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Managing Remote Teams July 27, 2009

Posted by Tim Rodgers in International management, Management & leadership.
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I’ve just read a great article “Managing At a Distance” written by Billie Williamson from Ernst & Young in the July 16 issue of Business Week, see also http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_30/b4140064520044.htm. Ms. Williamson shares her insights about managing remote teams, the effectiveness of new forms of web-based communication, and tips on how to build participation and engagement when non-verbal cues are absent.

As travel budgets are squeezed, firms of all sizes are looking for ways to maintain strong connections with customers, suppliers, and employees located at remote sites. I’m a big believer in MBWA and regular, face-to-face contact, and obviously I’ve had to learn other ways to manage when those teams and partners are not in the same city. What I’ve found is that while there are many relatively low-cost communication channels available today — including email, instant messaging, phone conferencing, and web-based real-time presentation — it’s still a challenge to create and maintain a collaborative environment with people you don’t see every day.

While at Hewlett-Packard I managed a department with engineers in three different locations in the western US, and we worked very closely with engineering service providers in China, India, and Singapore. I felt it was important to establish an early, emotional connection with my remote subordinates, so I scheduled a trip to the other US locations, spending a week at each site. I didn’t want to just fly in and fill my day with one oversight meeting after another in a conference room far from the other members of the team. Instead, I tried to duplicate my work week at my home location, doing MBWA, meeting with junior members of team informally over lunch, and generally immersing myself in the local workplace.

It wasn’t the kind of thing I could afford to do often, but I think the early investment of time helped establish a stronger relationship of trust that would have been impossible to create through strictly electronic means. I know I respond much more quickly and eagerly when I receive a message from someone I’ve met face-to-face, in contrast to someone I know only from their picture or email address. The availability of lower-cost videoconferencing will help in this regard, but I think managers will always face a special challenge in trying to avoid “local bias” when working with remote teams. More on that in a later post.

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Comments»

1. Long Distance Project Management « Managing in the 2000s - March 29, 2012

[…] 1. As with any project, early planning is the key, specifically alignment about the project objectives and roles and responsibilities for all parties. I prefer in-person kick-off meetings with the remote team members to give plenty of time for discussion and questions, although for some that may not be practical due to travel costs or other restrictions. We certainly have the technology today to enable productive meetings without travel, but there’s a lost opportunity to build confidence during informal social encounters. I find that I have a stronger sense of obligation and personal commitment after I’ve shared a meal with someone, at least to have a face and a story to associate with the name. See more at: Managing Remote Teams. […]

2. 2013 Year in Review: Lessons Learned | Managing in the 2000s - December 17, 2013

[…] in June. I re-read a couple of my previous blog posts for advice (See: 30-60-90 Day Plans and  Managing Remote Teams), and generally spent my time learning about the people, processes, and products at the company. My […]


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