Part 2 of How to Successfully Manage Your Remote Team

Remote Team

Goal: Build a team that can work well at a distance.

“People who like to quit at 5 p.m. aren’t the people who work well remotely,” says Michelle LaBrosse, CEO of Cheetah Learning, a project-management training company based in Carson City, Nevada.

A remote team depends on people who can be productive without a boss roaming the hallways or a trusted co-worker sitting nearby. Team members must be motivated, disciplined, and flexible with their time, allowing them to connect with clients or co-workers in different time zones.

They also need to communicate clearly in writing (since e-mail and instant messaging are the new standard for daily communication) and should be willing to suggest ideas, ask for and offer help, make decisions, and collaborate.

Below are a few suggestions for setting up a remote work team:

  • Match people to the work. Extroverts and idea people tend to like tasks that require frequent and ongoing communication. Make sure they’re in an office with teammates they can collaborate with. Introverts and people confident making decisions can work more easily at home or on solo projects.
  • Match work to the time zone. If some employees are working while others sleep, try to avoid assigning work that leaves team members perpetually in the hurry-up-and-wait cycle, as their counterparts half a world away complete their part of a project.
  • Assign backups. For the most critical tasks, make sure you or someone else in your group can fill in on a moment’s notice, like when someone is ill or quits. (And make sure you can access a remote worker’s files and contacts from afar.)
  • Sign an agreement. Specify when and how much a person may need to work, times they need to be available, performance objectives, and frequency of in-person meetings. This codifies expectations and provides something tangible for your employee to refer back to.
  • Assess. At least a few times a year, ask what’s working and what’s not, then make changes if necessary. Withdrawal is a common sign of a problem. Even if a person is meeting deadlines and producing quality work, they may be unhappy if you hear from them less and less.

Big Idea — Connecting the Dots

After studying dozens of virtual teams, including groups at BP, Nokia, and Ogilvy & Mather, researchers at the London Business School recommend the following:

Recruit volunteers. Look within the company for volunteers to lead a new committee or research a new opportunity, rather than just assigning such tasks. “Virtual teams appear to thrive when they include volunteers with valuable skills people whose proof of commitment is their willingness to join the team on their own,” writes Lynda Gratton, a Professor of Management with the school, in a 2007 Wall Street Journal article.

Add boundary spanners to each virtual team. “Boundary spanners are people who, as a result of their personality, skills, or work history, have lots of connections to useful people outside the team,” Gratton writes. “They play a strong networking role, keeping the team and its accomplishments visible within the company.” Nokia, for example, cultivates boundary spanners by introducing each new hire to at least 10 people — both inside and outside their department.

Once you’ve chosen the right people for your team, it’s critical they have the tools to do their jobs.  In Part 3 of How to Manage Your Remote Team’s Performance you and I will explore why — and how to select the right tools for your team.

Adapted from an article by Kelly Pate Dwyer
Published 9/24/07 on

Image: jscreationzs