When it comes to leading a remote team vs. one where everyone is co-located, do you need to do things better or do you need to things in a completely different way? The answer is up to you, but it highlights an important concept of change management: a degree of change compared to an order of change.
A degree of change means we need to do things better, or faster, or smarter, but it presumes you’re doing the right thing, just not as well as you might. This might be a first degree, small tweak (give all the forms the same tag in SAP so we can find them easier) or a big, third degree change (we need to fully upgrade to the current version of SAP, may God have mercy on our souls). One might be more work than the other, but it still presumes that we’re doing the right thing, we just need to do it a bit differently.
On the other hand, an order of change means we can’t keep doing what we’re doing. We can only make so many tweaks to the software, or keep hiring new bookkeepers or re-org the company until we realize we need to do something completely different. That’s an order of change, and it’s usually loud, messy and traumatic. Often it’s necessary.
Which brings us to leading a remote team. Many people feel that the differences between managing remotely and leading a team where everyone shares space is so dramatic that the organization needs to completely overhaul everything they do. This often results in “analysis-paralysis”. The task looks so overwhelming (HR policies, IT investment, Training…. The mind boggles,) that nothing gets done in an organized way. This looks like a massive sea-change in the order of things.
For some companies, it might be that massive a shift in thinking. They might have to start from scratch. But in working with dozens of companies as they move to teleworking, distributed teams or some mix of work locations, I have seen that things are more the same than different. The WHAT leaders do, doesn’t really change. The HOW they do it, is where the difference lies. In other words, for most companies it’s a degree of change (sometimes a big one!) rather than an order of change.
Think about the manager’s role. What do we need to do? We help set a team vision, facilitate communication, and manage performance…. None of that changes whether we’re in the same office or even the same country. The big difference is we may have to do it mediated by technology with which we’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable. We need to do things differently.
Managing remotely should be (assuming that leaders are properly prepared and trained) a degree of change, rather than an order of change. You need to assess your performance metrics, expectations and tools at your disposal to ensure they match the reality of how your people are working. On the other hand the coaching models you use, the approach to performance management and the desire to create positive working relationships shouldn’t be all that different from how things have always been done.
Working remotely can create a perception that it’s a whole new ball game. In fact, it’s the same game, played on a slightly different field. Take the time to assess what’s working and what isn’t, then figure out, is it what we do, or how we do it that really needs to change?