Peter Drucker is famous for saying (among other smart things) that the greatest project management job of all time was building the pyramids and we've all been trying to live up to that since. Far be it for the likes of me to argue with the good doctor, but at least the guy who built the pyramids was AT the pyramids, not sitting in a remote office somewhere, trying to manage the whole project by email.
By most studies, 80 percent of team managers in white-collar jobs have at least one team member who works remotely. That figure is even higher for project managers.
We have all the challenges managing teams of human beings has always entailed (keeping people motivated, keeping work on track, helping locate and allocate resources and working productively) while not having the advantage of close physical proximity. This means we have to reexamine the way teams come together, how people are motivated and managed, and how technology plays an intermediary role we've never had to deal with before.
This is actually a pretty big deal from a business standpoint. Remote workers can be more productive, happier and just plain better than everyone else. They can also be isolated, less engaged and susceptible to turnover that derails projects and limits the whole organization's productivity. Managers need to learn to function well in this new environment. But who's helping them?
Many companies appreciate the difficulty. When speaking at the 2011 American Society for Training and Development conference this year, the biggest challenge for those who help managers develop their skills is managing in a remote environment. The problem is that many companies still don't know how to go about getting their leaders the information, skill development and tools they need to get the job done. Meanwhile, somehow the job keeps getting done and we keep muddling through.
Managers in today's world need to be connected:
We need to be connected to our teams and our organizations. Do managers understand the dynamics of building great working relationships? Remember that while the majority of managers lead at least a partially remote team, over 90 per cent of us are part of a remote or virtual team. We not only have to be managers, we have to be participants.
You know the frustration you feel working in the ether? Your team feels the same way. We need to know how information flows. Do relationships allow for the kind of trust and proactivity needed to make a project work or things to get done? We need to grasp the big picture of how work is changing as well as understand the specific behaviors that will help us get the job done.
We need to be connected to the outside world. More than ever, the answers to our questions lie in our social networks and the blogosphere. That's great, but how do we gather, filter and trust the information that comes to us that way? We need to find trusted sources of information and tools to help us get the information we need, when we need it.
We need to be comfortable with the technology that connects us. Shared document sites, webmeetings, virtual presentations and collaboration tools are designed to help us work together better. Yet 90 per cent of people who lead webmeetings have never received any training or practice on how to use the tools effectively. In essence we're told, "here's a GoToMeeting license, try not to hurt anyone."
So is it any wonder that virtual communication is often painful and boring? We need to be understand not just what technology is available to us, but what tools to use for which job, then how to get the most from them.
We managers need a little help-and free help would be even better. That's why I'm so pleased to announce the launch of a new partnership with Management Issues. Beginning August 8th, we will present a new blog: The Connected Manager.
Twice a week we'll bring you the best thought leadership from around the world on:
- How to create productive, long-lasting human relationships in a virtual workplace
- The latest tools available to us whether that's online collaboration and brainstorming tools to the latest webconferencing, to stuff none of us have even envisioned yet
- Most importantly, tips and techniques to use technology in ways we can all implement. Look for great ways to run virtual meetings, tips on presenting training effectively, running brainstorming meetings over the web and more.
- Your comments, tips and best practices. Let's hear it and help each other through the maze of the modern workplace.
We urge you to subscribe so you don't miss a single valuable edition. Meanwhile, you can learn more by following Management Issues and me (www.twitter.com/greatwebmeeting) on Twitter.
I look forward to bringing you great content and learning from all of you. After all, you're already out in the world getting it done. We're just trying to help.