By Bryan Orr

I recently received an email asking for some feedback on effectively managing a remote team when you can’t supervise them in person. This had come up on an episode of my podcast, but it’s a question that I get a lot.

It’s a good question; it’s an issue that impacts many service-based businesses. You can train processes and practices when you’re present, but can you say with certainty whether it is actually done like that when they get out there with the customer?

Here are six tips for managing a remote team.

1. Know Your Priorities

You cannot and must not attempt to micro-manage a remote team. You need to be clear as to what things are most important to you (Hint: Fit it all on one page with #11 font).

Once you know the objectives that are vital to your business, make sure you are getting agreements with your staff about these priorities. Written agreements are great but it is also good to stand face to face and ask. “Do you agree to these objectives?” and hear them say, “Yes.”   

2. Have Your Staff Communicate

Don’t chase your people for information about what’s going on. Have them report in regularly to you about their objectives and challenges. Whether it’s a daily summary due at 3:00 p.m., or a weekly summary due on Tuesday EOD, this helps you in adjusting the workload, and it helps them refocus on a regular basis.

If you find that someone is closing up or failing to communicate, use a specific schedule for reports or phone calls. If an employee continues to refuse to communicate, remind them of their agreement to communicate as a term of their employment.

3. Ask for Feedback

Make customer feedback a regular part of your business. It is best if this comes from another staff member that was not involved in the interaction. We have a pleasant staff member whose main job is to call back every customer after we serve them to see if there was anything we could have done better.

4. Get Training

In a business with remote staff you will need to provide a lot of training. Every employee should have some form of training at least once a week. There is too much opportunity for them to pick up bad habits when they are by themselves for you to leave their training to chance.

Group training can also be a good opportunity to build camaraderie into an otherwise isolated work environment such as service or remote staffing.

5. Watch Without Interfering

We have all of our staff communicate on company message boards instead of in private communication. This allows our management team to have a good general idea of what is going on without needing to make a bunch of calls. Sure, there is overhead to group communications, but if a customer service issue does arise that I need to become involved in, I usually already know something about the situation.

6. Incentivize What You Want More Of

In a remote team you are relying heavily on the motivation of the individual to get work done. Ask yourself, “Am I incentivizing excellence?” Many companies punish screwing up far more than they reward great customer service or problem solving. Do you have a clear way to reward your employees for productivity? Customer service? Quality? Communication? Problem solving?

We have a few different reward schemes ranging from a broadcast email whenever we get a review that mentions a specific technician, through a monthly cash bonus that can be earned. These rewards are always for giving the customer an overwhelmingly positive experience while serving the company, as opposed to pure performance bonuses.

7. Be Specific

When managing a remote team you often don’t have the benefit of nonverbal communication cues. This means you need to be  SPECIFIC about exactly what you mean when you are communicating. Don’t assume anything and don’t give or accept throw away confirmations like, “You know what I mean.” or “Does that make sense?” or “Uh huh.”

Communicate with phrases like, “Repeat back to me what we discussed so I know we didn’t miss anything.”  and “I want to make sure I heard you right.” and close agreement with clear yes and no confirmations.

Are you being intentional about managing your team? What could you do differently?