Sales managers have worked as in-field representatives in the past and are well aware of the challenges of working remotely. However, new challenges of working remotely involve the lack of face to face interactions with both customers and the broader brand team. Now, more than ever, sales representatives and their managers need capabilities to engage remotely.
Understanding the factors of remote working
Preparation and training are essential to maintain the performance of sales teams. Prepare for the following challenges:
- Lack of face to face team interactions, as well as direct contact and support from one’s manager;
- Social isolation, loneliness and a reduced feeling of belonging to a team, especially if the opportunity to even see customers is limited;
- Additional time and effort to access information from company systems or colleagues;
- Interpersonal challenges between members of the team as the bond between members is ‘thinner’ without the face to face social interactions;
- Home Distractions, especially for those used to working out of the car, café or clinics [representatives and sales managers] or those unexpectedly now working remotely.
- Time to master new technologies and techniques to connect with each other and with customers.
Supporting remote teams
Supporting virtual or remote teams requires managers to ‘double down on good management’ according to Julie Wilson, founder of the Institute for Future Learning. As shared with Forbes in March this year, that means ‘establishing clear goals, running great meetings, communicating clearly and leveraging team members’ individual and collective strengths’. Consider the following ideas:
Establish regular [daily or weekly] team check-ins and frequent individual connections. The important characteristics of these 'check-ins' are the frequency and predictability, along with the rules of engagement that are made clear upfront and practiced. Ensure all members of the team can be heard and there is a forum to raise concerns safely. Don't forget to schedule some opportunities for social interaction too.
Provide technology training and options. Like customers, team members have communication preferences. Recognise that working styles and technological competencies are likely to be very different across the team. Using a variety of technology also means that the level of richness of interactions can vary. For example, a virtual meeting with video enables the team to see each other and enables visual cues to be part of the interaction just like in person, It can also reduce the sense of isolation. Using the same technology for designated connections can reduce the stress by making it predictable, trainable and individuals can be set up in advance. Don’t get too fancy! The team or individual connection is the important factor here. However, do not feel compelled to make every meeting a virtual meeting with video. A quick telephone call for small matters is personal and easy.
Provide clarity around your own [manager] boundaries, communication preferences, time and availability. Set expectations of outcomes, to avoid confusion and disappointment and clarify what is expected of the team and each individual.
Recognise and reward individual and collective achievements. Focus on what is being accomplished, rather than which tasks have been ticked off each day. Remote working may look quite different to a day in the office. Be prepared to accept flexible working hours. Celebrate team milestones together and keep everyone up to date on progress!Leading remote teams
Leading remotely is not a copy and paste of face to face practices. Using fit-for-purpose technologies to encourage innovation and collaboration can engage remote teams and bring out unique talents within the team. Being more structured works better when leading a virtual or dispersed team, not less. Leaders need to be more proactive and more structured in their ways of working than if face to face, to stimulate team interaction and establish clear rules of engagement. Over-communicate to ensure you do not leave anyone behind and everyone remains united.
Start slow and speed up as the team’s cohesiveness becomes deeper.
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The Actando Consulting Team