Successfully Managing Remote Teams

A large – and ever growing – number of employees are working remotely, whether full time or a few days a month.

A 2015 Gallup poll found that 37 percent of the American workforce has telecommuted at some point during their career. This figure has increased dramatically since 1995, when only 9 percent of workers stated the same. Meanwhile, Global Workplace Analytics reported that half of the country’s workforce holds a position that allows for at least partial telecommuting, while 20 to 25 percent have one that lets them do so regularly. This number is only expected to grow in the next few years due to the demand for flexible working environments, shortage of qualified workers and desire to cut costs in increasingly costly areas of the country.

Remote Teams Don’t Need More Interaction – They Need Better Interactions

One common struggle managers have in leading a remote workforce is how to to get their team to collaborate and communicate effectively across distance. While more communication seems to be the answer, successfully managing remote teams is more about getting the most out of each encounter, not simply increasing the volume.

At ExecOnline, our “Leading and Managing Globally” program offered through Yale School of Management and IMD covers how leaders can effectively manage and grow their global team. Dr. Martha Maznevski, a professor of organizational behavior and international management, offers many meaningful insights through this six-week program. Here are three:

1. Don’t try to recreate face-to-face interaction with virtual interaction

Managers must understand the differences in leveraging face-to-face interactions versus virtual ones. Face-to-face meetings are excellent for building trust and commitment, along with sharing and developing tactical knowledge. They also are perfect for building focus, intensity and spontaneity on a team.

On the other hand, virtual interactions are best for connecting remote networks and being able to work in real time. Virtual communication is also an ideal was to keep a record of any conversations or innovations that result from these meetings. Essentially, managers should play to the strengths of each type of communication, not try to recreate one within the context of the other.

2. Use team discipline and organization

Most virtual teams require organization and discipline to work and function properly. They need organized workspaces, clearly defined roles, and outlined strategies and task definitions. While response times may differ from in-office interactions, managers should still implement guidelines and expectations about what is acceptable to keep their remote team running smoothly.

3. It’s not about more technology: It’s about choosing the right technology 

Another area to consider is whether or not your team is using more technology than they actually need for a given task or interaction.

Whenever remote company interactions are complex, such as establishing a new relationship or making a formal presentation, teams should use rich media tools such as video to fully support their work. When in doubt, ask yourself whether the interaction is one that requires nuance and context to achieve the desired outcome.

For more routine interactions, it can be easier for employees to use less rich media platforms and solutions, such as real-time messaging or email. In fact, using too much technology can actually limit effectiveness. Using a formal video conference, for example, when informal collaboration is required, can reduce participation. High-performing teams choose from an array of technology options to find what suits their needs best.

To get more out of your remote teams check out our program “Leading and Managing Globally,” with Yale and IMD.




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