were in one location, because there is limited communication, making resolutions more difficult. Also, it is easier to avoid the necessary confrontation to work toward a solution when they don’t see each other daily. Because of this, manager’s need to address confrontation as soon as possible so that it doesn’t escalate or cause dissension among the team. As well, when there are performance issues with an individual employee, it is important to address it as soon as possible.
There can be a tendency with remote managers to ignore employee performance issues until a more convenient time (out of sight, out of mind). However, often there is no one that can pick up the slack of a remote employee – if they are the only one in their location, they are the only one available to do the needed job there. So it is important to address and correct any performance issues, sooner rather than later, so a critical gap does not develop.
The changing business environment and ensuing structure does not need to spell painful transitions for employees and corporations. By understanding the needs and techniques, for managing this new business format of distributed and mobile workforces, companies can capitalize on success by implementing these new management techniques. As many companies struggle, to figure out the new workforce, those that have streamlined it, will excel in the marketplace, and with their clients.