Tuesday, 8 October 2013

How can managers step up to the challenge of managing remotely?

In days when going to work meant commuting to the office and sitting at one’s own desk, managers were encouraged to be present – to keep their eyes open and their hands off and promise the metaphorical open door.

Working from home
But what about in days when being present means occupying virtual space and the door has been replaced with a portal? How do managers maintain the correct level of contact with their teams whilst ensuring effective performance and appropriate behaviours?

To understand what to do it’s worth understanding what has created the need to manage remotely:

  • Virtual teams created by the availability of technology
  • Matrix management created by the need to be leaner, more effective and more responsive to client demands 
  • Flexible working environments (e.g. working patterns, working space configuration)  created by the reaction to customer/user demands and the social needs of workforce

The challenges presented by these newly created environments, means that the manager must be aware of, and support, the shifting needs and feelings of many:

  • Those taking the step into remote working for the first time
  • Those experienced members of the team who need to retain a sense of belonging whilst maintaining the motivation to achieve
  • Those working in virtual teams who may been spread throughout the country or the globe  
  • Those on the team who do not have the opportunity to operate remotely and often openly deride their colleagues for (cue fingers indicating inverted commas) “working at home” 
  • The manager who must tussle with the potential feeling of  loss of control

When developing his “Action Centred Leadership” model in the 1960s and 1970s, John Adair could not have anticipated the increased significance it would have taken on but never have the underpinning needs of its component elements  –  to manage and develop the individual, grow the team and achieve the task – been more relevant.

Of course in there are some very simple management actions like keeping electronic diaries free of unnecessary meetings and placeholders but it goes way beyond that. This is about setting conditions and environments for matters like communication, performance objectives and expectations from all. So what good practices can managers adopt?

Get the team emotion right

  • Consider the effect of motivation of those working at the office versus the perceived (and often real) benefit for those working at home
  • Remember that new working arrangements cause a shift in behaviour with the team (they are reverting to storming) so is it time to reconsider the ideology of the team – how do we work together, what is expected of each other, how do we communicate, what does respect look like, how do we deal with issues and problem, what does “belonging” mean and so on)
  • Consider the practical (e.g. time) and cultural elements of global virtual teams  
  • Develop the collective maturity and capability of the group so that you can progressively increase group freedom and authority 

Get the individual expectations right

  • One size does not fit all – what feels right and gets the best out of one relationship doesn’t work for another. Start with the default position of asking the individual what they need to make remote working effective and come to agreeable solutions
  • Develop individual freedom and authority - avoid overcompensating for not having sight of individuals. In remote situations “management by exception” has to be the de facto approach – agreeing standard communication up front and agreeing what constitutes exception situations when additional communication is required
  • Remember that recognition and praise is not as immediate or ad hoc so take the time to provide this – it means even more when working alone for periods of time to have effort and good work acknowledged
  • Remember that working in isolation is not necessarily always felt to be a reward (or indeed a preferred way of working) – what motivation does the individual require and how can you provide this? (NB – motivation itself is a huge topic and is covered in other blog articles)   

Get the performance management of the task right

  • Manage by outputs and outcomes not inputs or process 
  • Be accurate in your expectations surrounding deliverables (measures, timescales, strategy and tactics responsibilities), objectives (accountabilities and measures) and task (standards, quality, time and reporting parameters)
  • Consider what resources (physical and emotional) the individual requires
  • Do they have a support network provided? 

In achieving the right balance in all these, the manager has the chance of nurturing a successful remote working environment and step up to effectively perform the sole responsibility of managing remotely.

Written by David Mathieson, a learning consultant at Capita Learning & Development.

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