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ManagingAfar_2 (1)

Managing From Afar

Challenges of a Remote Team, Part II

By Catherine Honey

Editor’s note: Part I of this article in the June issue of Global Payroll focused on how managers can build and prepare their remote teams, which might be spread across the globe, bringing challenges of time and even language differences. Part II addresses how to set clear objectives, build culture, and communicate with remote teams once they are in place.

 

Set Clear Objectives

ManagingAfar_2 (3)Now that the team is in place, members need to be aligned to common goals and objectives to get them rowing in the same direction. As a manager, it is your job to define and align the team to common goals and objectives and to establish the team’s purpose and objectives. Make sure you are clear, and that each team member understands how each member contributes to those goals and how each impacts the other. Finally, determine and communicate what requires approval or “check-in” versus how much autonomy you are willing to give.

In addition to establishing a common purpose, there are other keys to building an integrated team, including trust, empowerment, rewards, and recognition. Building trust takes time and consistency but can be aided by taking a real interest in your team members’ lives. Do not forget to build in the personal touch and connections, which can be easy to overlook when team members are not sitting next to each other. As there are no water cooler conversations or collective coffee breaks, we need to build those connections and contact points into our daily routines in other ways.

Once the current crisis is behind us, traveling to different sites and locations is a terrific way to develop these professional and personal relationships. Until then, though, there are still ways to virtually come together to better understand each other, especially across cultures. Virtual tours, favorite things to do in each location, even sharing a virtual meal with local specialties or favorites on screen are some ideas that can be effective.

 

Build, Maintain a Corporate Culture

Another challenge that is not unique to remote teams but is perhaps magnified is the question of building and maintaining a corporate culture. How can you build this sense of team, community, and belonging to the corporate family if you are not together? Part of this can be enabled as you are building your team and aligning to shared goals. The team’s goals and objectives should, of course, be aligned with those of the organization. However, it should not stop there. Make sure remote workers have corporate “swag” like pens and coffee mugs. This will help remind them they are part of a larger organization.

One important thing to note during this particularly challenging time: we are ALL struggling to balance work and family responsibilities. Do not jump right into work but spend some time on social/personal things as well (to the extent that team members are comfortable). And allow things like children playing in the background or pets making their presence known to become an opportunity to build on those shared experiences and bond with one another. I am convinced this is one the biggest changes—and perhaps silver linings—resulting from the seismic shift in remote working.

All strong managers know that communication is key to good management. Communication is always important and becomes even more critical when team members are remote. Conduct regular status meetings and check-ins, of course, but also identify the best way to ask a quick question. With remote teams, sitting down together in the cafeteria for casual lunches is not possible, so you’ll need to establish multiple and effective methods of communication. Video messages, virtual town halls and group meetings, and even virtual gatherings such as team lunch breaks and other events can help foster a sense of community. For example, one strategy that can be effective is to send team members food gift cards so that all can enjoy ordering and eating a meal together.

An example in Figure 1 is outlined below. It is important to remember that people have different styles and preferences when it comes to communication—understand and try to align as best you can.

Once you move outside of the United States, language considerations quickly come into play. Many companies have English as the language of business, yet for many it is not their first language (of course, this can also be true within the United States). As most interactions are virtual, speak slowly and clearly, and stay away from analogies (especially sports). Try to use video conferencing as much as possible, as this not only adds to the personal feel but also helps with communication as nonverbal cues can help convey messages as well. A best practice in general is to follow up in writing. This is especially important when critical information needs to be conveyed or if there is uncertainty over whether a message has gotten across.

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Time-Zone Management

Managing teams across geographies, countries, and continents adds another set of complexities to the communications challenge—time zone management. For example, managing a team across the United States requires spanning three time differences (more if you’ve got someone in Hawaii—lucky them!). But moving outside of the United States expands those time zone challenges.

From New York to London, there is a five-hour time difference, six to mainland Europe. The overlapping hours in a workday are few. Expand those teams to the West Coast of the United States, or to Asia or Australia, and there is virtually no overlap. To have team meetings, someone is going to have to participate during off-hours. This is a known and accepted situation for global teams. However, there are ways to make it a bit easier. To ease the burden for all, make calls and meetings on a rotating schedule, so that the team members share the burden (and the same person isn’t participating on a call at 10:00 p.m. every week). Another strategy is to ask your team members for their input. Sometimes family dynamics, personal preferences, or cultural norms make some “off-hours” more desirable than others.

Along those same lines, it helps to learn and be aware of local holidays in addition to normal working hours. Be respectful of those and acknowledge them in your planning (as much as you can). Likewise, be respectful of varying perspectives resulting from cultural differences. Just as individuals have varying styles, culture plays a part in those communication styles as well, as some cultures tend to be more reserved than others. Keep these differences in mind.

 

Identify Work, Personal Hours

This new working reality has also brought to light one of the rarely discussed reality of remote workers: the blurred line between work hours and personal hours. Remote workers who are based at home are often multitasking, especially now with schools and day care facilities closed. Allowing those employees some latitude in managing their work schedules (without giving up on required deliverables, of course) will usually be repaid by increased loyalty and, often, extra work hours as well. Understanding this balance will go far in driving that important alignment and further build trust and loyalty.

One of the big challenges facing managers who are new to managing remotely, or who are skeptical about it, is ensuring productivity. If I cannot see or “watch over” my employees, how do I know they are actually working? This goes to the point above—trust, empowerment, rewards, and recognition. By aligning your team to shared goals and allowing your team to work autonomously to achieve those goals, you can ensure productivity. Regular check-ins based on specific, project-based milestones will provide assurance that work is getting done and results are being achieved.

 

Growth Objectives

Finally, just because your team is remote does not mean they do not have career development goals and aspirations. Remote team members may feel they are not getting the visibility and “face time” needed to advance in the organization, especially outside of the immediate group. As a manager, one of the most important elements is to have those discussions with each team member and understand their growth objectives. Develop a plan with each, including virtual meetings with colleagues outside of their immediate circle. Find and offer opportunities to work on cross-functional or cross-departmental projects and explore other ways to give your team members visibility into the broader organization.

As you manage your remote team, strive to develop a global mindset, and embrace the physical and cultural diversity of your team. Understand your team members, their strengths, their personal goals, and how each contributes to the broader organization. And communicate, communicate, communicate!

Remote work is here to stay. We have overcome the stigma, and we have proven it can work. And as the war for talent expands, the case for hiring that talent wherever it is located is stronger than ever. No one yet knows if most of the workforce will remain virtual as it is today or if employees who can return to an office will do so. In any case, some percentage of the workforce—and thus likely your team—will remain remote. Being comfortable at managing remote workers is sure to remain a valuable skill in the days to come.

 

Learn more about this author in the Professional Spotlight article also in this issue.

 

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CatherineHoney (1)

Catherine Honey joined Safeguard Global in 2017 as VP, Strategic Partner Relations. She leads alliances and channels for the company, developing relationships and managing both formal and informal partnerships to help enhance the company’s industry presence and build out the solution ecosystem. Prior to joining Safeguard Global, Honey garnered almost 30 years of experience in human capital and has worked as a practitioner, service provider, and consultant around the world. She has lived and worked around the world, is a veteran of two expatriate assignments, and is a published author and frequent speaker on global strategy, service delivery, and operations topics. She is active in a variety of professional organizations and holds a BA from Temple University and an MBA from Bentley University.