How can technology help me manage my team when they are based in different locations?
Managing people in different geographical locations is a tough challenge. But if you imagine it as being the same as managing a team based on multiple floors of the same office block, then add today’s technology to the equation, it’s definitely much easier than it was even five years ago.
From experience, I’ve found that there are a couple of golden rules you need to follow if you want to successfully manage and bring out the best in distributed teams, that is to say people who are based in different locations but are working on the same projects.
Be social, but not too social
Internal social media channels are a great way to keep lines of communication open and flowing when your team is spread far and wide. They are the water coolers of the distributed work place. But there are some drawbacks to using social media.
It’s important to ensure that you are using channels that everyone enjoys or is familiar with using. Otherwise they won’t adopt it and use it as you’d like.
Instead they will each gravitate to what they do know and like and then you’ll end up with fragmented lines of communications. If you want to introduce a new social media communication tool then poll your team on what they prefer to use and then select one that best fits with the majority preference.
That way, you will automatically secure adoption. There is a caveat though. As with all social media, employees have to understand that it is public and they should evaluate what they have written before they post something.
Otherwise it could lead to them losing their job. There are some great internal business social media tools. Our favourite is Yammer.
It doesn’t really matter whether you are managing a team that is based in different parts of the country, continent or region; you still need to be absolutely crystal clear in the way you communicate.
Tools such as Box, Flowdock, Dropbox and many, many more are used by businesses to bring teams together and get them communicating on projects or business issues.
But as well as these communications tools, don’t forget the power of the simple meeting.
Just 15 minutes catching up every morning can set the team on the right path for the day and with Skype, there’s no excuse not to have some face-to-face time together.
Time zones can sometimes make this difficult but persevere. You will find it becomes the most valuable 15 minutes of your day.
If you’re using social media channels, project management tools and then supplementing all this with a daily team meeting, then it might start to feel like overkill.
But through experience, I know that over-communication has never broken a business. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to spend more than half your time communicating.
Everyone needs to be involved in what is happening across your business. If you don’t communicate regularly then the outposts will start to assume the worst.
So keep everyone updated and make them feel closer to the centre. GoToMeeting and Skype with group video are tools that we would find it hard to live without.
Put names to faces
Technology is great. It’s agile, gives instant access to people and information globally and saves a great amount of time and resource.
But it’s no substitute for good old face-to-face communication. So if you manage a distributed team then the very best piece of advice I can share is never let technology become your primary communication tool.
Get on a plane and go and see your team on their home turf. Bond with them, understand their culture, how they work and listen to them.
Most importantly, get to know them as people. Have a beer, a laugh or two and you’ll create a first-class culture that will withstand the fact that you work at different desks in different locations.