Top Tips: How to lead remote teams

Working remotely is an increasing trend in New Zealand businesses and Robert Half data shows many Kiwis harness the power of technology to ‘check in’ when away from the office.
Almost two thirds (62 percent) of New Zealand finance and accounting professionals surveyed say they regularly stay connected to the office remotely or do work-related tasks after hours and while on holiday.
There are several reasons why businesses embrace the remote working model; it can help valued staff achieve better work/life balance, or may make the difference in convincing top talent to join the business.
Underpinning the trend are technological advances that make it easier than ever for remote professionals to work cohesively with other team members from anywhere in the world.
Robert Half’s general manager Megan Alexander says in an environment where we are encouraged to do more, with less time, leading remote teams is commercial reality for many managers.
Still, many find it challenging to effectively lead geographically dispersed team of employees.
“Even with the latest communication tools, remote working arrangements come with their own challenges and provide limited opportunity for the everyday interaction that helps supervisors keep employees motivated and engaged,” says Alexander. “It can be harder to gauge how much structure these workers need and leaders risk either micromanaging or not providing enough support to them.”
Alexander offers the following advice for building positive relationships with remote team members:

1 Clearly identify their part in the bigger picture
The better remote workers understand project goals and how their contributions meet company objectives, the easier it is for them to contribute at higher level. Work with remote staff to establish timelines for achieving objectives and ensure they have the resources they need for success.

2 Communicate openly and regularly
Maintaining positive relationship and strong communication channels with remote employees is crucial to keeping tasks on track and workloads under control. Book in regular face-to-face meetings to discuss strategies and progress. Meetings in between these visits can be conducted via phone if geographic constraints make it difficult to get together often.

3 Make good use of technology
While technology can’t overcome every challenge in remote working relationships, managers should take advantage of what is available. Tools like video conferencing and web conferencing can allow more ‘face time’ and help create more human experience.
Online collaborative work tools allow remote employees to contribute to projects and stay apprised of changes. Internal use of social media can also help far-flung teams build camaraderie to boost overall workforce morale.

4 Be inclusive and give praise
Off-site personnel should never feel left out – managers should ensure they have the same or similar opportunities as their on-site counterparts. Enable remote workers to listen to important company announcements via conference call or watch meeting online. If the company offers training, they can allow off-site staff to participate virtually or attend the session in person. Don’t forget small gestures such as sending holiday gift to employees who can’t attend the company party.
Managers should always personally and promptly praise remote workers for outstanding performance and share their achievements with other staff. Acknowledgement of contributions will help remote workers feel valued and raise their profile throughout the firm.
“The bottom line is that so long as communication channels are kept open and used wisely, motivating remote staff and keeping them on track can be as effective as managing on-site employees,” says Alexander. M

Megan Alexander is general manager of Robert Half International.

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