Virtual workplaces are more common now than ever—thanks in large part to a surge in collaborative technologies and the coming of age of a generation born into an increasingly digital marketplace. Remote teams are not the future—they’re the present. Let me share my experience: I manage a diverse team of 150 amazingly talented people, and 140 of them are in a different location, spread out over more than 70 countries. And I’m a French guy, working in the U.S., for a worldwide organization, whose Manager is based in Switzerland. So to say that I am living the remote workforce conundrum is an understatement. The remote workforce conundrum is a challenge easily summed up: How to connect people and achieve a one goal, one team mindset.
The Rise of the Remote Workforce
Let’s talk about the back story. Both employers and employees are drawn to the remote workforce concept for different reasons. Remote team members often enjoy more flexibility in their schedules and have proven they can efficiently manage their own time. Companies can hire candidates based on skill sets and not proximities, widening the talent pool and leading to higher productivity. In fact, a Gallup poll from last year found that a substantial 37 percent of U.S. workers have telecommuted, with the average worker logging in remotely at least two days per month. Many work entirely from home based offices and check-in with colleagues daily and the prevailing sentiment about remote workers is they are as productive working from home as they are from an office.
Futurist Jakob Morgon and author of a new book, The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and More Competitive Organizations, outlines the five trends contributing to the rise of the remote workforce. These are: New behaviors shaped by the web and social media, technology, a Millennial workforce, mobility, and the globalization of work.
The Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce
Connecting with, inspiring, motivating, and holding accountable a remote workforce presents a different kind of challenge for leaders and I’ve been spending a fair amount of time thinking on that. You might ask: Why the emphasis on leadership strategies strictly for remote teams? Don’t the same principles of teamwork and accountability apply to the entire workforce, whether they’re eight feet or 800 miles away? The answer is that yes, of course they do. However, managing a remote workforce brings about its own set of unique challenges—and there’s a lot more to it than simply not being able to take your department out for coffee to show appreciation for a job well done.
Since we agree the remote workforce is here to stay, let’s talk a bit about strategies leaders can use to inspire those teams.
Strategies for Leaders to Inspire Remote Teams
Great leaders have to lead differently when managing, motivating, and inspiring teams of remote workers. Here are some tips that are some of my go-to tactics for building strong teams:
- Encourage communication. Just because your remote teams work from different locations doesn’t mean they need to feel like they’re on different planets. Encourage ongoing communication by leaving chat rooms open, both formally and informally to boost camaraderie—which will help increase employee satisfaction and retention rates.
- Have a local manager your team can go to. It is an important component of employee engagement to have someone your team member can talk to, who may not be 10,000 km or nine time zones away. That’s where a local manager can be beneficial. Having a local manager—someone who does not report to you—that your employee—who does report to you—can provide two big benefits. One, the employee knows that he or she has a local resource, and two, the manager feels trusted and empowered.
You’ll need to be strategic in the matching up of these local “teams,” ideally matching the employee with a manager in a team she might want to work for in the future. This is mentoring of a sort, and can play a big role in the career development goals of the remote employee, but can also more closely connect a manager in another department with a different focus to your team. That connection, understanding, and support all serve to build stronger teams overall within organizations, and everyone benefits as a result.
- Get face time. Your virtual workforce needs face time with colleagues and managers at regular intervals to ensure they’re getting feedback, fostering personal connections, and enabling closer collaboration. Again technology plays a role here, enabling quick and easy videoconferencing for meetings, simple check-ins, every week, month, or quarter—whatever makes sense for your business model, and even performance reviews at regular intervals. Encourage your personnel to meet with one another virtually as often as possible—nobody likes to feel like they’re on an island and better collaboration and increased face time helps build stronger teams.
- Use technology wisely. Many collaborative technologies are available today, and embracing mobility, both from an employee standpoint and a customer standpoint are mission critical. Making sure that your team is equipped with the right technology, ranging from PC collaboration that allows screen sharing and group document editing, to project management software, to video conferencing is important. Experiment with what works best for you and your team, and solicit internal feedback along the way. Tech savvy teams bring a lot to the equation, and leveraging their experiences and feedback on how to use technology for increased productivity or collaboration helps create stronger, more cohesive teams.
- Stay organized. Because you can’t stop and chat with your colleagues at the water cooler about what’s on the agenda, leading a remote workforce requires digital planning. Organize a work schedule—which can be easily done using a cloud platform or a fluid spreadsheet sent in an email—so employees can both keep track of their assignments and know what the rest of the team has on their plates at any given moment.
- Measure output. Along with staying organized, make sure you’re tracking productivity in some way—hours worked, work output, attendance, etc. Tossing work out via email and not ensuring accountability, especially for new hires, is a recipe for deadline disaster. Remote work does come with a degree of flexibility, but good leaders set clear and consistent expectations while still leaving those around them feeling valued.
- Show appreciation. It’s true that you won’t be able to take everyone out to lunch, but that’s not the only way leaders can show appreciation and make employees understand how important they are to the big picture success of the company. Whether it’s sending a gift card in the mail, making simple phone call, or doing a virtual happy hour event with your team once a month or so, managers who excel with remote teams take the time to recognize jobs well done—even those done states away. Employees who feel valued are employees who perform, and employees who perform make companies better.
- Be flexible, respect boundaries. When scheduling calls or meetings, do what you can to ensure that the time selected is as compatible for all schedules as possible. Don’t force your remote employees to make regular choices between bringing kids to school, having dinner with the family, and talking with you. Do all you can to keep that in mind and respect the fact that the family drives the agenda. Of course there will be times when an inconvenience is unavoidable, but if you strive to make that the exception rather than the rule, you’ll no doubt build a team of very grateful, very loyal remote employees, who love what they do, and love who they do it for.
The remote workforce is here to stay, so finding a leadership style that best serves enterprise organizations and their telecommuters is a must. Finding collaboration tools that fit, spending time thinking less about new tools and more about interconnecting tools (more on that in another post), implementing processes that promote accountability and communication, and fostering a team mentality despite distance are all keys to success. Most importantly, keeping in mind that you’re all on one team, working toward one goal, and creating a work environment that facilitates that in myriad ways is your key to success.
What do you think? Does your business have a remote workforce? If so, what are you doing as a leader to engage and support them? I’d love to hear what’s working for you in the field.
If we’re not yet connected on LinkedIn, send me a connection request. I’d love to connect.
Vincent Brissot is the Head of Channel Marketing & Operations at HP. With some 14 years of experience in channel enablement, business development, and marketing, he has a comprehensive understanding of and expertise in the IT industry related to hardware, services, and software. Vincent has worked in multiple countries, in regional and worldwide roles across Enterprise and SMB market segments. You can follow Vincent on Twitter @VincentBrissot and also find him on LinkedIn.
This post was first published on LinkedIn.