However disorienting and maddening the pace and rules of our
contemporary work life may be, let's understand a few things:
There's no turning back, it doesn't have to be bad, and there are
things you can do to set yourself up for success even in the face
of multiple challenges. A mobile workforce will be the norm, not
the exception. Here are 10 strategies to help you:
1. Focus on building
You are now in the business of managing relationships. Once a
quarter, audit your time. How often do you engage in activities
meant to foster strong relationships with your mobile employees?
Rate each relationship on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is weak and
10 is very strong. Craft a strategy for continuing to develop your
strong relationships and triage the weak ones. Ask yourself why
they are weak and what you can learn from them. Avoid finger
pointing. Instead, hold up the mirror to reflect on your own
opportunities for improvement. Extreme cases of employee
underperformance do not warrant time or effort. These, however, are
few and far between.
2. Streamline communications.
Consolidate and prioritize communications. Use email and instant
messaging (IM), texting, blogging, and threaded discussions for
relationship-driven communications (such as staying in touch and
building more personal connections). Communication of an important
nature should be cohesive and never delivered in fragmentary pieces
that then must be cobbled together by the receiver. Mutually assess
the communication preferences of yourself and your team members to
develop a communication plan. Avoid assumptions and revisit your
plan on a regular basis, especially when the nature of your work is
about to change.
3. Incorporate less didactic forms of
Determining the right amount of detail and when to provide detail
is an ongoing responsibility of managing a mobile worker. As a
general rule, less is more. This leaves bandwidth for the times
when lengthy, explicit instructions and information are essential
for the work at hand. Try working with more story-based forms of
communications. Sharing tidbits from the field and office in the
form of stories, anecdotes, case studies, jokes, innocent
productive gossip, and even metaphors will relay context, encode
key pieces of information, and give mobile workers a sense of
4. Spend more time listening.
This is obvious, but counterintuitive. When you are out of easy
reach and you are tasked with managing the performance of others,
it's easy to get sucked into the trap of needing to transmit lots
of information. In most cases, the opposite is most productive.
Make listening a priority. This is the hardest and most tiring
aspect of managing others. It is also the single most important
thing you can do accelerate the development of strong
relationships. Simply listening, however, is not enough. Keep an
open mind. Be present and try to enter the speaker's perspective.
This will help you ask effective questions and identify which
direction to go with your own needs and agenda. You'll be surprised
at what emerges.
5. Let mobile workers define communication and reporting
practices they want to follow.
Structure is critical. Adopt rules of engagement that place people
at the center of their own decisions. Managers provide the
boundaries and constraints, but let employees define the working
and communication styles, tools, and processes that will help them
perform at the best. Set expectations on two fronts. First, treat
these employees' defined practices as privileges that can and will
be modified if key performance metrics are not hit. Second, let
employees know there will be times when a project requires less
flexible, employee-driven communication and reporting practices.
6. Manage deliverables not activities.
Lots of project-oriented work is well suited to mobile workers.
Even roles that are more task-driven can be effectively managed if
they are broken into deliverables. For mobile workers, this may
mean collapsing some of the activities of a workflow's manual
checkpoints and controls into deliverables. Automation where
possible can be used, or batching activities into larger groups can
transform task-oriented jobs into deliverables. Realize that there
can be many facets of a person's job that need to be adjusted to
accommodate a mobile work style.
7. Engage in more frequent and informal performance
When you manage mobile workers, relationships are at the heart of
your job. Performance management does not need to be a loathsome,
administrivia obligation. Designing some unstructured, informal
ongoing dialogs with mobile employees about their performance goals
and personal development plans is a great way to strengthen
communication, and shows an active interest in your employees. This
might look and feel very different from one employee to the next,
but is another tangible way managers can adapt their style to match
the needs and preferences of employees. It works best when the
performance management conversation flows in both directions.
8. Give complete trust until given a concrete behavioral
reason to do otherwise.
According to a recent survey conducted by HR.com and i4cp,
listening and trust are the two most important factors to virtual
and remote teams. Without trust, relationships are bankrupt. Abuses
of trust can always be found, but these occur in spite of whatever
systems we put in place. Mobile workers thrive when managers give
them complete trust. In some respects, managers of mobile workers
have no other choice. Use trust to create strong relationships.
When some concrete behavior, and not just someone else's word of
mouth, shows that trust has been violated, then take your trust
awaybut not until then.
9. Use adaptive management styles tailored to individual
Every employee is different. Mobile workers make it easier for
managers to take a more personalized approach to how they work and
interact with members of their team. It takes more work and effort
on a manager's part, but the results can be phenomenal.
Understanding what enables each employee to perform at his best is
the most important responsibility of a manager.
10. Leverage technology.
Technology drives and supports managing mobile workers. Using
technology effectively is not as simple as it appears. Standard
models of communication and transaction should not always be mapped
in a simple one-to-one way. Communication and collaboration
technologies offer new and exciting models. These need to be
purposely exploited in order for organizations to realize the full
extent of benefits these wonderful new capabilities and features
Beyond email, IM, and phone, web conferencing plays a key role in
virtual team enablement. Your projects will lag if you can't be on
the same page with mobile workers. Take an inventory of the types
of things you and your virtual team must collaborate on. If the
list includes Word documents, spreadsheets, software applications,
or anything else on your desktop, web conferencing will be critical
for collaborating in real time.