How to run a remote workforce

So, technology has transformed your workplace and you’ve decided to set up a remote work team or one has been assigned to you?

First, you realize they are not here physically.

Well, that’s obvious.

But that’s what we unconsciously still expect when we go to work: to see colleagues. A big part of work has always been the social aspect, the water fountain and the coffee break discussion, where, some say, the real information is shared.

But with remote teams, you don’t have that.

Or, you have it, but it’s different.

Or, if you don’t have it yet, You, as the manager, must create the virtual water fountain and use other methods to glue the team together.

Because with virtual teams, the sense of belonging and the sense of achievement towards something bigger are what will make or break your team.

So let’s dive into what you need to take into account.

Agree and communicate the strategy, the team objectives, and the individual targets

With a remote workforce, you cannot spoonfeed and supervise each individual task, because you cannot observe each individual team member in action. Thus, performance management has a bigger role.

There’ll be issues with time management, television-addicted slackers and conflicts, sure. While you deal with those, you must keep on communicating the overall strategy, the team objectives and the individual targets.

Empower the team members to apply the company values and strategy to day-to-day decision making. Analyze and communicate whether their decision making took the organization closer to realizing the strategy or away from it. Implement immediate corrective actions and agree on long-term solutions.

Rinse & repeat.

Agree on how to be available and how to communicate absence

Clearly communicate when you are reachable and how you expect everyone else to be reachable and how (online, phone, text, email, chat or otherwise, Mon-Fri 09-05 GMT) and if they have doctor’s appointments, holidays or other reasons for absences, how to communicate that.

There is no scarcity of tools nowadays, quite the contrary, so non-access to tools is no excuse. So set the rules and be strict with them in the beginning. Once you begin to see the “virtual behaviour” of each individual, you can adjust these rules.

Remote working is popular today and may be an efficient choice in certain areas, but the best teams are known to regularly get together. With humans, nothing simply can replace the wide bandwidth interaction we have when meeting Face to Face.

Is it an annual or semi-annual get-together? You decide with your superior. But do bring them together regularly. You will see the performance jump to another level immediately.

Run effective virtual meetings

Keep team meetings super efficient by keeping the focus on

  • operational deviations
  • short term containment actions, and
  • long term remedies.

Be strict with time allocation per topic and take a separate meeting if a topic requires more attention. Focus on decision making, not letting people ramble about what they have been doing and where they are waiting input from.

Build trust

According to research, remote working grows from a fertile soil of trust. Trust is a function of transparency and a function of

  • planning what to do, and then
  • doing what you have planned.

That’s consistency.


Want to know more? Read this. And this.

Are you a first-time virtual manager? HBR has an article for you.

And this, in turn, is about how to prepare for the challenges that will eventually follow.

Also, the manager’s role is in a process of fundamental change. It’s changing from directive to instructive, restrictive to expansive and repetitive to innovative. Read more here.

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