Managing Remote Teams: Can They Be As Productive as Traditionally Managed Teams?
Other than when I’m traveling for business, I work 100% from home and enjoy the flexibility and savings it provides. I save on dry cleaning, auto fuel and lunches and even get to sleep in a little longer because my morning commute only requires walking down the hall to my home office. The key to my ability to be productive at home is the technology available to me. I use my laptop, WebEx, Cisco Jabber and a Cisco DX-80 and am connected directly to the Cisco internal network through my CVO router. Actually, through these capabilities, I really feel I’m more productive working from home than when I’m in the company office. Without the interruptions from peers, coffee room banter and long walks to the restroom, I can focus on the job at hand 100% and get more work done each day.
This trend towards working remotely isn’t going to end and is expected to increase over the coming years. More and more companies are allowing people to work remotely and are realizing significant cost savings by minimizing their brick and mortar presence. As technology becomes more sophisticated, you can expect this trend to accelerate. A recent Gallup Poll shows that 37% of American respondents said they have worked virtually in their careers, a four time increase reported from 1995. Furthermore, work flexibility, including telework, is one of the biggest drivers of transformation in the workplace (remote.co, 2017).
Managing mobile workers is nothing new for Sales Managers and but the shift to managing a completely remote team who doesn’t physically work in the office is a newer shift. As a manager of a remote team, however, working remotely presents some challenges. At first it was a little daunting not being able to monitor my team’s physical presence but ultimately I realized it was their productivity I needed to monitor. Just like me, most of my team works from their homes using the same technology. So we are able to stay connected throughout the work day, meet virtually and seamlessly interact.
So as a sales leader, anticipating and acclimating to this shift is critical to maintaining employee satisfaction and productivity. Utilizing the appropriate technology, up to and including remote monitoring software, is paramount. But managing remote teams requires a paradigm shift in management philosophy and process as well.
Here are four recommendations for managing remote teams:
- Stay in Frequent Contact: Utilize instant messaging software like Jabber that provides the capability to not only send personal messages throughout the day but also monitor when your team is in meetings, out of the office or on the phone. The software is intelligent enough to know when a worker has been inactive and away from the computer and automatically marks them as “away”. And I can instantly chat with a teammate online and if we need to share live information, we can shift to an online meeting to share documentation or I can auto dial them for a phone conversation. This is a real life saver and saves countless hours of email and phone tag. Additionally, it’s important to schedule one-one weekly meetings with each remote worker to check-in with them, manage priorities and discuss any issues or opportunities that come up each week.
- Clearly define expectations, team rules and priorities. It’s important the team understands the expectations, rules and definitions of success for the entire team and their individual role. And just like a traditional team, it’s extremely critical that each member respects those rules and expectations to instill a feeling of trust that the virtual team “has their back”. As a leader it’s important that you clearly articulate these expectations, rules and priorities frequently and realign when necessary to adapt to the changing business environment. And most important, ensure that you are holding all members of the team accountable.
- Meet face-to-face when possible. Working virtually can be isolating and much of the human social experience can be missed if you only chat via phone or instant messaging. If possible, you should plan to meet in person with the team as a whole and with each member individually on a regular basis. If your team is geographically dispersed however, this can be a challenge. Leverage video conferencing technology or at minimum your personal video camera to meet with you team so you see faces and watch expressions which are a significant portion of communication.
- Inject “Fun” into your virtual team interactions. Just like working in the physical office, virtual employees want to feel connected to co-workers and injecting a little fun and humor into meetings is vitally important to creating that feeling of inclusion. Carve out time in virtual meetings to inject some levity and goodwill. Offer an opportunity for the team to recognize each other through a peer recognition process. Allow the team to share info about their personal lives or take the time to discuss current events that interest the team. Remember – all business all the time won’t allow the personal connections that keep employees happy, loyal and productive. Taking the time for fun is good for the bottom line.
Partner Plus Cisco Partners can inject a little fun with their sales teams by providing access to Cisco Rewards where partner sales reps can earn points for completing different tasks or closing Cisco deals. And launching this month, we have some new challenges bring introduced to create awareness for Partner Plus Winner’s Circle. Partner Sales reps can complete different challenges and earn credits redeemable for entries into different prize drawings. Check out the Partner Plus Winner’s Circle Page for more information on how you can get YOUR sales team involved in the fun AND learn more about Winner’s Circle and how your company can qualify.
So although managing remote teams can have its challenges, the experience can be just as rewarding and productive as managing teams in your local office. Understanding how to leverage the right technology, making the necessary mental shifts and setting the right expectations with your team will all go a long way towards ensuring a positive virtual working experience for all.