Since we moved to a virtual working model in 2016 the question I get asked the most is, ‘how do you manage people when they’re spread all over the country?’ And it’s a valid question, and one that will no doubt be asked of leaders more often in the future, as more organisations implement remote working.
For me there are a few elements that I think are essential to making it work…
Trust – for remote working practices to be successful there needs to be trust. As a manager/leader you need to trust your employees. Whether working remotely means in a different office or at home, you need to treat them like adults. Not constantly check and monitor their activity, but trust them to do their job. At Chiumento we monitor outputs, not inputs. I don’t check how many hours my accountant is sat at her desk, what I care about is that all invoices are issued on time and payments processed.
Communication – while email is a fantastic tool, when the normal face-to-face communication you get in most offices is taken away, I think it needs to be replaced with something more than just text based communication. We have an unwritten rule that most communication between staff is via Skype. That way, it is as close to sitting in the same office as you can get. As a leader, you need to choose what is best for your team, whether that is Skype, phone call, conference calls and install them as the preferred means of communication. With everyone spread out it is vital that communication is clear, that everyone is kept informed and there is the ability to share and collaborate in an easy and straight forward way.
Face-to-face time – technology is great but as humans we need human contact. To build up a good working relationship with colleagues there needs to be a relationship there in the first place. While numerous successful online romances show, you don’t need to be the same place, it is certainly easier if you are. If it is physically possible then gathering people together on a regular basis will help to build, maintain and strengthen interpersonal relationships. We have all company meetings every few months. These normally have a business focus where we share information on our performance, new projects and any other vital developments and follow this with a more fun element. Where there is the opportunity to discuss what you did at the weekend, how your children are etc. The conversations that would happen naturally in a traditional office environment.
While it isn’t for everybody it is a format that works for us. I strongly believe that as technology begins to break down the existing barriers to remote working it will become more commonplace. Also if the reports about millennials are to be believed, they (how you can group such a diverse and wide ranging slice of the population under one heading I’m not so sure) want more flexibility when it comes to their working life.
This means the challenges of managing a team of remote workers is something that could impact many managers in the not too distant future. In fact, the advice above isn’t just for those with a remote team, it works just as well for those who sit side-by-side. Trust your staff, step away from email now and then and make time to build relationships…