06 Mar The Long Distance Manager
By Alex Boyer, Vice-President Operations, Nubik
Given the rapid pace of globalization, urban sprawl (and its inherent problems of urban congestion), the proliferation of cloud-based office software, and the challenges of reconciling the balance between having a family and a career, the way that we work is being drastically redefined.
Over the past few years, we’ve increasingly seen teams being de-localized, comprised of members that do not necessarily share the same physical space. When hiring employees, geography is less of a deciding factor, thus cloud-based tools keep us connected in a virtual office space. But that’s not to say that working in a virtual environment is not without it’s challenges!
Many years of working in a shared office has given rise to strategies and processes for managing teams. But, these same rules don’t always apply to working remote. That being said, having some basic, guiding principles can greatly improve the working conditions and contribute to overall success of remote teams.
To ensure success, here are some elements that need to be carefully considered:
- Hire the right profile
- Regular communication
- Measure employee performance
- Use the right tools
- Organize activities that foster team spirit
- And lastly: flexibility, flexibility, flexibility
1. Hire the right profile
Working at home may seem appealing at first. But it is not for everyone. For example, a particularly extroverted person might have difficulty in not meeting colleagues on a daily basis. Or, when faced with technical challenges, an anxious person could enter a spiral of distress, incurring a sense of isolation and inability to get the job done.
The selection of employees must therefore go through a rigorous process, where the personality traits are as much if not more important than the technical knowledge. The use of psychometric tests is thus fundamental, allowing the hiring manager to evaluate the right profile for the position at the same time as the right profile for remote work.
2. Regular communication
One of the pitfalls of working from home is the risk of being isolated. Communication is critical to keeping your employees engaged. It is essential that each individual has a dedicated period with his / her manager and this, in a recurring and systematic way. The frequency must be higher than in a traditional environment to compensate for the reduction of spontaneous encounters and avoid isolation.
In the absence of face-to-face meetings, it is also more challenging to know what is going on in someone’s personal life. More frequent communication should therefore also include extension to more personal elements of the individual.
3. Measuring Performance
Important for any manager, this is even more important with remote employees. Yet, it is often considered a daunting task for many managers: How do you really know if your employees are working?
Evaluating an employee’s performance based on the hours they spend at their desk, this is a basic metric, and no longer works when you’re managing someone who works at home. You have to go beyond and consider other less tangible metrics, such as working with colleagues, customer satisfaction, or participation in the firm’s well-being . In short, the measure is essentially based on results, not on presence in the office.
At the same time, it is important that employees have a reasonable number of clear and accurate performance measurement metrics. Four or five measures of performance allows employees to auto-evaluate and make sure there is no overlap in their performance measures.
4. Use the right tools
The last few years have seen the emergence of a variety of new technologies to keep teams connected while at a distance. Historically, these tools were used by sales teams on the road. More recently, we see them being adopted by in-house teams like production and administration.
The use of a unified enterprise tool such as Salesforce, enables a strong cohesion between the various departments that run the business, from marketing, sales, project management, human resources and accounting.
Virtual office technology also helps to restore proximity to colleagues. The tools used by Nubik enable others to visualize the presence of each person, to organize meetings by means of virtual conference rooms, even to share their screens. The result is a highly dynamic team, maybe even more so than in a physical office, where all experts are just a click away!
5. Organize activities that foster team spirit
With all the opportunities for proximity in a virtual office, there’s nothing like a good face-to-face meeting to get everyone on the same page. Whether they take place every two or even three months, this is an opportunity to have everyone aligned to the company’s vision and business objectives. They also stimulate brainstorming ideas, and give employees the chance share their own successes and shine in front of the team.
Not to mention, this is the best opportunity to foster those interpersonal relationships that keeps your organization together. There’s nothing like finishing your get together in a festive way, either with a fun activity, a meal or simply with a drink!
6. Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility …
Flexibility must live at the core of a virtual organization. Allowing for the range of employee productivity, the manager must adapt to the constraints of individual employees. More precisely, work-life balance can directly impact presence in the “office”. For example, a sick child may cause sporadic employee absences, yet being mindful that the employee can make up the time in atypical time slots.
That being said, this flexibility stems from a high level of employee trust; which brings us back to ensuring that the right employee is hired in the first place.
Managing employees remotely is not easy. You have to be willing to relax traditional strategies and think differently. But if the guidelines outlined above are followed, the productivity, commitment and welfare of employees may increase. And most importantly, it should not be forgotten that employees are the most important assets of any organization. Corporate policies must constantly evolve to accommodate employees while ensuring the financial health, stability and growth of the business!