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10 Secrets to managing remote teams

The secret to successfully managing remote teams is in recognizing that it’s more a leadership role than a manager one.

Too often I find that managers try to manage remote teams as if they were locally based and it doesn’t work.  Remote teams need to have more attention and more support than locally based teams.  You have to compensate for the lack of interaction with other colleagues and you must see your role as their manager as a supporting one.

Too often I find that managers see their role is to assign work to people and then only interact when the work is complete or a problem is reported to them.

Managing remote teams is a full-time job, not just a task and it needs to be addressed that way.  I am always concerned when a manager tells me they manage their teams with a team meeting held once a week and then I know they’re not doing it properly.

I don’t think you can simply say that the Sales Director is based in one place, and they manage a team in remote locations without giving the Sales Director the time and authority to manage the team.  In extreme cases I’d say you can’t give the director a sales target of their own; if you do they’ll focus on their target not the team.

Remote teams suffer from isolation and ‘silo fever’, they miss the contact with other people, the banter, the exchange of ideas and dreams, the interaction we can take for granted.  So, the manager of the remote team has to artificially create the ‘work environment’ and try to deliver the benefits that people can get from it.

My suggestions for the 10 things that you need to do to successfully manage a remote team are:

1. Have clear expectations upon deliverables.  What this means is that when you assign a remote team member a task, you need to be clear about what you want them to do and what the deliverable will be.

I remember one manager I had who used to say, I’ll call you on a Thursday and you can give me your numbers then. Well, that wasn’t very precise was it?  There was no process involved, no reporting mechanism and I didn’t know what he would do with the information.  Nor did I know exactly what numbers he needed.

2. Set accountability parameters.  Be clear about accountability with remote teams as they don’t have the opportunity to pop their head round the door and ask you for advice when they have an issue.  So I would encourage my team to tell me what they’re doing, how and to share with me the results of the task.  I would trust them to be open and transparent knowing that if they fail, I will help them recover; I will protect them if they are totally honest with me.

3. Lead your team.  This is my favorite; don’t manage, lead.  Leading to me is about providing my team with a vision they can follow, understanding their role in achieving that vision and then providing the support they need to succeed.

I find that inspirational leaders are very good at managing remote teams as they generally inspire their teams to perform better.  I wouldn’t suggest you manage a remote team as that is the road to conflict.  Sometimes the big picture is all that is needed.

4. Celebrate personal and work achievements.  All team members need to be ‘stroked’ especially in matters of their personal life.  I find that celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and major achievements is important to establishing that bond of respect.

A good leader will always take time to connect with team members on a personal level after all I find that’s when you really understand people.  I wouldn’t let it get in the way of the job; it’s more a complementary activity.

5. Instigate team meetings.  Team meetings are vital to success, but they’re much more than reporting mechanisms.  I use them to connect with my team to promote and exchange ideas.  I try not to use them to report, that you can do on a one-to-one as part of the daily process of keeping in touch.  Once a week I try to introduce a bit of training, explanations about processes and procedures that need to be followed and every week I try to get on of the team to explain how they met a particularly difficult objective.

6. Have away days.  Every 3 months at least, an overnight away day is essential to rekindle friendships, restate common goals and objectives and generally bond.  I try to combine them with a bit of training and also get other teams external to ours to explain a new business process or product; anything that makes the team feel they’re a part of the whole.

7. Provide them with the right tools.  I find this essential.  Whereas in the office you can make do, remote workers, especially those at home need to be furnished with the right tools.

I’m often reminded of the story of Michelangelo calling the paint store department to order the paint for the Sistine Chapel only to be told that they only had red paint.  Listen to the story as told by Bob Newhart, it's funny as well as enlightening  

Seriously though, the remote worker doesn’t have colleagues in the next room or a stationery cupboard or an IT department.  If you want them to do a good job, you have to provide the right tools.

8, Encourage collaboration wherever possible.  It is rare that I find a task can’t be shared by two or kore members of the team and it’s a useful way of getting them to work together albeit remotely.

I find remote workers more than anyone need to have ‘engineered companionship’ and they respond to the idea of a joint venture with enthusiasm.

9. Provide them with the right information.  In the past I have been very frustrated by not being given the right information or brief for a job.  Most remote workers are the type of people who like a brief and then they get on and deliver.  The disappointment they feel when they’re told it’s not quite what was wanted is palpable.

Not only the brief, but I find it vital to provide the remote worker with all the information they need to support their task.  It’s fine that they do the research, but if you can help you should do so.

10. Have a rolling feedback model and regular reporting.  When I work in the office managing a team I am constantly going around the team, talking to them, repositioning them, drawing out their issues and helping find solutions.  Finally I am in a place to give good feedback.

With remote teams this is much more difficult as specific calls need to be set up and you focus instead on milestones rather than being involved in the whole process.  I find that regularly checking in with my team is vital to our joint success.

Obviously the talents of a successful remote team manager are different, but they ultimately call for an empathy and caring approach to managing people.



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Comments: (1)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 03 March, 2016, 11:36Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Good post. Having spent nearly two decades in various IT companies leading - and being led by - people distributed all over the world, I can easily relate to many of your tips. Keen to know if you've any experience of using new-age enterprise collaboration platforms like Slack, Yammer and Jive on managing remotely distributed teams.

John Doyle

John Doyle


The Payments Business

Member since

17 Dec 2001



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