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Research Triangle Business Advisors
April 2012 Newsletter

Over the past ten years many of my clients have had issues in dealing with managing multiple company locations and the people in them. This month's newsletter article presents an overview of the actions we took to overcome those issues. Dealing with remote locations is a "double-edged" sword - consistency is paramount, but getting there always requires change.

Bob De Contreras





Managing Employees in Remote Locations

More and more we see it every day – The businesses with multiple locations in our own town.  We see health clubs, restaurants, retail stores and more.  For those of us who travel we even see it across the state and the country.  No business is immune to this reality of business growth.  Consulting companies, software companies, architectural firms, engineering companies, bio-pharma companies and every industry is facing the issue of managing multiple remote locations and the employees in them.

Even with the many Web based and on-line collaboration tools available, most managers find handling remote locations extremely difficult. These managers face communications weaknesses, trust and confidence issues, process failures, goal alignment disconnects, and more. The following are some suggestions on how to improve your success with managing employees in remote locations or those working from home.

Improvement Starts With You

Every company has a unique culture that is the result of management and employee style.  That culture needs to be tuned-up to handle remote locations that are constantly pushing to initiate a new or extended culture. To combat this tendency executives and managers need to set the tone by doing the following:

1.   Motivation. Your employees must be motivated and working together across the company locations.  Collaboration, creativity, and sharing must flow easily across the company.  This will not happen unless, you are available when the remote people need you; you don’t get annoyed when you get a phone call, email, or text message; you don’t forget to return calls or follow-up; you make time to manage the remote teams.

2.   Communication. Good company communication is not easy in one location, it approaches being impossible when dealing with remote locations. You don’t have the benefit of seeing the body language, using effective feedback, or the benefit of “hearing” the full explanation because people don’t want to type all that text in emails.  As the manager you must take the time to over communicate, make yourself available, and be willing to communicate at a scheduled or ad hoc time.

3.   Relationship. If you don’t know the people in the remote location you don’t have a chance at effectively managing them.  Make time to build a relationship with the people.  Take them out to lunch on a regular basis.  Spend a day a month (or more) in the remote location so you can have informal talks with people.  Have “round table” discussions or conference calls where the remote employees set the agenda.  And, that agenda does not need to be all business.  It should, at least occasionally, be about their needs.

4.   Consistency. Treat all the employees the same.  Be fair and consistent across all locations.  This will build trust and morale.  Do everything you say you are going to do – every time.  Only commit to 10% of what you know you can do and nothing of what you think you can do. Your reliability will show respect and get you respected. 

5.   Backup. Assign backup people for critical tasks.  Making sure you have someone to fill in if an employee quits or there are other emergencies will go a long way to keeping operations running smoothly.  For example a designer in the main office can pick up design work for someone in a remote location.

6.   Analyze. On a periodic basis ask what is working and what is not.  Allow the people in the remote location to tell you what they think needs to be changed to improve operations.  Keep records, measure results, foster innovation and continuous improvement. This will allow you to see what areas of the business need your attention.

Improvements to the Business

If you are considering moving to multiple locations or if you already have multiple locations there are several key things you need to make sure you do right.  The following list is the minimum required or must do list:

1.   Establish clear communication and feedback processes between the main and remote locations.

2.   Establish clear reporting and accountability structures, who reports to whom for what.

3.   Establish that base goals for the remote locations are the same as those for the main location.

4.   Define and document all of your processes and procedures, for your main location before you try to go to additional locations.

5.   Establish performance measurement and feedback systems between the main and remote location that are documented, clear and easy to use.

6.   Establish clarity with the remote management teams that they are as important as the people in the main location, and they are part of the company – not an independent company.

7.   Put your most trusted and capable people in your first remote location. Avoid hiring an outsider to manage a remote location.

8.   If you are the senior manager you should be no less in touch with the remote managers than the managers in the main location.

Change is Difficult

The bottom line is that to manage one or more remote locations is a different management job than dealing with just one office.  As the manager leading a team in a remote location, you must change the way you manage and the amount of time you spend working with and managing the people. This article lists a lot of things that you will probably have to change in order to be successful.  Don’t try to do it all at one time.  Pick one thing from each list above and get good at it.  Then pick the next two and get good at them. And, so on……Good Luck

Cary | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | Greensboro | North Carolina
Contents © Copyright Research Triangle Business Advisors ( RTBA ) 2012, All rights reserved.