How Do I Manage Workers at A Distance?

I’m struggling to manage my team of IT designers who are in different countries with different time zones. This is not the first time I’m managing a team but everyone was either in the same office or same city and I was able to interact with them in person. Now they’re thousands of miles away. What suggestions do you have?

Welcome to the new world of business! As companies continue to expand globally, the number of people working in teams with colleagues and managers separated from them by many miles (and often different time zones), is growing. This business strategy has many advantages, but it presents its own set of managerial challenges.

The Challenges:

Many managers recycle the same guidelines and best practices they use for their traditional teams and hope for the best. That just doesn’t work. Virtual teams and face-to-face teams are the proverbial ‘apples and oranges’ – and leaders who recognize this fact are the ones whose teams succeed. Virtual teams regularly fall victim to four pitfalls:

Lack of clear goals, direction, or priorities – Because it is tougher to communicate with team members who are geographically dispersed, it is often difficult to keep all team members focused on the same goals, especially over time.
Lack of clear roles among team members– In virtual teams, it is especially important for members to clearly understand their individual roles and how their work impacts other team members.
Lack of cooperation and trust – Because there’s limited or no face-to-face contact the process of establishing trust and relationships that lead to group cooperation will be more difficult and can lead to a silo mentality.
Lack of engagement – With virtual teams, people can easily become bored and “check out” because there is a lack of dynamic face-to-face interaction and because there are more distractions.

The Solutions: Three Tips to Manage More Effectively

1.  Schedule regular meetings with individuals and the whole team.

This is important to ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of roles and responsibilities; and working together on goals, priorities, and projects. This also combats out of sight out of mind that many virtual feel in terms of their manager. Also, plan an in-person meeting at least once or twice a year. Even if companies are cutting costs, it’s a cost well spent on building relationships.

2. Encourage informal conversations and team building activities.

Humans are social animals. Therefore, to build relationships and trust between members, encourage your team to share and chat regularly. What kinds of activities have you done with your traditional teams to encourage communication and team building? What about crazy hat or potluck Friday? Or after your team achieves a particular goal, organize a virtual reward ceremony. Send a small present to all team members and get everyone to open it at the same time during a video call.

3. Make sure you and your team’s members are culturally aware.

in a virtual environment, where people are based around the world, it’s crucial you have an awareness of the cultural differences in your team and promote cultural training for all members. For example – Susan sends short and “very direct” emails to other team members. If they don’t know that’s part of her culture, others may feel uncomfortable and feel she’s treating them poorly

Smart Moves Tip:

Research has shown that the leadership style of the team or project leader has greater effects on the productivity of virtual teams as compared to that on the traditional teams It’s important for all the virtual team or project leaders to continue to follow good management principles that they’ve been doing all along: set expectations, monitor progress, give feedback, and do all the other basic managerial tasks for employees no matter where they work. For additional tips see the article Managing Virtual Teams.

Would you want to know more about managing virtual teams and how to get them to work effectively together? To get “The 9 critical success factors for virtual teaming”, contact [email protected].

My motto is: “If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got. Therefore, MOVE outside of your comfort zone; that’s where the MAGIC happens. To bring that magic to your leadership Subscribe to “Coaching Clinic” Marcia’s monthly Execubrief with additional insights, intelligence, and inspiration on leadership and career topics.


Marcia Zidle
Marcia Zidle
Marcia Zidle, The Smart Moves Coach, is a national known board certified coach and keynote leadership speaker who guides organizations that are planning, or in the midst of, ambitious growth and change. As a career strategist, she works with professionals, managers and executives who want to build • shape • brand • change • vitalize their careers. She’s been selected by LinkedIn’s ProFinder as one of the best coaches for 2016!Her clients range from private owned businesses to mid-market companies to professional service firms to NGO’s. With 25 years of management, business consulting and international experience, she brings an expertise in executive and team leadership; employee engagement and innovation; personal and organization change; career building and development; emotional and social intelligence. Your Future Starts Now With Marcia!

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  1. Most excellent information Marcia! Your article reminds me of a client I had years ago who was working with his client in Japan. Though my client came to me exasperated because he wasn’t understanding why things were so challenging with this particular client of his. Low and behold, it didn’t have anything to do with their relationship or the contract, it was cultural differences they both were unaccustomed to.

    Virtual teams are here and they will continue to become even more mainstream in our contemporary marketplace. As leaders, it’s vitally important that we take the time to coach our team through such idiosyncrasies. With studies supporting benefits of virtual teams vs colocated counterparts, there is no reason why we can’t capitalize on the power of technology — it just requires us to make a few adjustments in how we lead (as so eloquently stated in your motto). Two thumbs up Marcia 🙂

    • Jennifer, great example of why cultural awareness is so important in today’s global marketplace and workplace.

  2. Thank you for the important topic, Marcia! I had a discussion once with an international coach who underlined personal communication styles – referring to culture as a scratch on the surface. I see the point, yet, a cultural way of working has so much more depth than many people realize. It can make or break a program, a venture etc. unless correctly managed.

    • Maria, I pleased that my post resonates with you especially in relation to the importance of cultural awareness.