Managers working remotely encounter special challenges that individual contributors don’t experience.
Effective management of subordinates, maintaining status with one’s boss and peers, and maintaining a high level personal skill and creativity can be particularly challenging.
Here are some ideas that will help remote managers achieve optimal performance, both from their teams and from themselves:
One of the most important aspects of a managerial role is communication. Yet when managing remotely it’s easy to fall into the habit of using email for most communications. While it’s ideal for sending files or detailed messages, don’t underestimate the power of face-to-face communications.
Have your employees–and ideally your boss–install Skype or similar video chat apps on their PC or mobile phone that make for easy, spontaneous personal communication.
Spontaneity is important in team relationships. Remote managers don’t have water cooler chats or management-by-walking-around at their disposal, as they would if working in an office. Instead, they need to put “planned spontaneity” times on their schedule every week. Unscheduled check-ins can help maintain a cooperative relationship, and ensure your employees don’t come to see your name on their caller ID as synonymous with a scolding.
If your team is scattered across the globe, be careful not to be seen as favoring one team above the rest. This includes being cognizant of differing time zones and cultural differences. Rotate conference calls so they’re scheduled to accommodate different time zones. Balance your visits fairly with each region. Identify any language barriers, and check that individuals understand what is expected of them. Learn about cultural differences, as this may affect the way individuals respond to ideas. Be aware of regional traditions, events, and religious observances, as these should be considered in planning deadlines, meetings and other scheduled work commitments.
The communication strategies mentioned earlier should also be deployed upward, with your manager. Use the planned spontaneity strategy: Call the boss whenever you have good news to share, or use video chat if he or she is amenable. Don’t wait until there’s a problem to pick up the phone.
Arrange to be at the head office or regional office at least once a month to meet with your boss in person, if possible. Also take advantage of these on-site days to meet with other senior peers or key colleagues to help build relationships that could be critical to career advancement. This can include built in social time for dinner or drinks with a colleague.
A risk of working remotely is feeling disconnected from colleagues and out of the loop. Passively addressing this concern can lead to problems like waning motivation or over-performing to prove your contribution to the business.
Instead, immediately talk to the boss about needing more connection. Offer recommendations as to how to make this possible, such as gaining access to more contacts, feedback, or coaching. Ask for regular reviews of your own performance and goals, for greater clarification of the overall team’s objectives and more updates on the status of the business.
If you’re managing a team you should continually build your interpersonal skills. Being able to ask questions and really listen to the answers are essential. You will find that by focusing on tone and pitch you can better “read between the lines” from afar, and spot potential problems more readily.
Recognize that not everyone needs to be managed in the same way. People prefer different forms of communication. Some like more feedback and support, while others will experience those as a lack of trust in them. Know your team’s learning and motivation style. Be careful not to micromanage and trust that your team can handle the responsibility of their jobs.
Conduct regular skills audits on yourself and your team. Review your own remote management skills to help ensure that your reports are working effectively. Ask your line manager, cross-departmental colleagues, and team for feedback including anything they recommend changing or doing differently. This demonstrates your commitment to personal development, as well as provides an opportunity to build trust and engagement in the people you work with and manage remotely.
It is particularly important that remote managers know when to punch out and spend quality time outside the office. If possible, set up a home office to draw a distinction between your personal and professional life. It is easy to extend work into free time–but minimize evening or weekend work. A healthy work life balance is good for your attitude and performance.
Managing from afar has unique challenges. But with care and diligence, the situation can actually bring out the best in you as an employee and a manager of others.
—Valerie Moore is a regional vice president of sales for Forum, a global organization that specializes in leadership development.