Remote team management is more common than ever. Today 1.2 billion workers, one third of the global workforce, are affected by this phenomenon. In what ways can distance affect an organization? And, as managers, what can you do to further assert, improve remote workers wellbeing and cultivate your leadership?
From salespeople to technicians, remote management is now an integral part of the working world. Far from being a passing fashion, this heavy trend concerns both multinationals, with their large regional structures, and smaller organizations, whose teams are often relocated. It is therefore better to familiarize yourself with this very common reality in various contexts, whether it is managing teams spread over several sites, composing with employees who telework at home or leading virtual teams, all without talk about mobile work. However, if you are only in occasional contact with your employees and if, moreover, you communicate with them mainly by email, telephone or text, how can you mobilize, motivate and direct them? How do you make sure they are fully engaged and live up to expectations?
To answer these questions correctly, the problem must first be understood.
So what are the challenges for a manager in remote management?
The first challenge is to manage staff when the number and quality of informal exchanges are scarce. In this context, managers do not always have the opportunity to use their flair and discernment to decode the moods of the members of their teams. In the workplace, there are many unplanned meeting opportunities: traveling in the corridors, sharing a table at meal times, short discussions near the endless coffee machine, etc. However, in a remote work context, these opportunities are limited in favor of more formal, more structured and planned methods, which considerably transforms the levers of action available to managers.
However, informal exchanges are essential for understanding organizational dynamics. They allow not only to share information but also, for example, to coordinate activities, to transmit information and to promote mutual adjustments. Informality therefore plays a key role in the processes of socialization; influence and decision-making at work, not to mention the fact that it is often in the informal sphere that managers manage to exercise their full leadership.
The second challenge related to distance is that of communication. How do you make sure you are understood if you use a tool like email, which is sometimes confusing? How to prevent conflicts that may arise from it? In short, how to have influence?
Although technical means such as videoconferencing are improving at an accelerated rate, research on the use of these tools shows that none of them has yet managed to reproduce the communication richness of real human contact. Indeed, these tools reduce interactivity and interfere with the faithful transmission of non-verbal messages, which complicates the decoding of emotions, the interpretation of messages and, consequently, the adjustment of speech.
The third challenge of remote management is that of control. When you are far from your employees, traditional control mechanisms are generally ineffective. What mechanisms are these? there are three in the case of a real proximity contact:
– The place, since the manager’s presence and gaze promote the discipline and attendance of his employees;
– Time, because the manager can check who is there and who is absent;
– The actions, that is to say the control of the accomplishment of the tasks, the observance of the administrative rules as well as the respect of cadences, methods and work processes. This type of control is an important source of power for any manager. How can you control work without being able to directly observe your employees?
One thing is certain: the way to exercise the profession of manager in a remote work context is based on a different paradigm. A new approach is therefore essential to achieve its objectives in such a situation.
The solution: the feeling of proximity
Since distance neutralizes direct control, managers must change their approach. Rather than closely supervising work in all its aspects, they must ensure the good performance of their employees by using new methods: empowerment, autonomy support, confidence. One way to do this is to set goals, in collaboration with employees, and then monitor achievement by various staff.
However, this new role of managers in a remote management context requires new skills. Some research1 shows, for example, that a strong feeling of proximity facilitates exchanges and communication, promotes the emergence of a feeling of confidence, simplifies collaboration, increases staff retention and leads to better overall performance of workers in addition to ” be positively associated with staff commitment and satisfaction.