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Now YOU SEE Them... now... YOU Don’t

2 Oct, 2006 By: Ronelle Ingram imageSource

Now YOU SEE Them... now... YOU Don’t

How do you watch over someone you can’t see?

The need to effectively manage employees that work in distance offices is
increasing.  Multiple offices, outside sales reps, at home workers, offices
relocated due to disasters, telecommuting, branch offices or subsidiaries are
all reasons you need to learn how to guide employees that are working away from
the manager’s location.

Having worked with field service techs and outside sales people, I have
learned there are different hiring, training, reviewing and overall management
skills that are necessary when working with staff that operate away from the
company’s offices. As more employees telecommute, work from their homes or
remote offices, the skills required for remote managing are increasing.

Many of the remote managing ideas I use I learned from The Distance Manager
by Mareen and Kimball Fisher. This excellent book defines, guides and provides
procedures for improving distance managing skills. This book is full of real
business examples of what should and should not be done.

Most companies can eventually find quality workers. The difficult part is
being able to optimize the talents of individual employees into an effective
team.  Having a good worker, a good product and a good local manager does not
necessary mean they will be an effective long distance working force or
individual. The foundation for creating valuable distance workers is hiring the
right person in the first place. A distance worker must be a self-starter,
detail orientated, a team player, a consensus builder and over-achiever who is
able and willing to go the distance. 

A strong foundation is essential. An initial face-to-face start-up is vital
to being a successful distance manager. Whether you are hiring new people, or
coming in as a new manager of an established team, you must create a bond. Being
able to look a person in the eye establishes a link. Your business has an
identity that actually has a physical presence and a company culture. The
distance worker must be able to visualize their manager and feel personally
committed to the team even sight unseen.

Before the final hiring, the prospective employee and manager should help
develop the job, expectations, goals, rewards, etc.  The potential distance
employee must want to buy into the plan. Without mutual commitment, employees
and managers can loose their ability to either connect or control the behavior
of remote workers, leading to unsatisfactory results. Traditionally, in-house
managers work in the system. Distance managers must work on the system.

The distance manager needs the abilities to lead, coach, analyze, work
through barriers, facilitate, and set good examples while always being fair and
accessible, among other traits. There is a need to keep the process working
while allowing the employee to do their work. The distant manager must work
around the disenfranchising effects that different time zones, space and culture
can have on the group members, needing to keep all work intact.

It is important to establish regular one-on-one meetings in person. Because
of the travel required to see distant workers, consider rotating on who travels
to visit the other person. When possible, consider scheduling time with the team
member on a non-business activity that will give you time to relate to one
another more personally.

Establish a written improvement plan. This allows a structure for constant
progress. All employees want regular increases in compensation. The natural
extension of receiving more money is creating more value. The plan is a
statement of the employee and company’s expectation of continual improvement as
part of the job’s requirements.

A team “re-start” meeting can be effective at the beginning of a new
campaign, budget, or to re-establish goals if the individual or team is
struggling. The distance manager should act as the facilitator during the
initial meeting or re-start gathering. Group meetings are the perfect time to
establish who is responsible for specific tasks. This eliminates duplication of
duties and identifying gaps in the plan.  It is also a time to learn of each
team member’s strengths and weaknesses.  Team member roles and responsibilities
can be realigned with mutual consent. This enables the distant employee to buy
into the process and work within the scope of peer pressure.

During group gatherings, distance workers (who are normally external parts of
an internal process) come together.  It is the ideal time to establish, monitor
and require periodic peer-to-peer feedback. An easy way to facilitate discussion
is the Stop, Start, and Continue Process. Each distance worker must present work
related items they dislike (Stop); that they need (Start); and that they like
(Continue).  Having a structure (and company requirement) to interact with
specific Stop, Start and Continue items allows employees to make suggestions to
other workers in a non-offensive manner.

The Stop, Start and Continue process is especially helpful to new members of
a team. It allows them the right to openly communicate their needs and ideas.
Often the new member can share original ideas that otherwise would have never
been expressed.

An extension of distant managing is working within a temporary or virtual
team environment.  This often requires a manager to interrelate and try to lead
people who do not report directly to them. Trying to use power to persuade
others, when you are not in a position of power, is futile.  More tactful
actions are required. Start by establishing common ground. Validate polarities.
Ask for participation on projects that will use the expertise of others. Seek
out and appreciate differences. Honesty is a building block to creating an
atmosphere of trust within virtual teams. When you follow these persuasion
guidelines, the absence of physical presence can be replaced with moral

Items that can destroy the effectiveness of distance workers include:
requiring work that proves they are working, little communication, autocratic
demands, giving too much or too little information, undefined roles, lack of
follow through, manipulation, isolation, inadequate training and resources.

Distant managers should watch for and respond to subtle clues and nuances. 
The goal is to get all employees working together establishing mutually
advantageous goals and standards. All must accept personal accountability for
team results. Everyone is responsible for the completion of the tasks at hand.
Ultimately, a remote manager’s role is to help people learn to lead themselves.

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