Managing Remote Workers – Part 3, Building Up the Team

I set out to jot down my experiences of remote management. It quickly began to sprawl so I’ve broken it out into multiple parts. Part 3 recaps the scene for remote workers/management and discusses building the team.

Introduction

Over the past few years I have been a remote manager of remote workers and remote teams. That is to say myself and my staff were all remote workers spread around the world. Our working environments could be our homes, company offices or customer sites.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about my experiences as a remote worker. This is a follow up to discuss managing remote workers.

What is Remote Management

First up some qualifiers on what I mean by remote management and remote workers.

Remote Workers are workers who are not office based. They are based at home and either work there or at customer sites. They may also visit company offices occasionally.

Remote Management is where the manager is based at home and either work there, at customer sites or at company offices. Predominantly they work from home. It can also be where you manage workers in different countries.

I have spent several years being a “Remote Manager” of “Remote Workers”. Here are my experiences.

Emphasis for Building a Team for Remote Management / Working

Understand Strengths and Weaknesses

I believe that in this day and age a team needs to be well rounded rather than full of well rounded individuals. By this I mean that your team has many capabilities (well rounded) and those capabilities are provided by different team members with different skills. This allows you to recruit quickly for the skills you need, keeps your training bill down and allows the freedom for your staff to concentrate on a fewer knowledge areas they can be experts in. Those highly skilled team members more easily cross pollinate by sharing their knowledge and experience.

The alternative is recruiting for people that are identical to what you’ve got which means trying to find people with a wide skill set, which takes longer and is more expensive. You will have difficulties with recruitment agencies and agents who find it challenging to find people with all the skills you specified. Each member of your team has to spend a lot of time learning all the skills of the team which is expensive and extremely time consuming.

While both strategies are valid, only one of them will help you:

  • Build a team quickly
  • Bring new team capability online quickly to meet demand and create new opportunities
  • Keep your training bill down
  • Reduce stress within the team (everyone doesn’t have to be an expert in everything)

Get on top of Skills gaps quickly

You may inherit a team with skills gaps or find that over time your team develops them. It could be through company direction changes, client demands change, or it could be through staff churn (starters and leavers).

I’ve witnessed extreme skills gaps cause damage to team moral and increase stress exponentially as more work is piled on fewer people. This is why its crucial to identify them and get on top of them quickly!

The good news is the moral and stress issues can be rectified, but it’s all on you. The following management behaviours are necessary:

  • Keep a record of necessary skills and measure everyone against them regularly. You can use the scores to monitor peaks and troughs. You’ll need to work out what scores are needed for maintenance and how many people in your team need to meet the maintenance scores for each skill.
  • Do this transparently and ensure you foster a non-judgemental culture of honesty. Each team member understanding what the strengths and weaknesses of their team mates is a good thing. It means people are less likely to over state their capabilities and thus land themselves and you in tricky situations. It also eliminates unrealistic expectations between team mates.
  • Act quickly to fill gaps once you’ve identified them. If you can, implement a mentoring system within the team and augment with training. Take time to understand how each staff member learns. Not everyone is suited to endless reading, or classroom learning. Be aware that this changes over time too. 20 years ago I used to learn best through reading and hated watching video’s. Now I learn best through doing and watching videos.
  • Be transparent with the business, rather than hide a lack of capability and over promise. Being opaque can cause unnecessary stress for your staff and will land you in trouble with your peers and leaders.

Set Clear Goals and Accountability

Everyone needs purpose and progression. Some are naturally driven and self motivated. All will benefit from defining and setting achievable goals.

The business has goals, you have goals and your team members will have their own goals. On top of that there may be personal improvement goals.

Goals help provide purpose and direction. It’s important to work with your team to set appropriate and achievable goals that they can work towards and contribute to. They are something to achieve that are their own.

It is crucial to:

  • Set goals on a 121 basis
  • Define the goals together. Both of you can bring items to the table but it should be collaborative in order to be achievable. That’s not to say it’s pure democracy. Everyone needs to have goals that contribute to the goals set by the company. Discussing what they are and how the individual can contribute is an important part of goal setting.
  • Be precise in your description. Goals are supposed to be definitive so they can be measured for achievement. When looking at goals overall it needs to be clear that each goal hit has contributed to the overarching company objectives.
  • Set realistic expectations. It’s pointless setting goals where you think they may not be achievable or only achievable if certain stars fall into formation. You’re setting yourself and worse your staff up for a fall, disappointment and will leave them with an unfair sense of failure.
  • Demonstrate alignment down the management chain.
  • Set deadlines, measure them regularly and discuss with the individual
  • Instill a sense of very clear accountability. Goals are expected to be achieved, not something that people aim for but don’t feature much in their day to day or value highly. “Do or do not, there is no try”

If you get this right then it is another tool in your arsenal to help your staff and team grow and improve. It will also directly contribute to the growth and success of your company.

Make use of Your Tools (Teams)

The greatest challenge in managing a bunch of remote workers is creating a sense of unity and collaboration. I’ve been a remote worker for many years. It can be character building and a healthy education in resilience, but left unchecked, particularly for long periods, it can be lonely and generate a feeling of isolation.

As well as adopting constructive behaviours you need to look to your tool kit and pull out those things that will help bind the team together so they collaborate naturally and have a sense of community.

Social Media

I’m not a fan of this method but I have seen it used many times for this purpose. The advantage is that you’re sharing your experiences, views and opinions and it can generate a sense of camaraderie.

The problem – you can’t really control who sees it and you frequently get outsiders involved in what’s going on. Also, because it’s social media and considered more personal, people aren’t necessarily thinking with their professional head when the post to it.

You want my advice, don’t do it

Microsoft Teams

In previous lives I’d have looked to tools like Lync for IM and telephone, Sharepoint for document sharing, and Outlook for email.

Now I use Teams for all of this and more. Teams has become the backbone to my remote working world. I can be collaborative with the immersive power of integrated Microsoft 365. I can be direct with 121 or group IM. I can make calls, use IM on those calls for sharing info, make and instantly share notes, live, and share my screen or apps. It is the tool that allows you to feel like you’re in the same room as everyone you’re communicating with.

One of the ways you can use teams to bring staff together is to create drop in sessions. I used to have an all day open meeting in Teams. Anyone could drop in or drop out. The purpose? Simply to chat, face to face. No agenda, just chit chat. It had mixed results and largely became an opportunity for my staff to connect to me. I.E. Teams would notify them that I’d joined the meeting and some of them would drop in for a chat.

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