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Are you a remote manager? A good one?

Are you a virtual manager?

Can you be effective if you are a “virtual” manager, commuting from home or a home office and being with your employees only part time?

Measuring your performance

In a virtual environment, people measure you mostly by your actions, and remember only the most recent good work you’ve done for them and for the organization.

The typical scenario for a virtual manager

Today, many companies hire great managerial talent who commute from a remote home location. Often, such senior managers start with a four-days-here, one-day-from-home plan that slowly degrades to two then sometimes three days operating remotely.  And some senior managers are quite successful at driving innovation, vision and excellence from a distance.  Some companies are operated entirely virtually and there is no other way to manage.

Does your performance need to be better if virtual?

[Email readers, continue here…]  I’d suggest that the quality of a senior manager who must control from a distance must be higher than one always on the spot in front of middle management and staff. And I’d think that not every such remote manager is able to rise to the occasion, constantly creating a sense of urgency and a push for excellence in his or her absence.  One thing is for sure. The risk of failure is higher when a manager is often absent from the scene of the problem, no matter how strong the person’s skills at delegation and no matter how competent your employees are, one level down the ladder.

Hone your skills of delegation

If you find yourself having to share your time between a distant location and home base, whether because of constant travel or living in a remote spot, you should redouble your energy – focusing your people at all levels toward being able to make decisions with skill and confidence.  You should hone your skills of delegation with accountability and practice your communication skills so that short communications count more than ever.

Ways to make virtual management work

And you should find ways to focus your people upon your vision of excellence without seeming to merely be a cheerleader encouraging from the sidelines.  Some great managers do this by keeping a mental or physical list of several, perhaps three, key performance indicators for each direct report, and quizzing about progress in regular planned or chance meetings.  Others keep a dashboard that alerts them to excursions from expectation and permits more management by exception.

How can you leave yourself behind when absent?

It’s all about your performance, especially when you’re physically absent some or much of the time.  Take a few minutes to think about ways in which you can creatively leave yourself behind when you are absent, encouraging others to feel your sense of urgency directed toward achievement of your vision, even in your absence.

  • I have managed remote teams for close to 20 years, very successfully. Greg Elofson is correct in saying you need more structure than local teams (not significantly but everyone needs to be on the same page), crystal clear and frequent communications. And for important things an email after the conference calls, summarizing the decisions made and the action items.

    It is certainly harder work to manage remote teams, but once you get it, it becomes a second nature.

  • fun fact: our team works most efficiently remotely than when all in the same office. is it odd to be in physical presence nowadays when emails, chat boxes, GIFs and emojis says it all so precisely?

  • Greg Elofson

    I’ve managed teams completely remotely on more than one occasion, and have had very high levels of success (and in some cases, mediocre success). There was two large differences to remote vs in office.

    First, respond *immediately* to communications…that keeps momentum going in the absence of your presence. Something like Slack is very good for that.

    Second, you need more structure and not less. Everyone needs to know what their deliverables are, and how they’re measured. Making the environment Agile, with daily standups, and *proper* planning meetings, keeps the momentum in place.

    If you do those two things, it will go very well. (is it more *work* than managing in office? Yes, it is.

  • The highly successful franchise industry is a model for remote management by the franchisor of the franchisee. As described in my recent book, Off The Top ( the key to performance in franchising is the operating manual, where each element of the operation of a remote unit is described in detail. There is zero tolerance for variance from the procedures described, without franchisor approval. Whoever is in charge, as the remote manager, must be trained to know exactly what is expected and how to react in the event there is a change in macro issues. It is all a matter of thre being an understanding of communications and rules.

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