1. Be Clear
As with any team that tries to be effective, a clear understanding of responsibility and how to work together is key. When your team of employees is decentralized, not located at one physical place to work, it’s ever so important to be even more clear about their responsibility and way of working.
What do you expect from an employee? What tools to use to communicate? How to use them? What output has been created and how to improve on it? Some sample questions that will help surface a clear understanding. Always make a clearly defined but also actionable way of working. Write down specific deliverables. And be sure to always…
Without communication everything is lost. Most problems are created by lack of clear communication. Always keep in mind what you try to communicate. Are you asking a question that needs a binary answer? Are you trying to get solutions with input from a group of employees?
Sometimes a clear written email is best to communicate and in other times a face to face conversation is necessary. But always communicate with a goal. Know what ‘it’ is that you want out of a conversation. And of course ‘it’ can be both sides of the spectrum: the clear yes or no or small talk to build rapport.
Tools With employees that might never be in the same physical space as you, tools to communicate are ever more important. Besides telephone and email, there are loads of other tools that you can use to communicate. Solutions like Skype and Google Hangouts make it possible to not only hear them, but also see them, which is so important to have good communication.
To see facial expression and have a real talk where you can see each other is way underestimated in this time and day. If you want to build trust you need to build good rapport. You can’t do this with email alone.
Because the decentralized team works at different times and/or different time zones, it’s ever so important to be flexible. Managing team members may mean that you need to be flexible in regards to your own work hours & schedule.
You have to trust your team members empowerment and where necessary go to them to find solutions, get answer or just talk. And with going to them I mean using the tools that they are most comfortable with to use, so that the chance of having good communications which each other will highly increase. You have to be understanding to their way of working, their culture and schedule. If they are more likely to have an open talk on Facebook messenger then on the corporate chat tool, use it!
4. Talent & Knowledge
Another challenge involved with decentralized working is retention of employees. Working from other locations, lots of travel, no direct contact with their manager. This can create a feeling of detachment with the company and team, which can lead to a very low threshold when better paying opportunities are presented.
Developing employees and recognizing talent in such surroundings are challenges not to be taken lightly. Investing time in building relations and rapport is essential, get to know your employee. What moves him, what motivates him. Coach him! Help him define personal goals, let him see pathways toward those goals, make things possible for him.
Knowledge extraction is equally important. The transfer of knowledge from the individual, through the team, to the company. With the help of working guidelines and clear deliverables you can extract (dynamic) knowledge into a system so it can be used as general knowledge.
5. Decentralized Empowerment
Give decentralized employees decision-making authority. You can’t continuously manage them anyway. This way they feel motivated, show initiative and take responsibility.
Empowerment is what you get if you follow all earlier points:
- Be clear what you want to see from your employee. Make him responsible in such a way that he understands it.
- Communicate regularly with him and not only when things go bad, but as much so when things go good.
- Be flexible towards him and make sure that it’s about him and not about you. You are there to help him achieve his goals. Your goal has been reached when your employee reaches his.
- Recognize talent, help people grow. At the same time don’t let knowledge be taken hostage. Share it!
For me it took years of trying out all kinds of ways of working before I understand what was really necessary to manage a decentralized employee. And still it challenges me with each new individual. It’s a combined passion for people and solving problems that keeps me going and willing to learn and improve.
Let me know if you have other tips and ideas to add to the list. As I’ve said, I’m open to learn from new experiences.