Working remotely has become an increasingly popular option for employees from all different industries, but the rise of telecommuters and field workers poses unique challenges for in-office management. An engaged and productive field team can be the factor that differentiates a business from its competitors, but only if that team is engaged and productive while on the job. No matter the market, there are a few do’s and don’ts of managing a remote team that all supervisors should keep in mind.
In order to ask questions or share suggestions with coworkers throughout the day, remote employees have to overcome the obstacles of distance and time. Such difficulties can foster feelings of isolation and frustration in individual workers, increasing the likelihood of costly mistakes in the field and making it harder for reps to call for help when something goes wrong.
Team communication software with a social collaboration feel can offer an easy to implement communication solution. Billboard and direct messaging options allow managers to keep remote workers up-to-date on office activities and keep all members of a team connected throughout the day. In addition, software that allows reps to capture images on their mobile device and easily transmit them to the back office effectively equips managers with eyes on the ground.
Don’t: Forget to Encourage Face Time
During the work day, field workers can miss out on both important business meetings and watercooler chats. Quick calls and written messages can get the job done from a productivity standpoint, but they don’t build interpersonal relationships the way that face-to-face interaction does. Managers should bring employees physically together every so often, whether it be through required in-office meetings or companywide events, in order to familiarize teams with each other and increase employee engagement.
Studies show that companies generate twice the amount of revenue when employees are engaged and on the same page. Frequent face time is one important way to remind remote employees that their input matters and that they are valued members of a business.
Do: Set Clear Goals
When teams are in the field, there is a greater risk that they will interpret the goals or tasks differently than their office counterparts. Non-verbal cues or subtleties in tone can be lost when there is no visual component to directives, so it’s important for remote team managers to be explicit about tasks and expectations. Employees should understand not only their individual role within the team but also how what they do contributes to overall team success.
Confusion between field employees and managers about team goals can lead to the completion of unnecessary or incorrect tasks, which is not only inefficient but also damaging for employee morale. Setting clear goals from the get go will prime your remote team for optimal productivity in the field.
Don’t: Ignore Conflict
Even in-office teams experience conflict, but as a result of the barriers to communication that come with field work, arguments are somewhat more likely to occur in a remote setting. The lack of interpersonal contact between employees means that they are less empathetic towards each other and more likely to act out impulsively.
As a manager, making the assumption that conflict isn’t happening or that it will work itself out tends to make things worse. Instead, the manager should de-escalate the dispute as quickly as possible by effectively pinpointing its cause.
Do: Use the Right Tools
Many of the obstacles inherent in remote work can be minimized when coupled with the right technology. From the point of view of the remote workers themselves, apps that eliminate menial tasks such as manually filling out paper forms, and also integrate with existing systems easily are the ideal choice for field work. Using technology to make your reps’ lives easier will also boost productivity, as they will be able to spend more time focused on the customer or the task at hand.
From a managerial point of view, the right technology will allow supervisors to track remote employees from the back office, effectively communicate with reps, and analyze any data from the field in real time. Team management software with features such as scheduling and GPS tracking is a great investment for managers who have a significant number of remote workers to supervise; it allows them to keep track of appointments and make sure that reps are maximizing efficiency in the field.
Optimizing remote team productivity with technology means nothing unless a manager also empowers his or her team with its own autonomous decision-making power. According to a report compiled by Horwitz, Bravington & Silvis, “if the members of a virtual organization or a virtual team are not empowered to make decisions, the technology that enables their collaboration will add little value, and the competitive advantage associated with rapid responses to demands in the marketplace will be lost.” In addition, over-managing can leave team members feeling untrusted, undervalued and stifled at work.
Managers should instead establish a system of two-way trust with remote workers, fostering an environment in which reps are internally motivated. Remote workers should feel a personal responsibility to meet daily goals rather than simply finishing tasks because they know a manager is watching over their shoulder. Check-ins should convey support rather than supervision, especially since excessive monitoring can decrease worker productivity.
Ultimately, every manager will approach supervising remote workers differently depending on the makeup of their various teams and their own unique leadership style. However, keeping the above guidelines in mind can help managers avoid many of the most basic pitfalls of managing a remote team and optimize their companies for success.