Managing a team of employees can be both rewarding and challenging. It can be exciting for managers to lead their teams on the path to success. However, that path is often littered with roadblocks that interrupt the team’s momentum. Field team leaders face a unique set of obstacles, as they must effectively deliver the necessary tools and expertise to employees even though they lack the benefits associated with having a shared office space. Furthermore, leaders of remote teams need to work harder to establish community and reinforce company culture within field employees. The following list is a compilation of the most common traits possessed by exceptional field team leaders.
1. Deliberate Communication
Communication couldn’t be more crucial to the success of a field team. Unlike office employees, remote workers don’t physically see or casually interact with their managers on a daily basis. Consequently, team leaders need to make a deliberate effort to communicate with their employees to foster engagement and mitigate problems in the field.
Team leaders who are effective communicators understand the importance of message quantity and quality. Managers can ensure both by providing on-the-spot coaching to remote employees with real-time instant messaging, or simply check in with them. Instant messaging is also useful for administering feedback more regularly. Too often, field team leaders put off administering feedback until it’s time for performance reviews. With instant messaging capabilities in place, managers can deliver feedback instantaneously to recognize employees when they exceed expectations or to provide constructive criticism when necessary.
Due to the nature of their work, field employees often have little to no interaction with their peers. If employees feel disconnected from one another, they will lose motivation to work towards common goals and will not act as a support system for each other.
To avoid stirring feelings of isolation, managers should make it a priority to cultivate camaraderie within remote employees and promote the mission and values of the organization in the field. This can be accomplished by utilizing communication technology and arranging face-to-face meetups. These practices also aid management in strengthening company culture beyond the limits of the office.
2. Encourage Participation and Don’t Leave Anyone Behind
Some employees are naturally more extroverted than others. For this reason, managers need to make sure they are getting as much valuable input as possible from all remote employees, and not just from those who are vocal about their needs and opinions. Tsedal Neeley, who studies and teaches global teamwork at Harvard Business School, stresses the importance of increasing contact with shy employees and inviting them to speak up. Doing so will make these people feel more valued and important.
Additionally, remote team leaders need to be wary of leaving employees behind during times of change. It becomes all too easy to leave remote employees out of the loop when in-house operations are transforming. Including field employees in discussions surrounding change lets them feel connected to the larger organization.
3. Embrace Vulnerability
Employees who work remotely are very concerned with what their manager thinks of them, especially since they cannot pick up on visual cues in the same way that their office counterparts can. As a result, remote employees may spend their time avoiding making mistakes rather than working innovatively to their fullest potential. According to Neeley, if managers open up about themselves and don’t present an image of perfection, the approval anxiety employees feel will reduce. A good team leader isn’t too proud to ask for help when he or she needs it. What’s more, by embracing vulnerabilities, managers can set an example of honesty for team members to adopt.
4. Invest in the Team
Remote employees rely on certain means to get the job done. It’s the responsibility of management and organizational leaders to supply tools that enable employees to increase efficiency and productivity. Solutions that work well for office tasks will often be useless in the field; Managers need to take into account the needs of remote employees when considering new technologies or systems. It is also wise to invest in professional development programs for remote employees, seeing that their skillsets are equally valuable as those of office employees.
5. Recognize the Value of Goal Setting
Giving employees goals to work towards can increase motivation and accountability. If reps are aiming to achieve a common goal, they can motivate each other to work more productively or collaborate to get the job done. Similarly, KPIs (key performance indicators) can act as a motivational tool; employees will be more determined to meet objectives if they know those goals affect how they are evaluated. Both KPIs and enterprise-wide goals keep employees accountable for their work, as there is no confusion about what is expected of them because objectives are clearly defined.
6. Respect Employees’ Independence
Remote employees are inherently independent workers. They want the opportunity to apply their skills at the highest level possible. Therefore, resorting to micromanaging will damage managers’ relationships with field reps. Instead, managers can instill confidence in their employees by letting them work autonomously and periodically checking to see how they are doing to provide coaching or feedback when necessary.
7. Implement Structure
Between time spent on the road, visiting clients, and handling administrative work, field employees hardly ever experience a mundane work week. Because of the many tasks that demand their attention, employees may become disconnected from their coworkers or the organization. Incorporating regular face-to-face field team meetings will establish structure in employees’ work lives while giving them a chance to interact with their colleagues. After reps attend the first few, meetings will start to become a part of their work routine.
It is the responsibility of field team leaders to motivate their remote teams and guide them on the path to success. Although there are many challenges associated with managing a remote team, modern technologies are bridging the physical gap between the back office and field operations. If managers are open to new software and innovative business practices, they will be able to motivate their teams much more effectively.
Victoria is a Marketing Associate at Repsly, where she leads the company's P.R. and social media efforts. You can also catch her prepping for slew of exciting industry events. A New England native, Victoria has spent time living in Italy and traveling throughout Europe before settling back in Boston. When she's not planning her next trip, V is probably tasting wine or brushing up on her Italian.