• Jim Shields

Management 101 - without a safety net

A bit tricky, yet many people do this… Because this is what most instances of remote management are. By this I mean those occasions when you are managing a team of people that are many miles, and sometimes even many time-zones away.

Having been in this situation pretty often, I have come to the conclusion that remote management isn’t rocket science but simply a bit more dangerous – where a simple mistake can be fatal rather than just causing a bit of pain.

Isn't managing remotely just the same as normal?

There are a plethora of overlaps:

  • You have to set a culture, and a vision… after all people have to know what the definition of success is and how they are supposed to behave.

  • And it would be useful to let them know what their specific role is and how they are supposed to do it. Providing support and coaching for them would be pragmatic too.

  • There’s really an endless list….. Alignment, performance management, collaboration, planning, budgeting, organising, motivating, inspiring, forecasting, monitoring, assessing risk, etc etc

Bottom line – all those things that are generally regarded as “Management & Leadership 101” are just the same for remote as for local.

So what is different then?

Biggest thing is how easy it is to fail, so much so, that people regard remote management as a separate skill and something to be avoided.

And why do people fail at this? – Mostly it is because of a lack of awareness that things are going wrong. If your team is sitting in the next aisle over you get lots of indications of how things are going:

  • Quick chats as you pass peoples desks

  • Being able to read peoples expressions during conversations – because what they say may not be what they feel or understand

  • Sharing a quick conversation at a whiteboard

  • The rumour mill at the coffee machine

  • Seeing actual data about progress, or interim work products

  • Knowing people well enough so you can predict or interpret their actions

Secondly it’s because it is easy to take some corrective action for a local team:

  • 2 minute coaching chat

  • Being able to give instant feedback

  • Sharing data quickly & easily

When it isn’t that simple to communicate or to fix things, then it is all too easy to let things slip and what starts out as a small problem becomes a fatal one.

Is it possible to avoid injury?

Yes – it just takes a bit of diligence & hard work, mostly doing all the things you got taught to do as a new manager / leader, and should be doing for both your local team & remote teams anyway.

For example, Paint a picture of success & draw a map of how to get there.

  • Ensuring you have an easily digestible vision and strategy that people understand – And most importantly, spend the time sharing it with your remote team

  • Make sure people own the definition of success and emotionally sign up to it

  • Remember that people who are signed up to a common cause with you, will do whatever it takes to get it done…. Much more so than people who are just following a recipe in order to get paid.

To get what you need, remember you get what you measure – which applies to both individuals & teams.

  • Individuals – Set objectives (duh!), and do it right – use SMART criteria

  • Teams – Set Governance criteria and again use SMART criteria

  • For both the above, make sure you don’t go overboard… It’s easy to put in so many metrics & objectives trying to paper over all the cracks so that it becomes unwieldy and counterproductive. Just adding extra detail isn't necessarily communicating better.

  • Don’t stop with setting the objectives – you have to actually monitor if these are being met also.

Also take the time to talk to people… think of all the time that you actually spend with your local team…. Adding up all the minutes spent on casual conversations, informal meetings etc should be your guideline for the MINIMUM time you have to invest on your remote team. Making sure this happens takes more effort.

  • Invest in collaboration tools to make it easy to communicate

  • Set reminders to have discussions with people you can’t meet by chance

  • Have scheduled (short) meetings with teams tp make sure you discuss what is actually going on

  • Take time to meet them face to face whenever possible (or affordable) – you don’t want to be constantly saying “I like the people I work with. Someday I will meet them.”

Make sure you understand the culture – for instance, when they say “yes”, does it really mean yes? In some cultures this isn’t an absolute statement, more like a statement of “I’ll try my best”. Learn how to ask open questions that allow you the freedom to interpret what is really meant.

Bottom line

Learn how to weave your own safety net with some diligence and good habits.

Lady on Tightrope image by LordColinOneal

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