Build a Strong Remote Team–Starting With Yourself!

Part 1 of How to Successfully Manage Your Remote Team

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Goal: Make sure you’re up for the task of remote management.

Managers who successfully run remote teams share several traits.

They work a lot, they travel — some more than half the time — and they thrive on their work and the culture they created.

“Remote managers need more energy, because a lot of what you have to do is transfer that energy to your team,” says Juliana Slye, who manages remote employees as Director of the Government Division at software maker Autodesk, based in San Rafael, California.

The successful remote manager has the following traits:

Passion

A remote set-up won’t work unless your employees are motivated and running in sync — collaborating, asking each other for help, and sharing ideas.

That energy has to start with you.

You don’t need to start each day smiling from ear to ear, but if you’re annoyed every time an IM breaks your train of thought or you’re not good at remembering to check in with people, running remote teams probably isn’t for you.

Availability

Good remote communication requires extra effort.

You need to go out of your way to address issues that would come up naturally and spontaneously if you all worked in one place.

When your staff is spread across a number of time zones, they need to feel comfortable calling you at odd hours, even if it’s dinnertime.

Beyond the guidance or answers you provide so they can move forward with their work, your availability shows support and helps strengthen your relationships with everyone. While you want to demonstrate your availability, don’t hesitate to establish reasonable guidelines about when to call.

Patience

A two-hour dinner with an employee across the country may take up two days, when you factor in travel time. And a 10-minute conference call might take up to two hours just to schedule.

The lesson here? Budget extra time for common group tasks. The extra time won’t necessarily hurt productivity.

For instance, conference calls are usually shorter and more on task than face-to-face meetings, where team members are bound to take up more time with small talk or stray off-topic.

Reliability

By doing what you say you’ll do — whether it’s helping solve a problem or sending a new laptop — you foster trust. Your reliability shows respect for your team and what they’re doing.

If you demonstrate that you can’t be counted on, they’ll quit asking for help, and you’ll be dropped out of the loop.

“Trust is particularly important in distance relationships,” says management consultant Debra Dinnocenzo, author of How to Lead from a Distance. You build trust through actions that demonstrate reliability, integrity, and familiarity.

Five Ways to Build Trust as a Remote Manager

Asked how he makes sure his team is keeping him in the loop, remote manager Dan Belmont, Chief Marketing Officer of the Marketing Arm, a Dallas-based agency that promotes sports and entertainment events, says he makes himself part of their network by working alongside them. “If you’re in the trenches doing the work,” he says, “you’re not just perceived as someone who is managing people and processes.”

Belmont makes himself available to brainstorm or solve problems and typically spends an hour a week on the phone with each of his 14 employees.

Here are 5 other ways to build trust as a remote manager:

1.  Be available. Don’t let employee calls go to voice mail. When you absolutely can’t be reached, reply ASAP.

2.  Be careful how you communicate. Beware of using sarcasm or teasing in distance interactions, like email and conference calls, where signals can easily get crossed.

3.  Handle sensitive issues with discretion. One team member might tell you that another is having a bad day. As soon as you know about it, call the person having the bad day to ask how it’s going, without exposing the colleague who told you.

4.  Communicate. Communicate often, in a variety of ways (email, phone, in person, or instant messaging).

5.  Visit employees on their turf. It shows respect for their time as well as interest in their life outside the job.

In Part 2 of How to Successfully Manage Your Remote Team, you and I will focus specifically on how to select people who will thrive in a remote-team environment, making your job as a manager a whole lot easier!

Adapted from an article by By Kelly Pate Dwyer
published on BNET.com 9/24/2007

Image: renjith krishnan

About The Author:

Rob Denker is the Managing Principal of rd&partners. He helps leaders consistently see tangible, real-world benefits by making behavioral changes that are directly linked to the organization’s strategic initiatives, and their own effectiveness as a leader. Connect with Rob and rd&partners on LinkedIn.

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