By Cliff Pollan, Sococo
Team managers, no matter what industry they’re in, will typically experience a common set of challenges – motivating the team, maintaining engagement, creating an environment that promotes team success, to name a few. Now, imagine how much harder it becomes to overcome these challenges when your team is located in, say, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and London. How can team leaders effectively manage a team that’s not even in the same office, let alone on the same continent?
Already, 43 percent of US workers are telecommuting. If you’re one of this 43 percent, you might find yourself in a scenario where you boot up your computer after a week’s vacation, looking to catch up on that latest project. You chat with or email the team to check on the status, but get no response for hours. Because you weren’t in last week’s status call, you’re also unsure of where the latest version is and spend 30 minutes chasing it down over email. This run-around is all due to the inaccessibility of your coworkers, the lack of physical proximity to each other and low engagement.
Moreover, you wouldn’t be the only one experiencing this. Already, 63 percent of employees across 142 countries are not engaged, and 24 percent are actively disengaged at work – remote or not. Engagement has a significant impact on a company’s performance, as it strongly influences productivity, profitability, customer ratings, turnover and absenteeism. You might have the best managerial skills, and may have years of experience managing a team, but none of that matters if your employee base is not engaged.
As the number of remote workers and distributed teams grows in tandem with a widespread feeling of disengagement, one of the biggest changes that team leaders will have to make in the next five years is adjusting how they cater to those employees that want to work flexible hours or remotely. As managers seek to hire and keep the best talent, offering workplace flexibility while still equipping employees with the tools to stay socially engaged is quickly becoming a critical element to retaining a high-performing workforce.
So what does this mean for business leaders? How can they achieve this seemingly contradictory feat – bringing employees together while simultaneously spreading teams geographically apart to encompass the best talent and achieve the best results? To be able to get the right work done at the right moment and with the right people, organizations must connect their remote teams on an emotional level. This requires commitment and investment in creating an environment where employees feel connected to both their colleagues and the organization. That connectedness will promote an environment where people are more open and cooperative, even when they aren’t in the same office as their colleagues.
Organizations can start becoming more cohesive by fostering a culture built on the five points of connection:
When team leaders create and clearly communicate the core purpose and vision of an organization, each employee can understand how he or she can add to a shared mission. When individuals feel they are helping attain the company’s larger goals on an ongoing basis, the sense of social engagement deepens.
Companies can amplify the internal sense of belonging by devolving from a command and control management style to one where people have more responsibility to deliver on desired outcomes rather than be limited to specific activities and tasks. Moving away from a command and control structure also frees senior management’s time to focus on managing social distance, the principal and primary management goal for today’s global team leader, according to Tsedal Neeley, an associate professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.
Founder and CEO of FlexJobs, Sara Sutton Fell, says the most important factor when hiring managers bring on a remote worker is finding someone who is trustworthy. Get to know your employees and understand what they are passionate about. Deploy them on projects that align with their interests, skills and development goals. Even with distributed teams, it’s important to build in time for “water cooler” conversations and spend time outside of just assigned workloads in order to form bonds and build trust.
Employees’ time can be drained by the constant demands of update meetings and zillions of emails. By moving to a more agile and responsive work environment that is characterized by spontaneous meetings, update feeds and rapid-fire Q&As, companies not only waste less time and increase productivity, but they actually create more connected environments. Enabling remote and distributed employees to see each other’s activity and current statuses helps build an understanding about employee accessibility and project status.
Companies have remote workers, flexible workers, people starting early, people finishing late, people out traveling to meet customers and attending various industry events. It is important to be able to bring all of these people together in a way that connects them into a united team. Technology can effectively bridge physical distance and build connections that give everyone a true sense of belonging. The most effective tools go beyond standard email, chat and voice technology to actually help encourage spontaneous engagement and interaction.
Distributed teams and the future workplace
In the near future, we are going to be more focused than ever on smoothing out the kinks of remote working. That means we’ll see team leaders move toward tactics, tools and technology that help build dynamic, fluid workspaces, eliminate the need for status updates and emails, speed instant conversation and open access to coworkers.
Sometimes, the best ideas are born when you least expect them, but they need a space to flourish. For distributed teams where a physical workplace is simply not an option, establishing an environment of connectedness can create that “space” – bringing the right people together at the right moments, no matter the distance between them.
This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of The Imaging Channel.