Geographically dispersed teams are increasingly common in today’s workplace. Where once they were considered the domain of the large multinational organisations, more businesses, regardless of scale or industry, find themselves navigating the world of the remote workforce.
While the definition of ‘remote’ can vary greatly, the reality is that ever increasing numbers of employees are conducting much of their work outside of the traditional office. Regardless of whether we are referring to offshore employees, in-country regional teams, virtual teams, or those with flexible ways of working, it is now imperative that leaders are well equipped to manage from afar.
There is no doubt that dispersed teams can offer organisations enormous benefits, for instance access to the best talent regardless of where they sit in the world, broader commercial reach, increased competitive advantage, cost savings, and greater scale and efficiencies in the way they do business. However, managing remote workers is not without it’s own set of challenges. It’s very easy to feel disconnected from others, and when you add in varying time zones and cultural differences, things can become very complicated.
Mark Mortensen, an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD makes a valid point when he states that “managers need to be careful not to overcompensate and approach remote workers and virtual teams as some sort of mythical beasts – they are, after all, still people working in an organisation to get stuff done. Treat them as such.” With that in mind, the key for leaders is in ensuring that remote workers and dispersed teams have the same opportunities to ‘get things done’ without a lack of timely access to the appropriate resources, people and networks.
It takes empathy, tact, and discipline to meaningfully engage and connect with your remote teams. As with all teams, it takes time to establish the relationship. When people are remote, the incidental coffees, hallway conversations and five-minute, pre-meeting banter doesn’t happen. Whether we like it or not, these types of engagement are all part of getting to know those we work with. There is no doubt that technology has played a massive role in helping managers build and remain connected with their teams. But relying purely on technology is a trap, as it can’t replace the human connection that is so important in building morale and engagement.
I would encourage you to follow the ‘Five Cs’ when managing or leading a remote workforce:
Building connection means eliminating the ‘us versus them’ or the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality which all too often exists. Making time to genuinely connect on both a professional and personal level is imperative. Remote workers will also invariably have strong centres of influence that are more visible or close to them. Learning to connect with these influencers can be highly advantageous and help provide clear insight into the intricacies of the landscape.
Setting clear expectations around what, how, and when we communicate is essential. Take time to consider the tools you are using and if they are the most appropriate for the outcomes you are trying to achieve and the audience you are engaging with.
Coordinating your remote employees can at times feel like an unsolvable puzzle. With different time zones, different stakeholders and different local drivers all at play, adaptability is key. It is however important to also create formal processes to support cohesion and transparency of thinking and activity.
When you are remote and there is no broader context to refer to, ad-hoc activity is not only frustrating but difficult to read and navigate. Consistency in meeting expectations, communication, project delivery, and data management is critical if performance is to be maximised.
When teammates are not meeting regularly there is a tendency to focus on individual task at the expense of the team. Whilst this may work in the short-term you need to foster engagement and commitment to each other to sustain long-term performance. The first ‘Four Cs’ are all critical factors in building a productive and high performing culture and can be complimented with face-to-face engagement.