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Remote Management - beyond remote working

Now that most organisations are working remotely the term ‘remote management’ is being increasingly used. But what is remote management and how can organisations successfully implement it? In this two-part series we’ll examine 5 key components that lead to effective remote management and 5 key tools they need to make it work in practice.

What is remote management? Remote management is a style of management which occurs when the managers of a project or programme are not in the same location as the people they manage. This creates a variety of challenges that need to be considered and addressed. Humanitarian and development NGOs are well versed in remote management as it’s been necessary in operating environments where access is limited due to insecurity. However, removing managers from a location or situation does and giving them the ability to continue to engage with staff remaining in location does not always result in effective remote management. This is because:

Remote management requires a strategy

Many managers working from home now will say they’re managing remotely. But managingpeopleremotely is very different from having a strategy to manageprogrammesremotely . The main difference being the overall, long-term effectiveness of the programme. Remote management through a strategy exponentially increases the programme’s effectiveness.

Triggers and Scope

Having specific triggers based on risks in specific locations is critical as is identifying the scope of remote management – the specific parts of the programme and the length of time that they can be remote managed successfully.

Decision making capability

If decision making is not delegated to the staff implementing expect activities to slow. Reliance on decision makers in different time zones, juggling a number of new priorities, decreases their ability to ‘read’ what is happening in the programme location and slows decision making. Slowed decision-making usually results in programme delays.  

System Capability & Flexibility

Managing remotely demands flexibility and capability in the systems which support the programme such as HR, finance and logistics systems. These systems need to withstand the demands of remote management. While the focus in remote management tends to centre on personnel - the systems which support their working must also be assessed. 

Risk Assessment & Transfer

Remote management includes transference of greater responsibility – and therefore risk - to staff in a location. Organisations have a legal responsibility to assess risks for all personnel and this includes health risks like COVID-19. Remotely managed programmes have specific risk assessment considerations. For example, the longer managers are removed from a location the less they are going to be able to accurately read the risk and the more they are going to be reliant on those present to make that assessment. Risk assessment is a learned skill and if staff haven’t been trained they will rely on their own knowledge and perceptions. In high-risk environments, this can result in three undesirable outcomes: 1) risk is downplayed because those in the location have become accustomed to dealing with it; 2) risk is downplayed because other drivers – such as retaining jobs or funding – are considered more urgent; or 3) risk is overemphasised due to the sudden, increased responsibility they feel in assessing it.  Risk will also be transferred during the pandemic as personnel are assuming responsibilities normally held by a manager who was likely better resourced and supported than they are. Normal transference risks will be exacerbated by the pandemic – such as when local staff face increased pressure from community or political leaders to behave in ways the organisation might not approve of in the absence of more senior oversight? Stopping to develop a remote management strategy for programming may seem daunting in the midst of the initial response but it is foundational to managing the evolving environments we will work in for the next few years. If you're developing your remote management strategies and want more support send us an email. Next week, we'll look at the 5 key tools organisations can use to turn a remote management strategy into practice. 


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