What is Remote team management?
Remote team management is the ability to effectively coordinate and organize a group, whose members are not in the same place or time zone or do not even work for the same entity. Remote team management requires team leaders to have a thorough understanding of people, job roles, processes and technology. It is built on three key pillars: purpose, trust and clarity.
Overseeing remote workers presents unique challenges for supervisors. It requires managers to ensure ongoing communication, strengthen team norms and workplace culture, encourage online collaboration, proactively canvass the perspectives and input of everyone on the teams. It is also key for managers to be informed and trained in how to prevent unwelcome behaviour from happening in a remote environment, equally, how to foster the wellbeing and work-life balance of those who work remotely.
Remote Team Management
Remote work presents its unique challenges but opportunities too. For example, we know from research and experience that concerns from leadership in terms of the effect of flexible working on engagement and productivity have been found even at the most senior levels of organisations. Not surprisingly, this often leads to inconsistent remote work practices, low level of take-up of policies, and leaving remote work, and its success, to the skills and decisions of team leaders. In addition, as the executives did not use FWAs themselves, this tended to reinforce the message that flexible working is career limiting.) The main benefit of virtual teaming is that it allows organizations to be more flexible and procure talent from different functions, locations, and organizations without geographical restrictions. The main drawback owes to lost context, which generates feelings of isolation and undermines trust (especially when members are from different cultures.
The purpose of the team: One initial task in the implementation of a remotely managed team is for managers to define the general purpose of the team, together with taking a decision of the level of virtuality (what levels of virtuality are suited for which task) that might be necessary to achieve team goals.
Personnel selection/support and personal considerations: In normal circumstances, pre-COVID-19, remote teams are composed to bring together a number of specific competencies, technical skills, knowledge, expertise or abilities. Based on research there are three main individual attributes that are important for remote teams to function effectively. They are general cognitive abilities, task-work-related attributes (e.g., conscientiousness, integrity), and teamwork-related socio-emotional attributes (e.g., emotional stability, extraversion, agreeableness).
Task design: For remote team management the question of task design and considering what kind of work is more appropriate to be carried out virtually must be fundamental. In general, tasks are better suited for virtual teams that are based on a higher degree of information-based work such as sales, procurement, HR, project management, research and development etc. Next to task design another important area for managers to look into is task interdependence which indicates the degree of task-driven interaction between team members. For example, a high level of task interdependence is when team members need to collaborate and coordinate their work so frequently that the performance of one employee strongly affects the overall performance and work process of the team. Task interdependence, in earlier studies, has been conceptualized as one of the most important management practices to increase communication and connectedness among team members.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed millions of people to use remote working proving that many tasks can be done remotely. More than one year in the pandemic, the question of the town is: what hybrid model of remote work will most likely persist after we all get back to a new normal. To get more clarity on this many forward-looking organisations already started reviewing their work practices, analysing task designs, and with the involvement of their team leaders take stock of the experience of the pandemic. What we know is that they thoroughly assess individual and team task designs as they will fundamentally determine the future of remote working and the function of offices. We support organisations with such assessments, especially, through the design of remote working surveys, or training for managers or effective remote work management.
Organisational culture: Our research has shown that organisational context variables such as the level of autonomy and trust exhibited by managers towards their remote team members, work-life boundary control, or organizational support in the form of resources or training, have all considerable influence on the effectiveness of remote teams.
Performance management through Management by Objectives: The Management by Objectives (MBO) framework is one of the cornerstones of a successful remote working programme. Lately, MBO has also been applied successfully by organisations in their effort to roll out and manage remote working - or teleworking - programs that are goal-oriented and supported by skills development action plans, deadlines, performance review and communication frameworks. One overarching concept in the MBO model is planning, which presupposes organisations and their employees to not only react to internal challenges or external events but become proactive in acting upon them. Thus, MBO requires remote workers to plan and set personal goals, in concert with their managers and team members, closely tied together with the overall goals of the organisation.
There is a myriad of ways through which organisations can implement the MBO framework. At the WorkLife HUB through training and consulting we support organisations putting the Management by Objectives framework into practice that is built on a 5-step strategy.
Training and team development: In addition to the above described principles remote teams, and their managers, can be supported by team and personnel level learning and development programmes. The creation of such programmes must be always based on an empirical assessment of the actual needs of the team, its members, and leaders. The content of such training may target the following areas: goal setting (clarification of roles and team goals), or the development of intra-team processes (conflict management, online communication, reporting and performance feedback, code of conduct).
Remote working and teleworking practices have become the norm during the COVID-19 induced lockdowns. Over the years we not just provided practical advice for organisations and their managers on how to implement and be effective in remote work settings, but supported some of the leading international institutions, such as the ILO or the Council of Europe, with research and recommendations on the best possible way of implementing remote work policies. Remote teams and their management are here to stay with us for a long time and we are ready to support organisations with our expertise and insight in their efforts to make it a success.