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Managing Performance – Keeping a Remote Team on the Right Track

How do you keep a remote team on the right track and in-line with the company and team needs? How do you ensure they understand how to perform and know how they are performing?

You can keep your team focused toward reaching the same goals and achieving them, by following a 5 tiered hierarchal structure that moves from vision setting to performance ranking.

  1. vision02Vision – Would you rather be inspired to reach toward a clear purpose, or would you rather have someone pushing you from behind telling you to move faster and work harder? Your vision is that bright purpose that you want to be the inspiration for your employees to strive toward. You might use your company vision as a catalyst for your own team, but rather than trying to make it a fancy marketing type statement, just make it a sentence or two on what you are really trying to accomplish as a team.

    When asked, most employees could not recite their company’s vision or mission statement. Most companies spend countless dollars and hours coming up with a company vision or mission statement, but do a poor job ensuring that it is a driving force in the company or that the employees even know it. Once you create your team vision it needs to be reinforced whenever possible. Emphasize it in conversations and meetings with employees, to ensure they know the team’s purpose and the meaning is not lost.

  2. Expectations – The second step is to let your employees know how they can help reach that vision. A vision can be esoteric and it is easy for employees to self-interpret how to reach it. If you tell your team to “think strategically,” that can mean very different things to different people. Expectations are the ways your team can reach that vision such as: “identify company competitive advantages and create plans to market them.” Make sure you clearly define what the team is expected to do to reach that vision.

  3. Goal Setting – Once expectations are set, create specific goals for each employee that can be tracked on a weekly basis, that helps reach these expectations. If the expectation is to “increase company sales,” how does that breakdown for the employee? Do they need to make X number of sales calls a week? Do they need to find a new way to position a product each week? These goals should be SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, results oriented, timeframe) that they report their progress toward, each week to you.

    Numeric goals such as sales KPIs are always easy to set, but setting goals for more intangibles such as “strategic thinking” or “team player,” can be tougher. To do this, think about what the behavior of a strategic thinker or team player would look like, and find a way to set goals around this. If a team player is someone who helps others on the team, then set a goal for you employee to list 2 things each week that they helped teammates on. This will get them in the pattern of this behavior.

  4. Performance Reviews – almost all managers dread performance reviews. That’s because they are done incorrectly. The best performance reviews are: 1) done quarterly, 2) initiated by the employee, 3) don’t include numeric rating systems, 4) are really a goal setting conversation between the manager and employee. Too often performance reviews are an annual event where the manager tries to think up clever phrases to support the number they gave the employee under each category: communication, motivation, etc. . . Instead have the employee list what they would like to focus on and accomplish over the next 90 days, as well as a review of how they did with their past quarter goals.

    Then discuss these with the employee giving them feedback and guidance in the discussion. By making these a working planning session, you will get better content and a more collaborative relationship, and the employee will have a much stronger understanding of where they should be going, and how they are doing. No one has ever gotten a good understanding of how they could “communicate better” (or how they were successfully communicating) because they got a “3” on a review.

  5. Performance Grid Plotting – So if we don’t rate employees with a numeric system on their reviews, how do we understand how they rate in the overall scheme of the company? The most accurate way to understand how employees are doing as part of the whole, is to plot them on a grid (that measures both performance and potential), on where you think they would fall. From top performance/potential, to lowest. Then get together with other managers (ideally 1-2 times per year), and discuss why you would rate each person as such.

    This gets all managers on the same page as to what they think constitutes a top player vs a bottom achiever, and often times, managers may shift where they think their employees fall, during these meetings. This rating grid should never be shown to employees. Instead it is a management tool to help each manager know where they need to focus, with each of their employees. 

Using this progressive tiered plan will keep the messaging and goals clear, as well has ensure a consistent way to track and measure performance.

Creating Accountability with a Distributed Workforce

When the term Micro-Manager is mentioned, it incites painful ideas of a manager that is smothering, controlling and demotivating. But the conundrum for most managers of field teams or distributed workforces is how to ensure that the job is getting done without over 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 teams to reach all set goals, but without smothering them.
The key to ensuring management’s happiness with a team’s performance levels as well as the team’s happiness with their ability to spread their wings, is a combination of clearly outlining goals, creating responsibility, and generating individual accountability.

Setting the vision & creating expectations
Create VisionA good vision creates inspiration and motivation for a team which creates the catalyst to drive a team’s performance. When setting a vision, keep it at top level goals, not the specific tasks it takes to reach them (this is covered next). Because a remote team is more at risk for feeling disconnected from the company, they can tend to focus more time and energy on things that they perceive to be important but that might not really be of the most importance to the team or company. So setting a vision, and keeping a remote team focused on it, is critical to the team and company’s success.

Once the vision is set and communicated, expectations need to be created to define how the remote team will reach that vision. Every employee wants to do a good job, but they need to know what that looks like to obtain it. Creating the expectations, lets each employee know what they need to do to be successful, and what the end picture will look like.

Creating Responsibility
If you give someone the responsibility, they will more likely than not live up to it. However, if you don’t trust them with the responsibility, then they will never have a chance to reach it. Take a simple scenario observed at a corporate meeting where all sales people across the country met semi-annually to discuss the new product line and strategy. At this meeting, for the first 2 days, after every 10 minute break, the regional managers would go out to find their employees and alert them that the break was over and they needed to get back into the meeting room. As a result, over 75% of the sales reps never returned on time to the meeting and waited for their manager to alert them to return. They were conditioned that the manager would let them know, so they didn’t need to take the responsibility to look at their watches to see when 10 minutes was up. This approach removed the responsibility from the sales reps and placed it on the regional managers.

On the 3rd and 4th days, the regional managers took a different approach; they didn’t alert anyone when breaks were over and just started the meeting on time – even if everyone was not in the room. Those that arrived late (after the allotted 10 minutes for the break) had to disrupt the meeting to get to their seat. Those that arrived late more than once over the 2 days, were pulled aside on the next break for a discussion with the manager on the importance of being on time. By the end of the 4th day and the last (5th day) of the meeting, not one employee returned late to the meeting after break times. With the regional managers shifting the responsibility to the sales reps, it freed up their (the managers) time and made the sales reps responsible for their own actions. The key to this was setting the expectation and holding them accountable if they didn’t reach it.

This is a good example of a micro vs non-micro management approach. Releasing yourself from these micro management tasks frees up your time to focus on more important things. Increasing team member responsibility creates less management needs.

Accountability – Micro-monitoring vs micro-managing
Setting clear goals is like a virtual manager that keeps everyone focused without having to constantly look over their shoulder. However if you set these goals but don’t implement some sort of accountability and tracking system, YOU will ultimately have to be that system. This means a very time consuming, management intensive process of nagging employees, to inquire on how they are doing toward their goals, and micro-managing to ensure goals are met. The more you can empower your employees to track their own progress (with a simple delivery method to you), the better results you will get:

  • They will manage themselves
  • They will be more self motivated to reach their goals
  • You will empower them to be responsible for themselves which will demonstrate your respect and trust for them
  • You can free up your time to work with them on more productive items such as their talent development

Shared accountability creates a feeling of partnership with each team member. It also enables people to learn from both their successes and mistakes. So rather than micro-managing a team, a manager can enable them to micro-monitor their own individual performance.

To do this successfully, managers need to implement a tool that helps employees track their own progress. This tool should also be something that they can deliver to you with minimal effort. It should not be too time consuming and should be easy to decipher for both you and your employee. An Excel spreadsheet or Word table are good vehicles, or possibly an automated intranet system if that is available to the company. These should be completed and submitted weekly and monthly to keep everyone on track. Here are some things to consider when deciding what goals you would like them to track:

  1. Specific – Clearly outline the details of each goal so they know what to strive for.
  2. Measurable – they must be measurable. What will the successful completion of the goal look like? If it is subjective “Need to get better client service ratings”, there is room for argument on if they have succeeded on the goal. Is a .01% better rating successful? It could be argued that it is a better rating than 0. Instead set a metric such as “Need to have at least 85% excellent client ratings.
  3. Attainable – on the flip side, if goals are too hard, where more than likely most people won’t reach them, then people won’t feel motivated to reach them. Ie. “Increase your business by 100% this year”
  4. Results Oriented – if a goal is something that everyone does anyway “put details of each transaction in the system every day”, then it isn’t very motivating and becomes more of a busy work task in tracking it. These are processes in how things should be done in the business, but not a performance goal. These types of things should just be noted in an overall team process handbook, or in training. Make sure goals are geared to motivate people to stretch.
  5. Time Based – This can be another subjective area. It need to be clear and concise on when each metric should be obtained. “You need to have at least 85% excellent client ratings by the last day of the month.” Everyone is better motivated when they can keep a deadline date or timeframe in sight.

Once the goals are set, and a self-monitoring matrix system is put in place to track goals, set time frames on when each employee should deliver their tracked goals to you electronically. Then spend a portion of your regular communication with them reviewing the overview of the goals. Don’t fall into the trap of going through each individual item with them. Look at the matrix obtainments from a balcony view, to discuss trends or patterns with them. This will allow you to look at how their performance is doing overall, and coach them on their overall progress.

What can be monitored – how can we monitor it?
What must be managed – how can we manage it?
It is important as a manager to identify what can be monitored by the individual team members, and then create a tracking matrix that they use to deliver their progress. This will set their responsibility and create the accountability system. Start by identifying tasks and goals that they can track themselves, to enable them to micro-monitor themselves and free you up from micro-management. Secondly, it is important to identify what items must be managed because they cannot be self-monitored by an employee performance tracking system. Because enabling micro-monitoring through your employees will free up your management time, use it to focus on more of the talents that are critical to the team, but harder to track quantitatively. Look for qualitative things that are important to the business, to focus your management and coaching efforts with each employee on, such as: team work, creative ideas and innovations, strategic thinking, positive attitude, etc…

Micro-Managing Your Remote Team – How to Avoid this Common Pitfall

One of the biggest fears when managing a team of remote employees is that they won’t be working and getting the job done when you can’t see them. How do you know that they are spending their time wisely and doing things the correct way? Unfortunately, this fear can lead to micro-managing of employees, which can lead to the direct results you are trying to avoid.

When employees feel they are micro-managed, they feel overly controlled and become demotivated. This leads to a team that will not think outside of the box, or push themselves harder than they have to. They assume “why bother” – since everything is so tightly defined for them – there is little room for creativity and they will need to ask you for approval during each step, since they are not confident in proceeding without explicit direction.

Micro-ManagementSo how can you ensure that you have a motivated and productive team that is getting the job done correctly, without micro-managing them? The key is in giving them the responsibility to manage themselves and providing the vision and guidance when needed, rather than explicit instructions that are task focused.

Think of your team’s goals as a bowling alley. You want to clearly outline what the goal is – knock down all 10 pins in 2 or less shots, by rolling the ball. And you also want to define the boundaries for them to work within – like setting up the bumper guards in the lane. However, after that, you want to leave it to them to decide how to get the ball down the lane to accomplish the goal. Do they roll it fast or slow, do they use curve balls or straight shots, do they bank it off of the bumper guards several times – these decisions should be left in their hands.

By allowing your team to make all of these other decisions, they will learn what parameters they need to work within, and their goals to focus on. In turn, they will be able to make their own decisions within these limits and will only need to seek your advice when they have something that is outside of these parameters. This ensures that your team will not be paralyzed without your every authorization or decree, and will be motivated to seek new creative ways to enhance the team’s success.

The last step is to have them hold themselves accountable to their goals and have them report their success, or lack of, to you each week. By clearly setting goals and providing a weekly status report to you, they will hold themselves accountable for their goal attainment. No one wants to come to their manager and tell them they did a bad job. Everyone wants to be able to take pride in their achievements. By having them keep their goal attainment status on the top of every weekly conversation with you, they will be self-motivated to reach those goals.

The ROI of an Off-Site Employee Structure – Arguments for the change

When considering a change to an off-site vs. on site employee structure, how do you know if it is right for the company?  Or how to you make the argument to executive management that it will be.  Some of the argument involves a shift in how we define work.  Also to consider, is how it can benefit the overall quality of service and costs to the organization.  Following are some new ways to define “work” as well as arguments for the change.

First, companies that are not used to an off-site or virtual employee structure, may need to consider a through process change, in how they view and define work.  In the book “Managing the Mobile Workforce”, by David Clemons and Michale Kroth, they discuss some of the old assumptions and new ways to look at how we define work.  Some of those old assumptions are included on the left in the below diagram, with a new perspective on the right:


If you challenge these old assumptions, and are able to view them differently, you will find that many work roles could be moved to an off-site/teleworker structure.

We also should consider the benefits of going to a remote worker format when deciding if it is right for the company.   Companies with a virtual (off-site) workforce realize a decrease in many costs such as office space, healthcare, travel, and employee retention.  Also, employees are happier with an improved work life balance, and are more motivated and productive.  It can also improve customer relationships by allowing employees to be closer to client locations, and can help with internal change management such as a change in company office location or work environment, since it will not impact remote employees as much.


The federal government has implemented an aggressive Teleworker plan over the past few years.  They submit an annual report that you can find on, which includes measured results.  Some of the benefits they highlighted in their 2012 report include:

  • 70% of managers and 80% of employees found that their productivity increased
  • They saved over 2 million dollars in electricity costs
  • They decreased their resignation rate by over 6%

Unless an employee has a position that requires physical location work, such as construction, or hospital patient care, etc., it is hard to not make the argument for a remote workforce structure. It allows companies to stay competitive, reduce costs, and hire and retain top talent.

Establishing Respect In Managing Remote Employees

Many remote managers make the mistake of trying to establish their credibility through demands and force.  Have you ever had a manager tell you a new policy or procedure is being implemented with the reason of “because that’s the way it is” or “that’s what I decided” or “it is what it is.”  How did this make you feel?  Did it bring back bad flashbacks of your parents telling you when you were a kid “because I said so?”

People need reasons and explanations behind actions; this conveys that you respect their thoughts and feelings enough to include them in the rational.  It doesn’t mean you need to evoke their consensus, but it will display your respect for them, which directly builds it in return.   One manager told their employee they were making their decision because their “ego just couldn’t currently let them accept the other person’s idea.”

As irrational a reason as this was, the fact that it was obviously truthful and that they were willing to share this reason behind their decision with the employee, earned their respect for the decision.

Respect is earned, not demanded.

Those that demand respect actually destroy it. Have you ever known a manager that others display respect to when they interact with them, but immediately behind their back do the opposite? They complain about the manager’s decisions, delivery, goals, etc. . . This leads to a team that does not embrace the manager’s and company’s goals and initiatives.

respectA successful team is one that is motivated by their manager and is behind their decisions (of their own free will – not by being forced).

This allows a company to make quick changes, capture and develop innovative ideas, and stay competitive. Granted, not every employee will like every idea that their manager communicates, but if they genuinely respect their manager, they are more likely to support those decisions in conversation with others, rather than spread dissent. Because remote employees can more easily feel separated from the company, inter-team communication can spread like a brush fire and generate emotions not conducive to the team’s success.

Own your decisions

Another common error made of managers is to do the opposite, when conveying a decision, by shirking ownership of it. Some managers convey reasons for directives to their employees as: “executive management made the rule” or “it’s a new company policy,” while at the same time communicating that they as a manager don’t necessarily agree but their “hands are tied.”

This type of communication is generally motivated by a need to be liked by their employees. Even though managers should strive to earn the respect of their employees, it does not mean they necessarily need to be liked. The goal is not to be their friend, but to be their manager.

When a manger uses this type of communication they discredit themselves by not owning their decisions.  Employees will read this as a sign of weakness.  The result can be employees going above or outside of their management structure to get answers, approval, assistance, etc. . . or to question their manager’s decisions.  Rather than saying “I personally wouldn’t mind if you took the day off, but I don’t think if would look good to executive management”, be the authority yourself.

You are the face of the company for your employees.  You do want to give them the “reasons why” behind the decision, when at all possible, but don’t defer to another power.  Instead try something like,” We have a critical project right now and I need you to be here today to make sure we meet the deadlines.”

Credibility through commitments

Another way to create respect and establish credibility is through commitments. This is especially critical in distributed workforce teams. A common compliant among these types of teams is that their manager does not get back to them when they try to contact them. Absent managers leave employees feeling isolated and will generate either unwanted maverick behavior (employees feeling that they can do whatever they want without following protocol), or employees that don’t reach set goals, based on excuses of “but you didn’t tell me to”, or “I didn’t know.”

To keep employees motivated and feeling like they are part of the company and team, a manager needs to keep promises and commitments. Even if it is a small promise; if you say you will get them something by Tuesday, then do so. Set consistent schedules with employees and don’t change them unless there is an emergency. If you have a time scheduled to talk with a remote employee each week, don’t reschedule it. Otherwise this will send the message that you don’t think they are a high priority. This sends the message that it is OK for them to reschedule or find excuses not to attend meetings and calls as well.

Keep in mind that your communication style sets the tone for how you want your team to communicate with you, the client and each other.   They will follow what you lead as far as your style.  If you take the ego out of your communication style and respect them, it will encourage them to do the same.

Motivating Remote Employees by Making Work More Like Play


When you are managing a team of remote employees, it can be more challenging to keep them motivated, engaged and focused.  You need to know they are self-driven to do their best, even when you can’t be there to see them.  It’s a known fact that, employees who like their job and enjoy going to work, are more dedicated and self motivated.  One way you can ensure that your employees enjoy their job is to make their work more like play.  That doesn’t mean you should send your employees off to go ski the slopes or play a softball game, instead of working for the day.  But there are some key concepts we can apply, from how we play, that can make work more enjoyable for our employees.

What is it that makes work just that – other than the obvious – that we get paid to do it?  If you play the guitar for fun, what makes that different from a professional guitar player in a band?  If you like to play tennis with friends, would you feel the same way about it if you had to do it every day for a living?  These key differences are things we can look to integrate into the work lives of our employees, to create enjoyment and self-motivation in their job.

  • When you play, you have choices on when, where and who to play with.  We get to make the choices on how long we want to play, who we are going to play with and the location we want to play at.  Give your employees the ability to make these choices themselves.  Allow them to pick teammates to work on a project with.  Let them select locations and times for meetings or projects when possible.  Give them the flexibility to plan their day, week and priorities in what they want to accomplish and when.
  • Playing is relaxing.  It allows you to unwind, there is no pressure from others, and you can be yourself.   Be careful not to micro-manage your employees.  If you suffocate them, they will never take it upon themselves to work without your supervision.  If you ever have employees say “I didn’t do xyz because you didn’t tell me to do it,” that’s a good indicator that your employees are over supervised.  If you over supervise them, they will only do things when you specifically tell them to do it and how since this is the pattern that has been set for them.  They will not take any initiative outside of what you tell them. Avoiding a micro-managing style entails managing to the goal rather than the task.  Do you really care if your employee starts at 8AM each day, if they reach the highest numbers in the team?  By allowing them the freedom to make decisions and tasks within pre-set goals you have given them, you allow them to be themselves and work in a way where they can produce the best results.  Give them the bumper guards you want them to use to stay within the bowling lane, and the vision of the 12 pins, but let them decide if they are going to use the curve shot or fast ball to knock down all the pins.
  • Play involves social interaction with peers.  We like to play with friends because we get to spend social time with them, share experiences, and create new ones.  This is an especially important concept with remote employees since they can often feel isolated.  Find opportunities for them to work together, collaborate, and generate ideas.  Set aside time during group interactions to allow for “virtual water cooler chat” where employees can share information that may not be work related.  You can help this along by using icebreakers or other team building “fun” activities to kick off meetings or phone calls.  Encouraging your employees to find things in common, and reasons to bond.  It will make them a stronger team and their work more enjoyable.  Research has found that if an employee has a good friend at work, it greatly decreases their likely hood of leaving the company, and increases their motivation.
  • Playing allows you to be creative.  Many types of play allow you to be creative such as drawing or trying a new golf swing.  You can provide your employees with creative opportunities by allowing them to come up with creative solutions to issues as a group or individual.  Elect a committee of employees to find new ways to tackle competitors for the group.  Have a team come up with a new process.  Allowing them to stretch their minds will keep them driven and engaged.
  • No one is telling you what to do when you are playing.  When you are playing, no one tells you what to do – and if they did, you could decide not to play.  Ask your employees to do things rather than tell them.  You will get the same response, but the fact that you asked them shows a form of respect, and in turn, they will be more receptive to doing it.
  • You have the ability to use your talents when you play. We play at things that we think we have some skill and talent in.  It’s one of the reasons we enjoy it.  Find opportunities to utilize your employees’ talents and recognize them.  Have them create best practices to share with the team in areas where they excel.  Nominate employees to be Subject Matter Experts on various topics.  Give them opportunities to attend and participate in seminars and trainings where they can grow their talents.
  • Playing gives us the thrill of winning and accomplishment. We play because we like to win and feel a sense of accomplishment.  Whether it’s winning a game or accomplishing a puzzle, these make us feel good.  Find every opportunity to celebrate with your employees.  Highlight successes during any group meeting or call.  Give them positive feedback whenever you see them succeed.

By incorporating these aspects of play into your employees work environment, you can make their work more fun, keep them self-directed and create a strong, positive team of remote employees.

Technology Tools for HR and the Remote Workforce

Quickly disappearing are the days in companies where all employees are based in one office.  Remote and virtual workforces are growing with the need to improve speed to service, lower travel cost, and improved customer service.  Research has suggested that now approximately 75% of US companies have employees that work virtual or remote.   This can prove to be a new challenge for the HR role in administering to this dispersed group of employees.  There are many technology tools now available to help in the HR function with remote workforces.

Document Management and Workflow systems

hr_tools_01There are many document management systems that can make storing, finding, accessing and securing documents better than ever. With the amount of documents produced in corporations, it can be a productivity drain to find and utilize needed info. Document Management systems use a concept called metadata that tags documents with properties for easy organization and retrieval. These systems also allow for more granular security, providing better privacy for HR employee files.

Workflow automation tools are also increasingly popular to help companies streamline processes through technology.  Systems can take an employee through the on-boarding process from job application submittal to training and review, or other processes such as expenses, vacation requests or 360 reviews.

One technology tool that incorporates both document management and workflow options is SharePoint.   This tool can provide document management benefits such as auto versioning, searching, and metadata views and organization.  It can automate processes such as document approval, or alert users of changes to calendars, employee document folders or company announcements.  It also has tools that can allow you to convert your employee handbook into an electronic wiki, or provide employees with online tools to access benefit vendors or forms.

Communicating with Remote Workforces through Webinars

There are now many different webinar services to choose from that allow you to communicate with a remote workforce to give presentations, have visual meetings, and share computer applications. Some of the most popular services are: Citrix Go to Webinar, Adobe Connect, Microsoft Live Meeting, WebEx, and even the local Denver based company: Ready Talk. The best system for you depends on your needs.

They all offer a different array of features including: Ability to view participants with web cams, surveys & polling, remote desktop take over, either uploading PPT presentations to the web service or displaying them on the fly, downloadable files, multiple meeting rooms, etc.

E-learning Tools

There are many technology tools that can help you create e-learning or blended learning scenarios to help with the on-boarding and training of remote workforces. Often the amount of features available in the different tools is synonymous with the needed learning curve of the product. Some tools allow for easy conversion of PowerPoint presentations into videos, such as Lectora’s Snap or Adobe Presenter.

Others allow you to capture animation on your computer as you click through items, and allow for narration, branching logic and other more advanced development features. Some products along these lines are: Adobe Captivate, TechSmith’s Camtasia, or Articulate. The more advanced products require some programming skills but will allow you to build interactive elements and custom animation using programs such as Adobe Flash.

All of these different technologies can help the HR function in working with a remote workforce.  Finding the right product for your company depends on the specific features you need.  However, just understanding some of the options out there, and how they can benefit the HR function, will provide the first steps toward finding the right tools.

Building a Team Culture with Remote Employees

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.

Many remote employees feel left out when they hear of their office or others that have company events such as:  ditch days, breakfast or lunch brought in, costume contests, in office birthday celebrations, happy hours, bring your pet or child to work day, etc. . . These social engagements help to build that community in an office, but there are things that a remote manager can do to build that culture and community, for their team, as well.  teamwork_01

  1. Create and encourage inter-team communication – Communication amongst a distributed employee base helps to build camaraderie.  This strengthens the team by fostering an environment where the team members rely on each other for help, support and ideas.  This helps build trust within the team and fosters internal team partnerships to make it stronger and more productive.
  2. Partner remote employees for projects – Find reasons to partner employees on the team, especially those that do not always work together, for projects.  This can include mentoring, developing best practices, or preparing topics to present to the rest of the team on a conference call.
  3. Create virtual water coolers – All of that time-consuming small talk that happens at the “water cooler” in office environments has an important purpose that is missed in distributed teams – it builds the team camaraderie and culture.  A remote manager can find ways to create virtual environment to foster this “small talk.”
    1. Plan a small amount of “open time” at the beginning or end of team conference calls for small talk.
    2. User ice breakers, openers, and getting to know you exercises and games during team gatherings, calls, interactions, etc. . . This can also include a virtual bulletin board to post “getting to know you” related info about team members.
    3. Find opportunities to celebrate together virtually by sending out team congratulatory emails, or on conference calls.  One company sent out Starbucks gift cards for their next team call so everyone could have “breakfast together” on the call.
  4. Re-live the past – Find opportunities to re-live shining moments from the team’s past.  This brings back positive memories of the group and will help to renew that feeling again.  This can be highlighting accomplishments made by the entire team, or even one employee.  Even funny things that happened to team members when they were last together.  Think of the memories that strengthen the bond with your group of personal friends.  Talking about these always bring back those happy feelings of belonging to something good.

One item to avoid that can be a common pitfall of new managers in building a team: avoid pitting the team against another in comments and remarks, such as “our team is better than theirs,” or “this is the best team in the company.”  This alienates other co-workers and the company.

Although competitiveness can be a strong motivator, competitiveness such as this within the company can have potential negative effects in the future.  What if a member of one of those other teams now becomes a member of yours, or vice versa?  It will make it that much harder to assimilate them into the new team that they are an “outsider” of.   Managers should tell a team how fantastic they are, but not at the demise or lacking of another.

3 Coaching tips for Remote Managers

Managerial skills such as listen, observing, giving constructive feedback, providing recognition and teaching new skills are an integral part of organizations with low turnover. Effective coaching embodies these skills. Here are some tips to make you a better coach.

Remote Manager Coaching Tips1. Ask good questions.
Coaching is really about asking questions. Great questions start with What, Where, When, and How. They usually don’t start with Why. Why questions tend to put people off and can have an air of judgment attached to them (why did you do that?). Asking questions can be more challenging than providing a ready-made solution, however it results in autonomous, effective employees who can solve their own problems.

2. Establish clear expectations that motivate
Many employees don’t have a clear idea of what is expected of them. One of the primary responsibilities of a remote manager is to communicate the vision of the organization, team goals and overall mission to the employees. In addition each employee needs to have a very clear understanding of what is expected of them and how it relates to the big picture. Once a strong foundation of communication and expectation has been established, problem solving becomes much easier for managers and employees alike.

3. One size does not fit all
Everyone works and learns in different ways. An approach that works with one employee may not work with another. Coaching needs to be tailored to each individual on your team. Whenever you have an opportunity to coach, take a minute to adjust your message to fit the individual.

Training a Remote Workforce

Training pictureIn remote teams, the speed at which you build competent employees is more important than with employees all based in 1 location.  Employees that work virtually can easily focus on areas that they deem important, and develop bad habits, if they are not trained and provided with the correct company focus and direction at the onset.  Also, often since they are remote, managers will have less visual and daily interaction with new employees, due to the costs and resource restrictions in doing so.  Because of these factors, it is critical to get new employees trained quickly and to use effective training methods that will get your team members competent with minimal costs.  On the same note, ongoing training and feedback is important to ensure that current team members don’t lose sight of goals and are aligned with the team focus. 

When a new virtual team member is added, initial training is the most critical point at ensuring they assimilate with the team and its goals, and quickly build the needed competence.  The largest amount of training resources should be devoted to this initial onboarding and if at all possible, it should be done face to face.  Even if the manager is not available for this initial face to face training, leverage mentoring with other team members to help get the new employee on track.  This face to face interaction is critical to ensure the employee feels a part of team, best practices are established, and to gauge employee understanding and application of new skills.   The highest level of interaction with a new employee will generally be at this stage, as you are ensuring they are on the right track.  The more time you spend with them initially (face to face, via phone, etc. . .) the less time you will have to spend in follow up and corrections later.   

After onboarding all virtual employees need on-going training.  A tennis pro doesn’t just receive coaching before their match.  The best pros are developed before the match, have the support of their coach during the match, and then receive additional coaching after the match to review and strategize for the next game.  The same is true with employees, they need ongoing coaching to ensure they are performing their best (and in the best interests of the team) at every opportunity.   

Three keys to ensuring this is accomplished with a remote/virtual workforce is to focus training and coaching through Action Learning, peer training, and Socratic coaching. 

  • Action Learning – It is important that remote employees learn to work independently and make appropriate decisions on needed actions since they cannot run down the hall to gather feedback from their manager and co-workers.  Action learning – ie. Learning by doing – is one of the best ways to help them learn how to work independently.  Learning from experience helps make them believers in the process.  Find opportunities for them to work with others on projects, or give them areas to research and present to the team to build their expertise. 
  • Peer Training – Implement peer training on an ongoing basis – this gives you a chance to “reward” a team member by letting them teach a skill or process they are an “expert” at, while building a stronger team community and encouraging collaboration among team members.  This will keep the team working together toward a common goal and result, even if they all work remotely from each other.
  • Socratic Coaching – There should be planned ongoing coaching for each employee even if they are star performers.  Socratic coaching involves asking questions rather than giving answers, to help the employee learn through self-discovery.   The key is to focus questions around teaching a thinking process, to help the employee make a better decision.  If the employee received negative feedback from a client, ask them questions such as: “How do you think the interaction went?  How did the results differ from what you were expecting?  What would you do different next time?”  You can even use this method when there have been positive results such as: “What do you think were some of the key reasons for the successful outcome?  What were techniques you used that you could pass on to new team members to help them reach the same results?”    It is important to ask open ended questions rather than yes or no, so that the employee has to formulate ideas around the situation.  As well, you do not want to give the employees the answers – but rather, help guide them to answers.

 When training remote employees, the initial training in the onboarding process, has the most impact to assimilating them correctly with the team and its goals.  However, development should be continuous and ongoing with your employees.  When you stop working on their development, this tells them that you have stopped caring about their development and growth as an individual.  This can have negative impacts on your team as virtual employees can easily feel isolated from the company.  They can also lose sight of what the team focus should be, straying to work on what they think is important, which may not always be what is most important for the team.   Use the combination of action learning, peer training and Socratic coaching, to help keep them on track and motivated toward the team goals.






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