Telecommuting is no longer a unique occurrence; according to research by Global Workplace Analytics, teleworking grew by more than 70 percent between 2005 and 2012. For managers, dispersed teams present new organizational and interpersonal challenges. To succeed in the modern workplace, managers must learn the art of managing remote workers.
Communication is important in any office, even more so when remote workers are involved. In order to ensure a smooth workflow and prevent misunderstandings, managers must provide a steady stream of communication between all members of the team. The most successful dispersed teams use multiple channels to stay in touch. The office might hold regular video meetings, maintain an ongoing instant-messenger conversation or use an internal project management system to communicate about tasks in progress. Managers can encourage other team members to include their remote colleagues in informal project conversations using video conferences or Web meetings. Regular contact can encourage teamwork and help the remote workers feel less isolated.
Many managers gauge employee performance by analyzing output and observing activities. With employees who work from home, the lack of in-person observation can lead to mistrust and doubts. One of the most important steps managers can take, both for themselves and their remote employees, is to set up measurable performance metrics. By comparing each team member's performance to the metrics, the manager can tell at a glance if the arrangement is working well.
Employees who work from home rarely get the opportunity for solo face-to-face conversations with the boss, which automatically creates weaker relationships. Managers can improve ties with far-flung workers by making themselves available as often as possible. They might schedule regular one-on-one video chats, encourage remote workers to call with questions or plan to meet in person at trade shows. As a rule of thumb, managers should be equally available to in-office and remote employees.
Expectations can make or break a remote-working arrangement. In order for remote employees to meet expectations, however, the manager must communicate them. Some key issues for dispersed teams include availability during the business day, contact methods and attendance at team meetings. Availability, in particular, is key to the smooth functioning of the office; managers should let remote staff know how and when they are expected to be available. On a smaller scale, managers must communicate the expectations for individual projects by delegating lists of tasks to each team member. When remote workers understand what is expected of them, they can adjust their schedules and styles accordingly.
In most cases, managing remote workers requires a fresh mindset and more flexible boundaries. Managers who can adjust their leadership styles and communication methods to fit the new paradigm can create powerful and effective teams with people from all over the world.
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