The very nature of facilities management means that we have to deal with remote workers who operate from our client’s sites. Whilst this is not unique to companies such as auditors and consultants, we find ourselves in the FM space working on client sites for extended periods of time. In many cases, we are indistinguishable from full-time employees and completely immersed in the client’s culture. In many cases, these sites may be physically far removed from the cultural heart and epicentre of the company that our people were so eager to join. Whilst team spirit on the client site amongst co-workers may not be an issue, poor connectivity to, and infrequent relationships with, the team at base camp can make employees feel as forgotten and isolated as Matt Damon in the Martian.
In addition to the very real issues that facilities managers have to face in managing remote employees, this phenomenon is even more acute where these staff members have been outsourced to the service provider. Outsourcing at its best is transformational not just transactional however the reality is that the outsourced facility manager was once an employee of what is now their client. In some cases, all that has changed is the colour of their uniform. If indeed the outsourcing is to be transformational then a great deal of change management is to be required, but this will be the subject of a future blog post.
In my day to day life, we have to manage and communicate with staff members that are located on client sites not only all over South Africa but in 22 countries on the greater continent. In order to engage with the team, one need to be proactive and ultimately to indicate how each member of that team adds value to the greater Company on a consistent basis.
Here are five ways in which that can be achieved.
1. Schedule Regular Face Time
Whilst it may be a blinding flash of the obvious, first prize is to have as much face-to-face time as possible. Preferably this should involve scheduling visits to head office for group meetings of all staff in similar situations to cross-pollinate ideas as well as interact and forms as a team.
However, it is also important for line managers at head office to visit the sites not only to interact with clients but with their team on-site as well. It is important to ensure that these visits are not of the seagull variety, so one must take the time to interact with the team and experience working in the client’s office for yourself. Make sure that you interact socially and that you present a human face to your site personnel that may only ever have interacted with you via telecom.
2. Cultivate peer interaction
Where possible cultivate peer interaction by rotating staff between different sites, this not only adds to their career progression but promotes understanding and enhanced communication with peers. The use and practice of convening quality circles will foster good relations as well as innovation.
3. Model inclusive leadership
As leaders, we underestimate the effect of that we have on our teams and how much their eyes are on us even if it is from a remote location. Communicating with your employees regularly and at set times either via Telecon or via Skype preferably will substitute for real face time.
4. Checking in
I always find that the practice of ‘checking in’ whereby each team member has a couple of minutes at the beginning of the meeting to express how there feeling, what’s going on in their lives is helpful in reminding us that we are all human. This may be difficult for some people but I find that most will engage once other senior team members share. It is the leader’s responsibility to model behaviour and this action shows employees that we value each other as people as well as colleagues and it goes a long way to establishing trust in the team.
5. Two-way communication
Whilst this may sound obvious one way and predominantly downward communication is the norm in most companies. As leadership, we sell ourselves short by not ensuring that there is a two-way street. Using tools such as Slack or Skype as well as platforms such as SnapComms allows two-way and multiway channels of communication.
Out of sight should not be out of mind, leadership needs to understand the trials and tribulations of working remotely from the cultural centre of the company and the issues that this can raise. There can be complex and powerful emotions at play, particularly where outsourced workers are involved and we need to be mindful of peer pressure from the client (Their previous employer) and the potential feelings of isolation.
Keep your Remote teams Close to the company brand and culture in order to serve your clients well and consistently across all sites.
What experiences have you had with trying to manage remote employees? Please leave your comments below.