Leading Remote Employees

Steve Coats

Q: I find it more difficult to lead people who work remote from me. What advice do you have to reach out to people who are located around the country and even around the world when budget doesn't allow for travel?

A: This is a growing issue and in my mind a very real issue. When using the LPI, one of the reasons people will be rated lower is because of distance—there aren't enough data points to determine whether a person is doing something only occasionally or very frequently.

In managing long-distance associates, the challenge is to be there for them, just as you are for the people working right beside you. Since it is more difficult to determine when your remote people are feeling either unstoppable or lousy, you have to put forth some effort to establish what they most need from you and how you can support them. In these distant relationships, it is crucial to do the things you can to establish as much trust as possible, as quickly as possible. Think about what that requires. It often means an upfront, in-person meeting followed by regular phone calls to talk about the nature of the relationship, not just the work itself. It means spending time with the individuals (even if it's over the phone) strengthening the relationship and making sure the people feel their voices are being heard. It is also about Encouraging the Heart. Some argue about the near impossibility to effectively recognize remote people, because of the perceived needs of time, money or other factors. But encouraging is always more about genuineness than slickness, and all people, remote or not, get a lift from unexpected things such as personal notes or congratulatory phone calls. These can be easily done. As a leader, you just have to pay closer attention, since the accomplishments of the remote person are usually not as easy to spot.

Remember that we choose to follow leaders based on the way the leaders make us feel. Therefore we're more likely to follow people who make us feel strong, powerful, valued, etc. Remote associates are no different. You just have to concentrate on ensuring that your remote people feel included, supported and part of a team. You must be there for them!

Reflection Question: Without getting on an airplane, what are 3 things you can do to continue to build trust and provide a sense of "being there" to your remote associates?

Steve Coats, managing partner and co-owner of International Leadership Associates

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