Though the same basic management principles apply to virtual teams that work for “live” teams, we sometimes assume the attitude, “out of sight, out of mind,” when it comes to managing people at a distance. Read about some of the common pitfalls of managing virtual teams below so that perhaps you won’t repeat them.
Six Remote Management Mistakes
1. Make them fly across the globe for no good reason. You know the drill: Give up your weekend to fly in on a Sunday for an important meeting on Monday morning. After hours of planes, cabs, and bad hotels you arrive ready for the “big event.” Usually a complete let down. An email with attachments would have sufficed. Where is the value?
Solution: When you are going to bring people together physically, it needs to be worth it. More than just information being conveyed, more than “observing” a company meeting, they need to be having a real experience. Make it worthwhile by giving them time and materials to prepare for the experience. Carefully consider how you are going to ensure that the important conversations you need to have in order to move things forward are actually what happens when folks arrive. Get professional help, such as a trained facilitator, if needed.
2. Focus on marginal projects. What are those folks working on, anyway? Sometimes referred to as visibility. Remotely managed employees often have a harder time navigating their way to the critical path. Even if their work is essential to the organization’s success, it is often not understood.
Solution: One of the most important challenges of managing remotely is identifying and articulating the direct connections between the work of the remote group and critical organizational goals. Once you identify them, repeat ad nauseam until everyone gets it, and then sprinkle periodic reminders in your communications and reports.
3. Pay no attention to cross-cultural communication issues. Because we don’t know what to do about cross-cultural issues, companies often deny their very existence. If they speak English, there are no real issues, right? Obvious cultural issues glare at us over the speakerphone in staff meetings. We tell management about it, but its like yelling down a long tunnel. Nothing happens.
International issues aside, what about company culture—mergers and acquisitions and spin-offs create overnight transitions from start-up to Fortune 500 and back again. With no attention to a corporate culture clash other than to declare, “Get over it.” You can expect internal miscommunication, misinformation and even sabotage to satisfy internally competing agendas.
Solution: Working with a culture rather than against it is the path of least resistance – their resistance to you. Whether or not you agree with their point of view, figure out what is considered important, what worries people, and what are the key current events. Use this information wisely to address the issues they care about when communicating. Additionally, notice the style of communication, collaboration and confrontation used in the culture. Adjust yours accordingly for better results. When you experience resistance of any kind, do research to understand it rather than trying to stamp it out. It will just go underground if you don’t resolve it.
4. Forget basic management practices. Management is supposed to be about removing barriers to performance, getting access to necessary resources, and providing direction. Why do we seem to have amnesia about such basic management concepts when we manage remote workers?
Solution: Imagine that you are working with a team in your office. What would the information flow be like? How would you collaborate and support one another? How would you know what is happening with them? Now, figure out whatever is needed to match that quality of work relationship with remote employees. Your standards need to be just as high. Using a combination of the many mediums available to you, email, fax, phone, FedEx, websites, collaboration tools, webinars, wikkis, and written documentation to create an environment where remote employees have what they need to be successful.
5. Don’t invite remote folks to pivotal meetings that change the company direction. “If we have the director at the meeting, we don’t need to fly in the engineers. They don’t want to be involved at this level.” Its like a Dilbert cartoon come to life. Executives making pivotal decisions that others are required to implement without having asked for input about feasibility, scheduling, resources, etc. The meetings where the “big” decisions are made are not open to those whose daily work lives are impacted the most. Clearly you can’t include everyone, at least have a few representatives from the remote division your are counting on to implement your ideas.
Solution: If you are making pivotal decisions, make sure you have the people in the room who have the technical information to help you make sound decisions. A little involvement up front breaks down many barriers to acceptance. While there are times when you can’t include everyone in major meetings, at least have a few representatives from the remote division if you expect them to implement the ideas.
6. Let them fend for themselves. Good remote employees are self-motivated self-starters. As independent workers they barely need to be managed. Hah! Good people working on the wrong things are of little value.
Solution: Manage from that point of intersection between the individual’s goals, the remote organization’s goals, and the larger corporate goals. If you can’t find a point of intersection, you’ve got bigger problems then this article can help with. Come to a class, or call us.
About the Author: Jessica Hartung is founder of Integrated Work Strategies (IWS) and principal consultant, has spent fifteen years focusing on the relationship between individuals and their work – how business goals can be more successfully achieved while people enjoy the process. Visit her website at www.integratedwork.com.
What challenges have you or your clients had managing virtual teams that aren’t included in this list? I invite you to share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic in the comments area below.
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