Many managers have the opportunity / expectation to manage teams who are not in the same work space as they, the managers, are.
The challenges to this type of management are, at least, as many as they would be when managing a team in the same work place but these challenges are exacerbated by the nature of the remote work locations.
Managing a team of workers towards a well known result is often difficult. When, however, the expected results are not clearly defined, as in many projects, departments, projects, it becomes even more difficult.
If there is one fundamental requirement for effective Management, I believe, this is “Communication”. Clear and open communication is critically important in any team effort and having team members work remotely puts even more importance on this fundamental skill.
Time, Cost, Quality and Scope are absolutely critical aspects of team work and these must be accurately measured and managed. Regardless of the team members’ locations, these measurement factors must be clearly established (communicated) to all the team members at the beginning of any work effort so that they are all aware of and accept the targeted metrics for these factors on each work effort. Whether or not a team is geographically dispersed, these factors must be understood and accepted.
During the execution or performance of each engagement, the measured progress through these metrics of Time, Cost and Quality will need to be presented, explained, and managed so that each team member knows what their contributions have been, whether they are within tolerable limits for their work, and what they will / may need to do in order to bring their efforts and results back into line with the predetermined expectations.
The Scope of a work effort can also be affected by the proximity of the team members. When a change is identified, it is critical, once again, to clearly communicate what is expected from each change, how it can impact work that has already been completed and that which is still planned, what will the cost of these changes be and, as critical, when will the ultimate user or client want these changes applied. With a remote team, these points must be analyzed, agreed upon, and understood especially in terms of the acceptance / approval and timing of the application of these changes.
In some instances, remote team members, have the opportunity to work on different portions of the 24 hour world clock (i.e. the Manager may be working in India (IST) while some of the team members may be in other parts of the world: China, South Africa, or North or South America, etc.). This situation will require that even more emphasis be placed on clear, written, accessible communication. And, if translation services need to be applied, this will further complicate the communication efforts.
The importance of a Communication Plan in the setting of a geographically dispersed team becomes more important given these possibilities and complicating factors.