Part 3 of How to Successfully Manage Your Remote Team

Communication TechnologyGoal: Find the tools that fit both the job and the people who use them.

When it comes to technology, there’s only one clear-cut prescriptive: Let the work dictate the tool. Don’t invest in the latest whiz-bang technology and then try to figure out how it will be useful. A telephone, email, instant messaging, company intranet, and a broadband connection are a minimum starting point. You can add collaboration software later and unify your communications if the investment seems worthwhile.

Guidelines for making the most of your existing equipment:

Be Tech Savvy.

Beyond the platforms and software your company uses, you need to get ahead of the curve, continually researching the newest tools for efficiency and collaboration — often just to keep up with what your savvier team members are already using.

Maybe they use IM all day long and you prefer the phone. Yes, as the manager you call the shots — but ask yourself what will make your people most satisfied and productive. Maybe it’s time you started using IM, too!

Ask your peers what they like and what they don’t. Don’t be afraid to go online to test drive some tools, like Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration software.

Get Creative with Basic Technology.

Louisville, Kentucky-based PR firm Corecubed records conference-call brainstorming sessions so that participants can truly free-flow their thoughts. “No one’s taking notes, everyone’s being creative, so it’s great to have that follow-up,” says Corecubed Managing Director, Merrily Orsini.

She paid $150 at Radio Shack for a digital voice recorder that connects to her telephone handset. Her assistant downloads the recordings to Corecubed’s intranet site, then transcribes them. Employees refer back to the recorded sessions to refresh their memories on a topic or check who’s responsible for which tasks.

Set up Support Systems.

Know who will take responsibility for technical problems on the remote end. This applies particularly to home-based employees and contractors.

At Alpine Access, a Denver-based virtual call center, technical help has been streamlined for its home-based agents. “We have a technical support desk that’s able to fix 90 to 95 percent of computer problems over the Internet,” says CEO Chris Carrington. For problems that can’t be fixed virtually, Alpine will FedEx a new thin-client computer to the agent’s home.

Carrington says he’d rather retain the best workers than require, as some companies do, that their remote workers live within a short drive of company headquarters.

Create Your Own Tools.

The Marketing Arm, a marketing agency focusing on sports, entertainment, and promotions, launched an internal website, IdeaLink, to tap the creativity of its more than 1,100 workers around the world. Anyone from accountants to administrative assistants can log on to read a creative brief for a campaign and then chime in with ideas. “Some of the quietest people here who would never come to a creative meeting are first to respond,” says creative manager Stu Hill.

To encourage participation, the company rewards the strongest ideas with cash and other prizes, like roundtrip airline tickets. The IdeaLink site also fosters community through an idea blog and an employee directory, complete with pictures, hobbies, and interests.

Once you have chosen your team members and supplied them with the tools they need to get the job done, it’s important to communicate more intentionally than you would if you saw them every day.  In Part 4 of How to Successfully Manage Your Remote Team, you’ll find tips and strategies to make your team communication more effective.

Adapted from an article By Kelly Pate Dwyer
published on 9/24/2007

Image: Michal Marcol