How I Manage a Team From the Other Side of the World

In this interactive, interconnected era, it’s easier than ever to work remotely and not to miss a beat. Thanks to new and evolving technology, you can sign in and gain access to whatever materials or meetings you need, and you can collaborate on presentations or documents in real time while situated from far away. It’s not only possible to keep up with your team, business technology and innovation have made growing and scaling an organization more achievable in a shorter amount of time.

By now, everyone knows the benefits that come with giving employees the ability to work from home at times and granting a flexible work schedule. However, one topic that I believe has been underemphasized inside this conversation is how managers who travel for business can carry all of their responsibilities while on the road. Or, in my case, managers who live in a different country from the rest of their team.

I live in Amsterdam, but the team I supervise is spread out in New York City, San Francisco, and Tokyo. No matter how often you can make the trip to be there in person, this type of long-distance work relationship requires some creative thinking and commitment from all members of the team. Here are some of helpful tricks I’ve found that make this process seamless and smooth:

The timezone challenge

Whenever you work out of a different city from a colleague, there will be concerns about when and how to connect. Don’t commit one party to a tough timeslot for a weekly meeting: alternate the meeting times so the team shares that pain, and feels it less. Embrace the flexibility offered to tune in from home before or after work and to adjust their work hours around your pre-arranged call.

In addition, because I’m not there in person to run into people in the halls and find out how they’re doing, more scheduled meetings are necessary. But that doesn’t mean they have to eat into your worktime; check-ins should be short. Do it stand-up style where everyone gives a quick update on what they’re working on and which obstacles may be standing in their way. Be as efficient as possible.

Setting clear objectives

Because so much of our team operates independently, you must develop very clear objectives with your teams and work together on a plan to meet those goals. That way, everyone on the team, regardless of their location, knows what the focus areas are and who is in charge. You need to trust your team to get the job done and to make their deadlines.

For the day-to-day interaction, instant messaging tools like Gchat and WhatsApp can do the trick, but nothing replaces face-to-face communication that services like Skype can provide. If someone gets stuck on a problem, offer to jump on a quick call with them to talk them through possible solutions. Just because someone has stated goals doesn’t mean you want them to operate in a silo. Being available to your team is crucial to success.

Quality time

I try to make it into the New York headquarters as much as I can, and I know when I’m there I have to maximize my time with the team. That means not overbooking myself in meetings with executives. Make sure you spend enough time with your team to really understand what they’re thinking about or struggling with.

I’ve found that one week is not enough time to accomplish everything I want to do on a business trip to our headquarters. I try to schedule more time, up to two weeks. I want to be there not only to field questions about the direction we’re heading, but also to have dinner or drinks with team members and to get to know them better.

About the Author

Gerd Mittmann is VP of Marketing for APAC and EMEA, focusing on marketing efforts to Shutterstock customers and contributors in those regions.

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