I have a confession. Despite being someone who is associated with remote team tools, webinars and similar digital voodoo, I have precious little use for technology. When working remotely, though, it becomes part of the landscape. To ignore it is just crazy. But to be obsessed with it makes equally little sense. Technology is only one third of the equation.
There are three factors that make up a successful remote team, and each is equally important. Those three things are:
- A shared vision:- Does everyone know what we're doing, why and how we'll go about it?
- Accountability: Okay, so they know. Are they doing it and what will you do about it if they're not?
- The tools to do the job: Ok, to the technology. If you're working remotely and don't have at least the basic tools to do the job (or you have them but have no clue how to use them), you can be aligned and accountable and still be ineffective or unproductive
We tend to treat these as "check box" items. Have you shared the vision? Yup. Do we have a performance management system in place? Uh huh. Conferencing tools on every computer. There, we're done.
Each of these things is a separate factor, but each has tendrils that reach into the others. They don't stand (very effectively) alone. Let's take a closer look at that interdependency.
The shared vision is critical and you need to not only share it with your team (which is usually a one-way shove-it-down-their-throats kind of thing) but you need to share it with each other on an ongoing basis. It needs to be part of every discussion. The performance metrics need to be in alignment (which is part of the accountability piece, and you need to be able to share that vision in real two-way fashion. And this is where the technology comes in as you aren't able to have those conversations that should naturally arise when working side by side every day.
Accountability is important. The trick, of course, is that you can't hold people accountable if you're not 100 percent sure they understand what they're accountable for and why it matters. You need to make accountability and standards appropriate to the ultimate goal. You also want people accountable to each other, which is a leadership and team function.
Finally, the only way to do this effectively in today's remote workplace is to have the tools necessary to remove all obstacles and excuses that people don't have access to resources, coaching or assistance.
Finally, technology is the set of tools you'll use to make all this happen. Are you leveraging the synchronous (Instant messaging, webmeetings, phone calls) and asynchronous (shared file sites, emails, social media, databases) tools to make sure everyone's clear on the goals, aware of the metrics, able to get their work done, and out of excuses if it's not?
Of course, access to the tools is one thing, the ability to leverage them and use them properly is a second piece of this puzzle. How can you hold them accountable for using tools if you're not also holding them accountable, and helping them succeed in their proper usage?
So you can't lead a remote team without technology (or at least it's REALLY HARD). But technology alone doesn't mean anything if it's not aligned with the vision and has accountability built into its use.