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How to manage employees in remote locations

Thanks to technology and globalization, more and more business teams are working together across state lines and international borders. Many corporations employ “dispersed teams,” where a manager in New York may communicate daily with colleagues in Boston, Los Angeles, and Singapore.

But even with an array of new Web-based collaboration tools at their disposal, most managers find handling remote teams extremely challenging. In order to get the best out of your far-flung employees, you need to establish a clear communication routine, take extra steps to build trust, and review processes often to make sure they’re working for everyone. Whether your employees are in other company offices, working from home, or a little bit of both, these tips will help keep your team running smoothly.

Things you will need:
Travel budget: Plan to see employees at least a few times a year. Technology budget: Don’t fall for every fad, but plan to add new tools as they gain traction.
Set aside time for regular travel, update calls, and to be available for people in different time zones.

Technology: Research the technologies that best connect people for the types of work they do. See Ten Tools for Remote Teams for ideas.

Routine: Consistency in your work process — quarterly gatherings, weekly phone meetings —provides structure and prevents gaps in communication.

Drive: Members of dispersed teams need to work well on their own. Their managers need to sustain the group’s energy, be available at odd hours, travel a lot, and initiate communication.

Chatter: It gets a bad rap, but chit-chat builds a team. Let remote employees in on tidbits like promotions, births and weddings, and inside jokes.

Make sure you’re up for the task of managing remotely.
Managers who run dispersed teams successfully share several traits. They work a lot, they travel — some more than half the time — and they thrive on their work and the culture they’ve created.

Remote managers need more energy, because a lot of what you have to do is transfer that energy to your team, says Juliana Slye, who manages remote employees as director of the government division at software maker Autodesk, based in San Rafael, California.

The successful remote manager has the following traits: Passion. A remote set-up won’t work unless your employees are motivated and running in sync — collaborating, asking each other for help, sharing ideas. That energy has to start with you. You don’t need to start each day smiling from ear to ear, but if you’re annoyed every time an IM breaks your train of thought or you’re not good about remembering to check in with people, running remote teams probably isn’t for you.

Availability. Good remote communication requires extra effort. You need to go out of your way to address issues that would come up naturally and spontaneously if you all worked in one place. When your staff is spread across a number of time zones, they need to feel comfortable calling you at odd hours — even if it’s dinner hour. Beyond the guidance or answers you can provide, which allows them to move forward with their work, your availability shows support, which helps strengthen your relationships with everyone. That said, establish reasonable guidelines about when to call.

Patience. A two-hour dinner with an employee across the country may take up two days with travel time. And it may take two hours instead of 10 minutes to schedule a conference call. The lesson here? Budget extra time for common group tasks. This doesn’t necessarily hurt productivity. For instance, conference calls are usually shorter and more to the point than a meeting in person, where members of the group are bound to do more small talk.

Reliability. By doing what you say you’ll do — whether it’s helping solve a problem or sending a new laptop — you foster trust. Your reliability shows respect for what your workers are doing. Without that, they’ll quit asking for help, and you’ll fall out of the loop. #Trust is particularly important in distance relationships,says management consultant Debra Dinnocenzo, author of How to Lead from a Distance. You build trust through actions that demonstrate reliability, integrity, and familiarity.

Kelly Pate CNET Networks
Courtesy of the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Jamaica
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