Six Steps to Simplify Remote Management

By Jim Bain

Managing people and projects from across the hall is tough enough. Managing people and projects from different cities, states, time zones, or countries is infinitely more difficult. And, as the world economy continues to change, this remote sort of management is becoming more and more common. The lack of opportunity to “run into” your staff and coworkers can be devastating to your call center’s performance. While there are certainly some advantages to a remote workforce, its downsides must be recognized and either minimized or avoided completely.

The goal of most organizations and suborganizations is to deliver something of value to their external customers, their internal customers, or both. As such, the difficulty of managing people remotely has a direct impact on both the productivity of the workforce and the quality and quantity of the products or services. To operate at peak performance today, managers simply must learn how to improve their interactions with remote employees.

Motivation and behavior studies over the last five decades have held that motivational triggers exist at differing levels for each individual. The most basic of these needs, such as food, water, and shelter, are satisfied by means of a salary or wage and are not affected by the location of the worker. Mid-level needs, such as the need for relationships, good work conditions, and the need to belong, are simply easier to satisfy when people work in direct contact with each other. In other words, remote employees are much more inclined to be dissatisfied with their work simply because it is more difficult to develop the necessary relationships. There is limited “face time.” Fortunately, if those management hurdles are cleared, the highest-level needs, such as achievement, the work itself, recognition, responsibility, and advancement, are not only possible but often enhanced by remote working arrangements.

The key, then, is to take creative measures to ensure that those remote relationships are built and nurtured. Many people have experienced the feeling that they think, act, and speak in a different language than their spouse, their children, or their boss. They might as well be from different planets! How can managers make sure that they are on the same planet as their remote team members?

1) Agree on the outcomes you seek. Engage in true two-way communication. Be specific about the desired results of the work. Confirm that all parties understand the details of the desired results. Remotely located employees need to have specific goals and objectives.

2) Get out of your office and visit remotely located people. Whether you schedule trips to your remote locations on a regular basis or a more haphazard basis is not critical. Visiting their turf, their offices, and their project sites is! In the 1970s, this was called MBWA – management by walking around. People want to see you so that they feel as if they have access to you and so they know that you care.

3) If you can’t visit your staff, institute a periodic “How can I help you?” call. At an agreed upon time, part of your responsibility as a manager is to find out how you can help your remote employees. This regular call will go a long way to building the trust that occurs more readily when they are just across the hall. Make this call one of your good habits.

4) Use technology to its fullest potential. Everyone is aware of email. Videoconferences, online virtual meeting sites such as Second Life, and social networks like Facebook and Twitter are also excellent tools. While there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction, current technology can get you close. This is also an excellent way to bridge the generation gaps that are developing in today’s workforce. If you are a baby boomer, learn to email, text, and maybe even Tweet your Gen-X and Gen-Y employees. They will appreciate the effort, just as inhabitants of a different planet would appreciate you learning their language.

5) Walk a mile in their shoes. In the call center industry, management can sometimes forget what it is like to answer or place calls. This is even more significant when an agent is working from a remote location. Develop a “Day in the Life” program. Set up opportunities for non-call center staff to spend at least half a day shadowing a remotely working agent or staff person. The experience will help management understand the difficulties remote staff faces when working away from the main office.

6) Show them that you care. Take the time to communicate with your people in any form available. It will help to build those relationships so necessary for job satisfaction. Start by asking your people about their lives, their work, and their needs. Then shut up and listen. You’ll be surprised what you learn.

The rapidly increasing incidence of remote management can directly and severely affect the job satisfaction for your remote employees. Decreased job satisfaction has a negative impact on productivity and performance. The reality is that special measures must be taken to alleviate these issues. Using the above tips will help you practice the first three rules of effective employee management: Communicate, communicate, communicate!

James S. Bain, MBA, is an author, speaker, consultant, and coach. He is the founder of Focus on the 5, a division of Falcon Performance Institute, a consulting and corporate training firm focused on productive performance. Look for Jim’s new book, Never Pass on a Chance to P – A Roadmap to Peace in Your Life. To learn more, call 352-854-4015.

[From Connection Magazine October 2010]

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