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Our seventh and final post in the Telework Week 2012 series is from Sharlyn Lauby, president at ITM Group and a regular Workshifting.com contributor.

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A growing question for organizations with remote workers: How can our managers lead teams of people they don’t see every day? It’s a legitimate question. With an increased focus on telework, comes a new set of rules for managers. Or does it really? Is it possible that what we really need to do is use the same tried and true management philosophies but add a new telework-type twist?

Here are 7 management rules with a new spin for telework team success:

  1. Share the Purpose – Years ago, I remember seeing a certain hospital video. I wish I could tell you today which hospital but the video went like this: A doctor states: “I help people get better.” Then a nurse says: “I help people get well.” Lastly, a custodial worker asserts, “I help people get better.”

    The hospital understood the value in making sure every employee knew their mission. Like a remote worker, because they weren’t in the operating room the custodial worker could have felt removed from the healthcare work being done in the building. Instead, the worker understood that seeing a clean and well-maintained building let patients know they would receive good care. Telling your team their purpose and how it fits into the overall goals of the organization is so important. If the employees don’t know, how can you expect them to work toward the organizational mission?

  2. Give People the Right Tools – Being a workshifter can often mean using a different set of tools. Whether it’s home office equipment or technology, employees need the right tools to do their job.

    It’s possible giving teleworkers the right tools will take some creativity on the part of managers. First, managers need to make sure that the tools being asked for are really necessary. It’s easy to get distracted by the latest big, shiny object. And if the tool makes sense, the manager needs to put together a business case to get it. Often these tools are different than the ones used in a traditional office environment, so justification might be required.

  3. Think Results – There are two kinds of projects: ones where the process is just as important as the outcome, and ones where the outcome is the only thing that matters. As managers, it’s part of our job to know the difference. And, realistically speaking, not everything needs a defined process.

    For workshifting teams, managers should make sure employees know which assignments and projects are process-driven and the ones where there is some flexibility. This drives how telework teams get work done.

  4. Tell them how to manage up – Telework team members aren’t in the office all the time learning how you work. Instead of making your team members figure out the best time to get your attention – tell them. Let them know the best topics to cover via email and the ones they should call about. Also inform them of those things they can just handle and never tell you. Or the ones they can handle and tell you after the fact.

    As managers, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out the right ways to direct employees, to coach their performance and to recognize them properly. Why not also let employees know how they should deal with you as their manager? It would save a lot of time and frustration.

  5. Communicate instead of checking in – Managers should regularly communicate with the team – both individually as well as in a group. But it’s important to use that time productively. If employees are meeting their deadlines and delivering quality, don’t use the time for “status reports”. There’s nothing more boring than a “Let’s go around the room and have everyone tell us what they’re working on” meeting.

    Look for creative ways to discuss work, possibly shifting the focusing to the project and not the individuals. That way every employee feels they can participate in the conversation. Also, managers should solicit agenda items from employees in advance, so they can discuss the topics necessary for employees to do productive work.

  6. Hold people accountable – If someone on the team doesn’t deliver something on time or with the quality expected, it’s critical that the manager discuss it with the employee. The conversation doesn’t need to be mean or involve punishment. But let’s face it, sometimes communications aren’t as clear as they should have been. What one person said, isn’t what the other person heard. These are opportunities to talk about where the breakdown occurred.

    If communication isn’t the issue, then this is still an opportunity to talk with the employee and understand what went wrong. Maybe they need some sort of equipment (see #2) or there’s a new problem that needs to be addressed.

  7. Recognize success! – It might sound like a no-brainer but managers must remember to celebrate successes. This takes some creativity because you can’t just buy pizza for everyone in the office when it comes to workshifting teams. But you could send each team member a pizza gift card.

    Focus on remembering how each person wants recognition. Sometimes sending a group email would be very appropriate and other times individual recognition will be best.

If you are responsible for a virtual team, you can still use the management skills that have served you well over the years. But instead of having workshifters conform to old ways of working, think about ways to creatively manage the virtual aspect of your team and its members.

For my fellow workshifters out there, what other success strategies would you recommend for managers?

Photo credit: Don Fulano

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