Managing a remote team

The pandemic and government restrictions on the number of people that can get together in one space have accelerated a shift in working patterns that is not likely to be reversed. 

As a manager or leader, you may want your team to come to the office full time – but some of them won’t want to and you will be managing them as they work from home (or another remote location)

If you try to enforce office attendance, as some high profile business leaders have suggested, you may lose some of your team and you will certainly reduce the number of candidates available for new positions. A quick glance at most job adverts will show that options for “on site, hybrid,remote” are used as filters by the candidates.

You are going to have to manage your team for remote working, but how – and what’s the difference?

I’m a believer in “Management by Wandering Around” (MBWA) as reported by Tom Peters (In search of Excellence” where you as a manager/leader take time to engage with your team at their workspaces – you have conversations around the daily tasks and these can spark creativity and keep you, as the leader, abreast of things.

From the team member’s perspective, you are showing interest in them and in their job – you are building a relationship with them that will increase their engagement with the business.

MBWA can’t work when your team isn’t in the office, but you can adapt and employ similar principles with a remote team.

Some 30 years ago, I was based in Hong Kong with teams across Asia Pacific from Seoul to Perth by way of Beijing, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Sydney, Melbourne & Brisbane! 

I was a frequent visitor to the offices but I wasn’t able to follow the MBWA principles just on those visits. 

I showed an interest by scheduling one on one time with each team leader – no fixed agenda, just an opportunity to catch up and for them to share their latest triumphs, challenges and problems. Quite a few conversations included their family lives or what was going on with my family.

This works if it is really clear to the team member what the purpose of their job is – what the required outcome is, what success looks like and how it is going to affect the rest of the team.

These calls were in addition to calls involving the rest of the team – group meetings – that carry on as usual, with an agenda and on a more formal basis.

So the key to managing a remote team – for me – is to show that you are interested in the person and engage with them.  Perhaps “The Great Resignation” won’t affect you business as much if you follow this principle.

Are you afraid of the voters?

Politics is in turmoil. Some really divisive issues and equally divisive politicians are making headlines around the world.

Much of the recent press coverage refers to a lack of trust, while some politicians are telling us they don’t trust journalists. Fake news, anyone?

This lack of trust leads to politicians avoiding disclosure, fearing censure from voters. They get caught hiding things, so voters trust them even less. The voters think politicians have their own agenda and undisclosed motives; the politicians think voters and the media are out to ‘get them’.

This destroys any chance of cross-party cooperation. Anyone who crosses the line will be branded as a traitor, no matter how important the matter may be. Major issues such as healthcare or gun law in the US and, of course, Brexit in the UK are all topics where politicians of different parties hold similar views but can’t or won’t cooperate with one another.

This same theme of trust – or the lack of it – can be seen in businesses, everywhere.

Many businesses suffer from the ‘silo syndrome’, where functions and departments don’t cooperate but follow their own agendas. That can lead to conflicting messages being delivered to customers and suppliers!

Equally common is the division between ‘them’ and ‘us’, with management on one side of the fence and the workforce on the other.

Symptoms of a ‘them and us’ culture operating become apparent when there is a workforce that seems disengaged, a lack of innovation in the business, and often a clock-watching culture in place.

The good news is that, with a little bit of bravery being shown by the leaders of the business, these challenges can be dealt with.

The starting point is communication. If you, as leader, explain your decisions and, even better, share your objectives for the business with the workforce, you can remove the barrier. It won’t come down all at once, and it will take continuous effort to keep it down. But, if you communicate and do these things, you’ll get a workforce that’s engaged and can take your business to another level.

Don’t be afraid of the voters.