The Challenge Of Remotely Managing Virtual Team Workers Who Are Not Direct Reports

By | February 8, 2012

We have been involved in some interesting projects recently where organisations have the sometimes frustrating challenge of managing the delivery of work with remote team workers who are not their direct reports. This kind of set up is becoming increasingly common; organisations with diverse operating structures and multiple delivery channels, often have complex ‘dotted line’ reporting matrices that can have an adverse impact on business efficacy.

We noted in a previous article  some of the critical behavioural and process dynamics required to form an effective psychological contract for managing remote teams.  This becomes even more essential when members of the remote (or virtual) team actually report in to another management structure, often a ‘local’ (or ‘extant’) reporting channel with competing strategic goals and objectives. This can occur when the remote worker is not necessarily working from home but may be based in another business unit and only a percentage of their time has (supposedly) been allocated for the remote-working activities.

Networks and Influence

As well as the need for establishing a relevant psychological contract with the remote worker, other psychological contracts need to be agreed with the key stakeholders involved. These people, managers and co-workers, may not have a vested interested in the specific aims of the remote-working team and often negotiations are required to establish methods of working; communications, monitoring, measuring and reviewing that are compatible with potentially conflicting interests, as well as contributing to the organisation’s strategic aims.

The remote manager needs to build strong channels of influence at different levels; through their senior managers (the business leaders), their direct peers and also through colleagues across other departments. In fact anyone who may impact on the allocation of resources – time, money, equipment, processes etc – needs to be cognisant of and engaged with the remote team’s objectives. As we have commented previously, effectively managing remote teams has a lot more to do with leadership rather than management. Good leaders demonstrate a high level of diplomatic skills; taking time to understand and empathise with the needs of others as well as positioning their own requirements positively and assertively within the ‘bigger-picture’ context. They use their extended networks proactively to influence positive outcomes rather than relying on traditional ‘command and control’ management.

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