The fundamentals of supervising people are the same, regardless of whether they share an office space or work in a different time zone and country. Successful supervision of people who aren’t physically in the same space requires extra diligence. You miss the rich body language broadcasting at 50,000 watts. You have fewer options for spontaneous hallway or lunch chats. People can’t see what you’re doing. Successful supervisors pay attention to building relationships.
Here are some tips that have worked well for many supervisors:
Pay attention to personal events and news that they share (don’t pry, but take note of what they share). Set up a reminder to ask them about their vacation or daughter’s camp or the cat checkup at the vet. Genuine curiosity about non-work interests goes a long way toward relationship building. You might find you have a few things in common, as well.
Go the extra mile in group meetings
Make sure you recognize people on the phone in meetings. Be sensitive to noisy distractions and prohibit side-conversations that make it hard for attendees to hear the main conversation or presentation. Ask direct questions to them on the phone, e.g., “What do you think about _____, Martha?” Set up a chair in the room to represent that person on the phone, so everyone is more conscious of them. Be sure they have materials in advance.
F2F is your friend
Videoconferencing from your workstation or even your smartphone is cheap and simple. Use it, even for spontaneous quick conversations. Fight for the budget for travel so you can get together for real at least occasionally. These are investments which pay dividends over time. Once you have some face time, audio only works better, too!
Be forward-focused. Use your discussion times for reviewing materials and thinking about the future, rather than status updates on the past. Work with your employees to develop a rolling 6-week plan looking forward – with specific deliverables rather than “working on X.”
Keep a running track of questions and review points. You’ll be glad to have notes about past agreements, conversation points, and non-work items. The tool you use is much less important than the process. This will help you craft performance reviews and documentation for raises, promotions, etc.