How to Manage a Remote Team
It’s been said that leading a team is not unlike conducting an orchestra – with a lot of practice and attention, you can get everyone to play the same tune. But what do you do if the orchestra members are not only in different rooms, but on different continents? How do you get your team to perform a symphony when some members are playing while others are asleep? And how can you expect to get everyone on the same page when even something as simple as ensuring a time-sensitive email is read and actioned can pose a logistical challenge?
In a normal work environment, managers are expected to hold the team together; in a remote environment, however, the role of the manager is even more crucial. Its been learning process managing our remote team at Booking Agent Info – especially since our team is spread out across multiple time zones – which means we have to be on top of everything, all the time.
In a 2004 study, Karen Sobel-Lojeski coined the concept of “virtual distance” to help us understand how teams operate. Virtual distance is made up of three components: physical distance, operational distance, and affinity distance. Physical distance is, naturally, the physical space that exists between team members; operational distance refers to the quantity and quality of communication between team members, and affinity distance is defined as the level of community and shared goals the team members feel.
Of course, there’s no way to improve the physical distance between your team members without opening up a physical office, so today, we’re going to look at some important tips to improve both the operational distance and the affinity distance. By focusing on these two areas, you’ll be better-equipped to manage a remote group and foster a team-oriented environment; as an added benefit, you’ll be able to rest a little easier at night knowing your team has everything covered.
01. Lay The Right Foundation
One of the most important things for us in managing our remote team effectively is ensuring that we hire the right people. Though many managers don’t consider it, the fact is that some employees are better-suited for face-to-face work environments, while others naturally gravitate towards remote work. So if you’re managing a remote team, you should look for people self-starters with good communication skills.
We look for prospective employees that are comfortable doing their jobs without the benefit of face-to-face interaction; some employees prefer to walk over to a teammate’s desk to ask them a quick question or check in on a project, but in a remote environment, they won’t have that luxury, so you’ll need people who can get things done and effectively communicate what they need.
Confidence is also key- people who have faith in their ability to get things done without any outside input are far more valuable to a remote team than someone who requires a lot of hand-holding as they work their way through a task.
One thing that has been very helpful to us is to have a solid onboarding plan in place when adding new remote members to our team. In order for your employees to hit the ground running, they need to have a structure in place so they know who to reach out to if they have questions.
A good onboarding guide will also break their tasks down into smaller steps, and as a manager, you should be providing feedback every time a new employee successfully completes a step as well as explain how that step helps everyone else on the team. Not only will this feedback make the employee feel more confident, but it will also remind them that their work is crucial to the success of the overall group.
02. Know How To Effectively Communicate
As mentioned above, the other piece of the puzzle is focusing on the operational distance. You can help improve the operational distance of the team by doing two things: being present and by communicating clearly. In this case, presence is less about your physical location and more about how other team members view you. Being fully present means making sure you exhibit the right amount of four qualities: energy, credibility, consistency, and authenticity.
By being credible and consistent, other team members will be able to trust that their requests will be handled competently and correctly, which reduces their stress. Second, studies have shown that people tend to work harder and more efficiently if the work is for someone they like and respect. And by learning how to clearly communicate what they need and when they need it, team members will build trust that their teammates will do what needs to be done (and do it right).
It’s also a good idea to take advantage of new technologies that allow team members to communicate more quickly and easily. Slack, for example, is a great communication tool; as a bonus, we find that employees will hang out in there (almost like a virtual break room) and chat with their teammates. This helps team members build a sense of community amongst themselves, even if they’ve never met in person. And to effectively manage projects, we use Basecamp, which is project management software that helps us track the progress of tasks and assign to-dos for specific people.
03. Trust Is Vital
In order to build trust among your team members, you have to focus on the affinity distance we mentioned above. With a lot of remote teams, there’s a tendency for individual team members to trick themselves into thinking that the particular task they’re working on is specific only to them and separate from what everyone else is doing.
In order to improve affinity distance, team members need to create what’s known as a “shared identity”; in short, instead of thinking of their workload as its own separate thing, members have to recognize that their individual tasks are a part of the larger goals of the group.
People have a natural spirit of collaboration, so once the shared identity is created, team members will naturally stick to it; the only tricky part is establishing it at first, especially with team members who may be used to approaching their work as if it exists in a vacuum. When you bring a new employee on board, you can start to improve the affinity distance right away by introducing the new employee to the rest of their team members.
A lack of trust can be the difference between a well-oiled machine and a struggling remote team. If you focus on improving the operational and affinity distance between team members, that trust will be formed. And by focusing on these areas, you’ll find yourself managing a team that can address any problem, anywhere, anytime.
By Billy Bones
Billy Bones, is the founder of Bookingagentinfo.com, which provides businesses with the contact info for the official agents, managers, and publicists of celebrities. He also runs Celebrity Endorsers which helps businesses identify celebrities to work with based on their endorsement history, interests, and the causes and charities that they support.