As fate would have it, I began developing a new module on “Managing from a Distance” for a new leadership development program during the height of the Coronavirus breakout. During the development of the content, the client organization I am developing the content for cancelled the live training and asked us to make it a virtual session.
Managing a team from a distance, whether expatriates on assignment, or employees who have been recruited locally, is a key leadership skill that is now more important than ever. If no boundaries are set, or they are set too tightly, the business may experience a breakdown of trust between you and the local team or individual.
As we start to understand the realities of the travel restrictions we are facing, it’s easy to make incorrect assumptions about one another when there is a distance that prevents face-to-face meetings. We might have an office in a different part of the word that you think mirrors your own, but no matter how big a brand we have, there will always be cultural differences that will affect the way that staff in each office performs.
If you don’t understand these differences, then you are likely to offend staff and damage both employee relations and potentially the long-term reputation of the business in that market.
To get this delicate balancing act right, it is essential that you pay attention to what Advantexe calls “The five C’s of managing staff from a distance: Context, Common Sense, Courtesy, Culture, Consistency.”
Context – As a leader of a remote team, you must always set and provide context to everyone, every day. Different market strategies, different customers, different products, and different regions can make surviving remotely extremely difficult and the first and most important thing you can do is provide simple context for your strategies and your actions.
Common Sense - The basic conditions through which an employee makes a contribution do not change whether the person works in a remote office or locally. They need a comprehensive and clear understanding of the role that they are required to perform and the targets that they are expected to meet. And they need regular, objective coaching and feedback.
They also need to understand the limits on their discretion and the rules of operation. For example, it must be clear to them when they can make a significant decision and when they must defer to you or other key stakeholders / decision makers. Any company employing staff remotely, either as expatriates or as local recruits, needs to ensure that all the documentation and communication is in place in terms of policies, procedures, authority limits, roles and responsibilities in order to minimize any confusion. It’s just common sense.
Courtesy – It is common courtesy to communicate well, reward, recognize, and acknowledge remote employees whenever appropriate. Employees working in a distant location respond very positively to being involved in communication and decision-making, particularly when they realize that you have gone to extra trouble to ask them to participate. Make sure they receive every communication that is distributed to your local employees and remember to add team members from distant locations to assess new product developments, marketing campaigns, sales programs, and other initiatives that involve them.
Culture – Try to be as sensitive to local cultures as you can. Especially if all your communications are now video conferencing based. You will generate immediate respect from international employees if you pay attention to local customs such as the way they greet each other or say goodbye. Everyone who has worked in a multinational business has learned the hard way that humor does not necessarily translate effectively, and that friendliness can sometimes be regarded as an unwanted familiarity.
Consistency - Be consistent, fair, and equal. When you lead a team that consists of local and distant workers, there is always the chance for misconceptions and feelings of inequality.
For example, you may lead a team of local people who come into an office every day and you may also lead a team of remote workers. Local employees may want to “work at home” more often and say, “Well the person in Japan works at home every day, why can’t I?” It could create confusion and hard feelings.
Your job is to be fair, equal, and consistent in your approach and with everything you do. And sometimes that could mean taking a hard line and letting everyone know the rules and how things work.
In summary, the next few months are going to be difficult and new skills and tools are going to be required. Hopefully some of these tips will make your remote leadership strategy more successful.