Back when I worked for an online marketing company, I was tasked with managing a content team. And though I started out with only a couple of employees under me, within half a year's time, I found myself managing a team of six. There was just one hiccup: Four out of my six employees were located across the country.
Because I hired the right people for the job, I was able to make things work without having to get on a plane every other week. But that isn't to say I didn't face my share of challenges along the way. If you're managing a remote team, here are a few pointers to make things run more smoothly.
1. Check in frequently
If your remote employees aren't particularly needy or demanding, it's easy enough to go days without touching base to see how they're doing or what they're working on. But even if your intention isn't to ignore them, they may end up feeling slighted or neglected as a result. Rather than risk inadvertently offending people, or creating a situation where productivity declines because you're not all on the same page, make a point of checking in with your remote workers at least once every other day, if not every day.
It doesn't need to be a formal check-in -- you can shoot over a brief email, pick up the phone, or use whatever instant-messaging service your company utilizes to say a quick hello. Any of these actions will send the message that you not only haven't forgotten about them and their hard work, but that you're also available to them as needed.
2. Put a standing meeting on the calendar to touch base
Some managers (and employees, for that matter) loathe weekly one-on-one meetings and regard them as nothing more than a waste of time. But while a regular sit-down may not be necessary for your in-house employees, having a standing meeting is crucial when you're dealing with workers you rarely, if ever, get to see in person.
By maintaining a steady weekly one-on-one, your remote employees are guaranteed to get your undivided attention for a preset amount of time. Remember, though you might strive to make yourself as available to your team as possible, remote workers are at a natural disadvantage compared to your in-house team. Your remote workers can't just run over and flag you down when an urgent issue arises, or snag a quick conversation in the elevator. Putting those meetings on the calendar is the best way to ensure that those remote folks get the time they need to review their ongoing projects, discuss their concerns, or simply develop good relationships with you.
3. Be mindful of different schedules
When I worked on the East Coast and managed a West Coast team, one of my greatest challenges was scheduling meetings in a manner that worked best for everyone. It wasn't always easy with a three-hour time difference, but I made a point to almost never put my remote workers out in order to collaborate with the rest of us.
If you're dealing with a remote team, it's imperative that you remain mindful of everyone's different schedules and time constraints. This might mean holding meetings smack in the middle of the day, even if that's not ideal, to ensure that they work with your employees' respective time zones. Or, it might mean taking turns when inconveniencing people, but doing so fairly.
4. Get as much face time as possible
You're never going to get the same level of face time with a remote employee as you will with one who shares your office. That said, technology today makes video conferencing easy, so if you're holding one-on-one or team meetings, do your best to make it feel like those remote workers are physically in the room.
Though managing remote employees isn't easy, it's something you can quickly master if you're willing to make the effort. And if you do, those distant workers will no doubt come to appreciate it.