5 Tips for Managing Remote Teams from the "One Minute Commute"

Last Updated Jun 21, 2010 6:46 AM EDT

One of the best resources for working remotely and managing remote teams is Zack Grossbart's "One Minute Commute" book and blog. As an engineer who has worked and managed projects remotely for years it is full of great ideas.

I interviewed him recently and got some great tips based on his own experiences -- good and bad. Take a look:

  • Keep status and out of office messages updated. One of the biggest sources of tension for remote teams is not getting timely answers to questions. The problem is, you never know if people are not answering because they are unfeeling boors, or if they're just not actually in the office (or, heaven forbid, having a real life somewhere). Everyone on the team should keep their email, Instant Messaging and other status messages current. It sounds simple, but you'd be amazed how sloppy people get about this.
  • Allow people to choose how they communicate. We all have different communication styles- some people are telephone junkies, some only like to communicate by email. While you should set team norms, as the manager you should allow people to play to their strengths. Particularly in international teams, many people feel more confident in their written than spoken English. Calling on them on a lively conference call may not be the best way to get the benefit of their wisdom.
  • Email doesn't happen by accident -- think before hitting "send". Zack has some great pointers about email. Here are a couple: 1) Use clear subject lines so people actually know what the email is about. 2) Create distribution lists and use them judiciously. If you constantly send email to people who don't care about it you'll be seen as a pest and even your useful emails will be ignored.
  • Not all communication needs to be instantaneous- use tools like blogs and discussion boards. One of the best ways to build team cohesion (and stop people from coming to you for all the answers) is to use team blogs, wikis or shared site discussion boards and files. As the leader, your job is to encourage and support their use. Let the team set the questions and rules about response time. Reward and support those who use the tools and encourage others to use them by not giving in to unnecessary personal requests for the latest version of something. Make them use the shared file site til it becomes a habit.
  • Become a good web presenter. Being a good web presenter doesn't necessarily mean elaborate webinars for all occasions. It really means using the tools appropriately and well. Don't plan a full presentation when a design document and a white board will do the trick. It does mean becoming proficient, though. Practice and seek to improve. Have your team take turns leading virtual meetings so everyone gets a chance to shine. it also prevents sniping because your harshest critics quickly learn it's not as easy as it looks.
Check out his One Minute Commute blog here.

Hear a full interview with Zack on The Cranky Middle Manager show.

Read more photo by flickr user _e.t CC 2.0
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