Five top tips for managing people you seldom see

publication date: Feb 23, 2012
When most people hear the term "remote worker," they imagine someone physically located far away. Yet the reality of nonprofit achievement is that even in a small, local charity you may depend on volunteers and board members to accomplish vital work without frequent personal contact. You must maintain a top-notch working relationship with your board chair even though she isn't on site and doesn't see your daily work. And sometimes, in larger organizations or international agencies, you manage staff in another location.

From Spain, CEO Michael Hyatt leads an Internet company based in Poland with collaborators in Japan and the USA - oh, and one person in Germany. With such a scattered work force, he's well-qualified to address the challenges you face in managing people you seldom see. Fortunately, as an Internet specialist, he's got the technological tools and solutions to make your challenges manageable. His five top tips work just as well for nonprofit leaders.

Schedule weekly reviews

You won't be able to give everyone a weekly review. Choose those who are leading projects, staff teams or programs and spend an hour with each of them every Monday. Hyatt says it will help you focus, summarize last week's achievements and set priorities for the coming week.

Host a weekly team meeting

This needn't be in person, but it should involve everyone. A conference call keeps everyone informed, promotes bonding, allows questions, and creates a chance for the informal chat that helps everyone get to know one another.

Schedule your own time carefully   

Hyatt warns that managing people who aren't there can easily put you in "response mode" all the time: feeling that you must answer every email message or phone call right away so other people can stay on their work plans. Set aside time for your own creative and analytical work, and make it known that you should only be interrupted for emergencies.

In the same way, create a generous window of response time every day. Let your team know that during these hours, they're your priority. You'll be answering their emails, scheduling meetings, responding to their calls and available for brainstorming.

Communicate through online collaboration apps

Email wasn't designed for online collaboration, Hyatt explains. His team uses Dropbox, GoogleDocs, Socialcast and its own project management application to work together online.

Control is good, trust is better

Trust your team to deliver, urges Hyatt. People work better when you trust them. Trust yourself too. You'll notice if someone isn't delivering - you don't need to be on top of them. Hyatt's team enjoys a yearly retreat with plenty of time for working and socializing. You may be able to bring your people together physically more often for shorter periods of time. Just make sure it happens regularly and that there's time for bonding and relaxing as well as working.

You'll also need to go out of your way to create individual in-person contact with your team members. Whether it's lunch or just a coffee, those contacts build trust as well as moving your work goals forward.

Leading a remote team is never easy. But it is doable, Hyatt concludes, with the right technology and above all, an unflagging intention.

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