We are learning about being a remote team managers; we’ve got new academic insights and at last some concrete ideas about how management is different when we have geographically dispersed team members.
The differences may be quite small, but they are very significant. If you are managing any number of remote team members then there’s stuff you really do need to know.
Like the impact that remote working can have on the inherent trust levels of the team members. Reduce the physical interaction and communication levels and immediately you start to reduce trust. Add in the unknown ‘what’s Bob doing today’ type of thing, and again the trust levels begin to suffer.
Isolate people and reduce the perception of support, and many will start to feel more vulnerable and at risk in all sorts of ways. Out of sight, out of mind concerns will start to flourish and then people will begin noticing ‘it’s those in the office that get all the promotion opportunities, not us field workers’.
All of this contributes to the very real possibility that trust will decay in any team that has to work in a dispersed way. Countering this becomes a very real requirement of the remote team manager.
Understanding the ingredients of trust and working to ensure they are all propagated is a new role on top of everything else the manager may be doing.
Reducing all kinds of risk
There are a number of things that help this. One of the big ones has to do with reducing the level of risk that the team members feel.
Risk is very linked with trust. If you think about it, you don’t really have to trust someone until something is a risk. I could give a complete stranger an empty wallet, I don’t really have to trust them much. Stuff that wallet with money and cards and now I have something at stake, it would become an act of trust to hand it over.
Risk can have a number of forms for the remote worker. There is the obvious potential increase in wellbeing risk, dealing with the lone worker issue.
Then there’s the risk of maverick decision making and action taking. Left alone, the individual is likely to have to make more assumptions, choosing to act on occasions without checking or seeking approval for those actions. This idea can also contribute to the increase in organisational reputation risk.
Risk mitigation on all these levels must become a priority activity for the remote team manager. We need to create strong circles of safety where risk is shared but also limited as much as possible. That way trust is not threatened.
If I allow increasing risk to develop for the team members then I start to challenge peoples willingness to trust. Couple that with less interaction with each other and you have a recipe for trust breakdown.
A practical solution for managers
One very practical solution is to create a weekly vehicle for remote team workers to share two pieces of important information as needed. These are:
- Issues for discussion
- Risks for escalation.
Every week, ask your team members to email or post any arising issues for joint discussion and resolution, plus any risks that have emerged for escalation.
Encouraging the team members to surface these two things as they arise creates an environment that feels supportive and safe. It also gives you the heads up on what’s going on, enabling you to step in and intervene where needed.
Mitigating risk has a new more important order in day to day management of remote teams, so work out how to surface potential issues early and help to create a trusting safe environment for all your remote team members.
Latest posts by Bob Bannister (see all)
- Leading remote workers in the digital era - July 9, 2019
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