19 Mar

Making Remote Team Members into Managers

Whenever bloggers or journalists write about the pros and cons of remote working, the lists are pretty similar. They’re all subjects that we’ve discussed in depth on this blog, whether it’s the increase in productivity, or having access to global talent on the plus side. Or coping with some of the concerns about distributed teams such as isolation or accountability.

One recurring fear from remote staff is that ‘out of sight is out of mind.’ That remote workers are at a disadvantage because they are limited concerning who they interact with, in the company. Without the valuable human connections with the folks at the head office, it’s easier to get passed over for promotion.

As with most remote working concerns, while we’re sure there are some companies out there where that’s a problem, it doesn’t have to be. Helping your staff to progress in their careers takes the same sort of activity whether they work on or off-site. But it does help to think of things a little differently when you have a remote twist.

If you’re looking to promote from within your remote team, here are some pointers for making it a success.

Is everybody ready?

Knowing when your staff is ready for the next step is one of the big questions for managers to consider. You’re not just looking for someone who is doing a great job in their current role but is showing signs of being ready to take things to the next level. Good managers anticipate when their staff is prepared for more responsibility, so be on the lookout for things like:

Going the extra mile
A staff member who isn’t just doing what they’re hired for well, but is anticipating the next steps and offering that as well. This could be volunteering to mentor a new hire or to sit in for you at a (virtual) meeting.

Leadership Skills
When you have your daily stand-up (what do you mean, we haven’t converted you to the Agile Development Methodology yet? Come on, read our free eBook and make the change!) is this staffer showing they are in control of their tasks? If they need help, are they making sure they get it, or do they need hand-holding?

Supporting their Colleagues
As you know, great managers need to look after the people who work for them. If you have a team member, who is going out of their way to support and encourage their colleagues? They’re on their way to management.

Turning Negatives into Positives
Managers are held accountable when things go wrong. If you have an employee who is ready to hold their hands up and admit their failings, they’re in the right mindset. You’re also looking for someone who can take a failure and learn from it, not beat themselves or others up about it.

Communication
This one is really fundamental to remote working. As we’ve said once or twice, communication is the oxygen in the blood of virtual teams. In order to be ready for promotion, an individual needs to have mastered communicating while working remotely. That’s not only making sure that they use the right methods, and are accurate and concise in what they say. It’s also a question of understanding how difficult text-based communication can be, and taking a deep breath before taking offence.

When you start to see these signs emerging, that’s the time to think about organizing some training to help your staffer get to the next level. HR may not be used to arranging training courses in other countries, but there are always distance learning options which can be explored.

It’s also a good idea to encourage your staff to take a more proactive role within the company. If their exposure to other members of staff has been limited then try and change that. Connect them more directly to the company, so they can build their own support network going forward.

Represent

One of the critical things a remote manager can do to help their team is to represent. The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ adage isn’t entirely untrue. On-site employees get occasional face time with even the biggest of bosses. Remote employees tend only to have contact with colleagues when it’s work related. They won’t have random encounters in the car park, copy room or at the Christmas party.

So, your job as their manager is to make sure that people know who they are. Name check them often. Ensure that they’re included in the content of and distribution lists for internal newsletters and other company information. Get them invites to head office, if possible, and if not find ways they can be involved in corporate events. If other departments are entering teams to the local 10k and challenging each other to raise the most for charity? You can set up a virtual race so your digital nomads can join in.

Engage

It’s worth having a chat with your future-manager to make sure they want a promotion. They may be showing all the signs, but still not be ready or willing to take the next step. Even if they don’t, they’ll appreciate being recognized for their potential, so you have nothing to lose by talking to them.

If they do want more responsibility, then start giving them that within your team. Delegate tasks to them, perhaps giving them the opportunity to look after a small part of the next sprint and report back during the stand-up.

From there? The process should work exactly as it does for any other employee. Your friendly HR department will no doubt be able to guide you as to your next steps.

Watching those you’ve recruited and mentored go on to do well can be rewarding. It isn’t just a statement as to how well that employee has done, but also to your strengths as the manager of an efficient virtual team. And if that promotion leaves you with a vacancy for a developer, and you’d like the candidate to be pre-vetted for their experience in remote work? Give us a shout. We can help you manage that.