Monday, March 16, 2009

To Managing People Remotely: Manage Less

Managing people remotely is a little scary. So many questions go through a manager’s mind. How will I know if they are actually working? What if they play golf during the day and work all night, at the last minute, to complete their work? Is that fair? How will I keep track of their schedule? What if I forget about them (out of site, out of mind)? What if my boss wants to know what they are doing all day?

These questions, among others, are legitimate and should be addressed and can be addressed. But before you address them, I have one question for you…as long as work is being delivered, why would you worry about any of the questions above?

For sure, managers who have people working remotely or at home need to learn a few things that might be different from the skills they use to manager people in the office, but the basic principles of management still apply: define to goals and organization and motivate the team to want to work towards achieving those goals.

Here is a short list of things a manager should consider when managing people remotely:

1. Make clear assignments, checkpoints and deadlines - In a way, you need to let the goals, checkpoints and deadline do most of the management, In other words, learn to manage less.

2. Over-time, spend time learning how long certain tasks take so you can schedule properly. That way, you can set deadlines and forget it and know that people are not lolly-gagging so much.

3. Establish processes for the remote people to send updates and track their time (like lawyers and consultants...billable time per project). It will be better for all involved if remote workers are proactively sending updates rather than having managers spend time chasing tele-workers.

4. Managers should make frequent phone calls and IMs not always related to checking in on the task. In other words, spend more time relationship building. It is easy to forget about remote workers when they are out of sight. So making phone calls (and IMs) are a good way to maintain relationships. It is important that these phone calls are not mostly about specifically checking in on the current project assignment. They could be chit-chat, updating people on company business from meetings the manager attended, and talking about possible future assignments or ways to improve what the team is doing (forward-looking discussions).

5. Don't over schedule tele-workers. As long as they are attending all meetings, sending updates and delivering on-time, who cares if they sleep late and work late, or wake up a solid until 9am, so they can play tennis at 10am. Tele-workers will do that. But if they are delivering, be flexible and stay flexible. Your people will be happier and so will you.

6. If people start missing meetings and updates and deadlines, you have objective criteria on which to evaluate poor performance. Have these conversations right away. Same day. Conference calls and deadlines can be missed sometimes for legitimate reasons...frequent and immediate conversations can get to the bottom of these issues and more likely resolve them.

This short list of things to consider will get you started. As the working world becomes more spread out, managers will more and more have people on their teams scattered all over the place. By setting specific goals and deadline and manager can spend more time organizing and looking into the future, and less time hunting down meaningless updates from his/her team every four hours.

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