Managing geographically dispersed staff

Many managers find themselves responsible for staff located in more than one office. Those offices may be a few miles away from each other in the same town, or in a number of different cities scattered across the country. Increasingly, UK based managers have offshore staff to think about too.

The main problems this poses are consistency of operation (how do you make sure everyone is doing things the same way) and employee engagement. Your chances of solving the former are slim if you haven’t cracked the latter. Let’s take a look at some “do’s and don’ts” that can influence how the remote location employees view their connection with you, senior management. ​

Don’t underestimate the value of you visiting them

I’ve seen managers insist that their remote staff must travel to the manager’s location for team meetings, 1-2-1’s, and the like. While this might be a positive experience for the remote employee, you shouldn’t expect them to do all the running all the time. Paying regular visits to their office will have a much more powerful impact and they will respect you for making that effort.

Don’t fill your diary when you do decide to visit them

It is very tempting to cram as many meetings into your diary with your peers and other business associates who work at the other location. It may help you justify the travel time and cost. However, dancing from meeting to meeting and only stopping to say a brief hello to your own team members will have a negative effect. “Why the devil did he/she bother coming?” will be the discussion after you’ve run out for your return train.

Keep plenty of diary time free for them. Just sitting and working at a desk next to one of your staff is an ideal way of finding out about them. Take every opportunity to engage with them – ask about their interests and their family. Show them you care.

Do take time to understand cultural differences

This is particularly important when visiting staff in foreign countries. Being aware of, and recognising, local customs and behaviours will make a difference to how you deal with situations during your visit. For example, if your host offers to take you to lunch your instinct will be to pick up the bill because you’re the manager, but that would be very insulting in some countries.

So, to wrap up:

Colleagues in separate offices may feel isolated at times. They will assume – rightly or wrongly – that their peers who work in the same office as you will be getting a lot more of your air-time.

Video conferencing facilities are excellent and you should make the most of them. But don’t let them form an excuse for not travelling to see remote staff in person.

Distance is largely irrelevant. They might only be 10 miles along the road but don’t underestimate how big a gap that is.

Brian Lancaster is a Director of BLMS Consulting

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