Remote Management. Rules

Letís now discuss some approaches that can be used by the manager in order to properly interact with distributed team members, make them understand what is expected from them and how to achieve it.

Letís now discuss some approaches that can be used by the manager in order to properly interact with distributed team members, make them understand what is expected from them and how to achieve it.

1. Develop communication and escalation rules within the team.

All the team members must be familiar with these rules. The rules should include the following:

  • To whom one should refer certain issues.
A remote team (especially one that is recently formed) often have no idea what to do in certain situations (especially those that are unforeseen). You should establish rules for such situations. But not too many, otherwise their effect will be inversely proportional to their number. If there are no rules, the team will be confused and indecisive. Everyone will do what they think is appropriate. However, if there are too many rules, you may lose trust of employees Ė ďYou donít believe us, therefore you have developed a lot of rules, so that we make no mistakes.Ē The rules should cover the key points of communication, and all exceptions should be resolved by the manager or employees, depending on the type of exception.

  • Escalation is necessary if a problem cannot be resolved locally. 
Here Iím going to discuss two options of building a team: sub team with dedicated manager, and sub team with direct subordination to a remote manager.
In case of a large team, an employee (either the most experienced or one with a certain set of leadership skills) is appointed as a local manager to whom certain managerial functions are then delegated. I would also strongly recommend assigning such roles in teams with members from different cultures, even if they are small. This will help to quickly bring the team together at the initial stage, because people would report problems to the local manager more easily than to you. Besides, the local manager has a better understanding of the mentality of local team members, which enables him/her to communicate with them more closely. The local manager should be in charge of all operational matters that require immediate reaction. In the case of a small team, the assignment of a local manager is meaningless; it will only add another level of management, complicating and slowing the communication process.

Another important aspect is the availability of HR service which can also influence the resolution of certain issues. For example, conflict situations are often resolved through the engagement of HR. Methods of escalation are adjusted in accordance with the team structure and HR functions. Learn about HRís capabilities within the company and figure out what management structure is appropriate for you. Based on this, elaborate rules.

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2. Devise rules of control.

Managers dream of everything working smoothly without any control. Itís an ideal picture of the world, but we live in the real world, and therefore you should be prepared and develop a process or a set of approaches (if you like) that will enable you to move closer to this ideal world. Letís have a closer look at these approaches:

  • Regularity of control refers to how often you ask for reports (how often the employees must report to you on the work done). It should not be too often; otherwise the employees may think you are constantly watching over them. But at the same time, it should not be too rare; otherwise the team may feel abandoned by the manager. It usually depends both on the project phase (there should be more control at the early stage, and then it decreases during team development and stabilization) and on the level of the team member (senior level employees with strong internal motivation should be controlled less often). 
Ideally, there should be some general principles according to which the employees must report their current status: for example, as soon as they have completed a task (earlier or on time); or if they spent two hours and can't come up with any solution, they should report that they need help. Or if they come across some problem, they should report it and then figure out how much time it will take to solve it. In addition to these principles, you should establish certain rules for each member for a specific task: for example, ďThis is your task, and Iíll come to check progress in a day. The task must be completed in 2 days, Iíll come and check. If you do it earlier, inform me.Ē Initially, the rules for the entire team can be more detailed and precise. Eventually, these rules for some people will be simplified and reduced to just ďDo it tomorrow by 4 PM.Ē If it is like that, congratulations Ė you have established trust-based relations.

  • What are the means and ways of reporting? How should employees report on the work done? Should it be done orally or in writing, or it would be enough to check in the tracking system? Choose the most appropriate method for your project configuration. If your team is small, the most suitable way of reporting will be a task tracking system and notifications in a selected corporate messenger. If the team is big, you will probably need to replace messenger notifications by messages in the corporate mail. If you use Agile approaches, when people clearly understand what tasks they must complete during a day, then you mostly control people at the daily scrum meetings, and therefore there is no need for any additional reporting, except checking the performed tasks on the scum board in the task tracking system. 

3. Select/establish suitable means of communication.

When you and your team are in the same room, the team membersí presence in a messenger is not critical. Even if they haven't read a message or failed to answer during some expected time, you can easily go to them. Besides, when an employee realizes that he/she can be seen by the manager, they are not trying to avoid response. In the case of a distributed team, the quality of communication channel comes to the fore. You can easily find what you need in the market. And within the organization, there usually are one or two mandatory corporate messengers and 2 or 3 other messengers that you can also use. Choose a messenger that will be the main one for your team, and only use it. In other words, establish the following rule: when you are at work, this messenger must be switched on and the incoming messages always have the highest priority for you.

Vadim Kachurovsky

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