8 Ways to Effectively Manage a Remote Team

Lee Mayhew,  Director of Strategic Account Management for NetFortris, Inc.

"Effective remote management -- or managing at all -- requires:

  • Understand your limitations. And don't be afraid to politely and professionally say "no," or "not right now, but..." There are only so many hours you can commit to work and still give the rest of life (faith, home, family, sleep) the attention it deserves. Give 110% during those hours, but also don't be afraid to say, "I am really not able to do that for you today, but I could have it to you in 3 days. Would that work?" If one more project will send you over the edge or cause other work to suffer, don't be afraid to point that out. Again, always in a professional manner: "Mr. Boss, my concern is that if I commit to doing X, then the Y project you gave me as a priority may suffer or that deadline will slip. Would you like me to put Y on the back burner for now and focus on X?"

 

  • This is why a huge part of effective remote management is delegation. Managing remote takes more time, because you can't just walk down the hall to check something or engage a resource. Let alone just yell across the office. Finding information and resources takes a little more effort. To make the most of my time, I try to delegate as much as possible to others so I can focus on those tasks that are specifically mine or that only I can complete. Most of the time there someone more qualified or better equipped to do a task than I am, so delegating actually delivers a better result. Leverage the SMEs in your company to do what they are best equipped to do. This also has the secondary benefit of making you learn about your colleagues, and it forces you to trust your colleagues. That does not come naturally, especially if you were one of the kids in school who hated group work projects because you couldn't trust others to "do it right," so you would volunteer to do it all.

 

  • To quote Ronald Reagan, "Trust. But verify." (It's actually an English translation of a Russian proverb...but I digres...) Managing people remotely makes micro-management impossible at worst and frustrating at best. Ideally you'll have people under you who are trustworthy, have good work ethics and integrity so you don't have to wonder if they are "really" working or not. You can't exactly swing by their cubical to see if they are on YouTube. Even the most conscientious worker can rationalize a little bit to "slacking off" when the boss is no longer physically around. But at the end of the day, your job as the manager is not to blindly trust or be everyone's best friend, but to ensure the job is getting done. Have checks and balances in place that are reasonable and allow you to verify. For example, I have my team update a spreadsheet with the date, time, outreach method, and general notes when they contact one of their assigned customers. My team is expected to stay in touch with all of their customers and not let too much time go by with no contact. If I were paranoid or didn't trust my team, I could run call reports, record or monitor calls, etc. The spreadsheet is a good compromise. It holds the team accountable and provides me the data I need, without being too invasive.

 

  • Plan, schedule and SHARE your schedule. When your employees are remote, it's not always easy for them to say, "Hey, Lee, can you meet with Customer ABC at 2 today?" Be sure your calendar is up to date, complete, and that you share it with your team. That will allow them to engage you as needed and know you'll be available, without having to track you down and ask every time. My team in Manila knows that when they have a customer demanding to speak to me, they can grab any open slot on my calendar for that call without checking with me first. But that ONLY works if my calendar is up to date and accurate. I also have to think about my calendar as more than just my scheduled calls and meetings. I have to build travel times, lunch times, and even planning times in to my calendar. If I need to spend 30 minutes prepping for an important call, or an hour driving to an off-site lunch, those ancillary events should also be in my calendar, or I risk that time being taken by a customer escalation call.

 

  • Be as flexible as you can with your schedule. Only one of my 6 direct reports is actually in the same timezone as me. What would normally be lunch time for me is prime mid-morning or mid-afternoon meeting time for most of my team. So I typically have a working lunch or skip lunch entirely, and I'll grab a mid-morning and/or afternoon snack to compensate. Some days I'll adjust my schedule to coincide with Eastcoast business hours or Westcoast business hours to accommodate customer needs

 

  • Proactively schedule time with your people, and make sure you keep those appointments. I don't have the luxury of catching up with my team in the office, chit-chatting between calls, or casually walking by their cube to ask "what's happening," Bill Lumbergh style. My team knows they can reach out to me any time, and they do. But I also block out time every week for a team call, and every one of my employees has their own scheduled one-on-one time with me each week, just for catching up with them. I protect that time like a customer appointment, because let's face it: my employees ARE my internal customers. They need to know they are important to me and to NetFortris. I use that time to catch up on active projects or initiatives, but also to find out how they are doing personally and find out what they need from me, where I can help, and how I can do better for them as their manager. By doing this, both I and my team members know that no matter how busy or chaotic the rest of the week gets, we'll always have that protected time.

 

  • Be reachable. I personally don't like to use my cell phone or SMS for business (yeah, yeah...it's a generational thing), but the reality of remote management is that you need to be reachable by your team.

 

  • Be patient. Trust goes two ways, and it takes time. Just as I need to learn to trust my team, they also need to learn to trust me. This is especially true for those individuals who have not worked for a remote manager before. A big part of job satisfaction is trusting and respecting your manager. It takes time and experience to learn and truly believe that a remote manager is working hard on your behalf and has your back. But it will happen, as long as you make sure those things are always true.

 

  • Fonality HUD makes ALL of these so much easier! Telephony Presence and integrated IM makes staying in touch with my team (and vice versa) in real time very easy. I can see when they are active and rest easier knowing work is being done. Drag/drop ad-hoc conferencing makes last minute huddles a breeze. If multiple SMEs could answer a question I have, being able to see all of them in HUD and know in advance who is available right in that moment saves me hours every month. I'm not stuck waiting on return messages or emails. I get the answer I need right away and immediately help my customer or can move on to the next action item. And because HUD is web-based and accessible from any browser and even on mobile devices, I have that same visibility and access no matter where I am or what device I have handy. HUD Mobile allows me to make outbound work calls from my personal mobile phone without sharing my personal cell phone number. It's the perfect balance of convenience and privacy."

 

Lee Mayhew
About the author: Lee Mayhew is Director of Strategic Account Management for NetFortris, Inc., a boutique managed communications solutions provider serving mid-market and enterprise customers. Lee has been providing telephony and unified communications consulting services for over 12 years to a wide range of organizations, including small businesses, large multi-national corporations, local government, and K-12 and higher education. For Lee, success at work comes down to two key philosophies: (1) listening twice as much as you speak, and (2) striving to make sure every person he encounters has a better day as a result. Lee was raised in the U.K. and now calls the Dallas, TX area home, along with his wife of 22 years and 13 year-old daughter. When not in front of customers, Lee can be found in front of a microphone as both Worship Director at his church and lead singer for a local cover band.