ArmyMenAs Commander-In-Chief of all seventeen (yes, seventeen) branches of the military that were sworn to defend the borders of The People’s Democratic Republic of New Tommydonia (AKA: my half of the bedroom that I shared with my older brother), I had to learn about managing a large, geographically dispersed team at a very early age.

I had numerous tactical units of GI Joes and specialty details of other action figures garrisoned in a variety of strategic positions throughout my territory. From the high, glorious peaks of the nightstand to the dank low country of the closet, no corner of New Tommydonia was vulnerable to intrusion. But the enemy, ever-vigilant, was relentless in his pursuit of more territory. To protect and preserve the sovereignty of New Tommydonia, I had to stay in-synch with my forces at all times. My strategies for accomplishing this objective were highly classified; however, today, on the 25th anniversary of the final battle of The Sibling Wars, I have decided to declassify my files for the greater good of all mankind. May they serve you and your team well.

Strategy 1: Collaborative Efforts. Unfortunately, as teams grow farther apart (geographically speaking), it becomes easy to focus on staying up-to-date merely from an operational perspective. But simply getting project status updates from your team at regular intervals isn’t enough. Remember that old word “collaboration” and all the good things that came about as a result of the sharing of ideas, perspectives, and experiences? When managing a remote workforce, collaboration doesn’t “just happen” like it used to in the good old cube farm. Oftentimes it has to be coordinated through meetings, brainstorming sessions, etc. And while it might seem forced at times, there is value in every collaborative meeting. If nothing else, it’s a great morale booster to get the team together and chew the fat. Don’t forget that a lot of these folks now spend their entire work week holed up in their home office. A couple weeks of that will start to mess with a soldier’s head. Socialization is critical.

I learned this lesson the hard way when He-Man reported back after a solitary 3-month recon mission. I knew 3 months alone behind enemy lines was going to be tough, but if anyone was up to the job, it was the Prince of Eternia. Big mistake. He-Man left for that detail a flaxen-haired Adonis and returned a broken man. Literally. His spring-loaded battle action waist had completely lost all its tensile strength following a run-in with the family dachshund some 2 months into his assignment. Worse still, He-Man was just weird after that mission.

Strategy 2: Synchronize watches. You and your team live and die by your watch. We just reviewed the importance of collaborating and staying connected. In a “telework” setting, that connection is maintained in large part via regularly scheduled meetings, status updates, brainstorming sessions, etc., which require you to maintain a tight schedule and stick to your deadlines. That might be stating the obvious and sound simple, but when everyone is scattered about and you’re battling time zone conflicts, keeping schedules in synch is no easy task! To help you stay in synch, encourage your team to keep their calendars as up-to-date as possible as far out as possible—2 or 3 months even. Anything that can help you monitor your team’s planned work, vacation schedules, etc. will be tremendously valuable in the long run.

Time management comes easier to some than others, of course. While some might need additional coaching, you may find that others are naturals. It’s no different than my experience in the trenches of The Sibling Wars. For example, I had several units of Slime® bivouacked along the perimeter of New Tommydonia. Although not the sharpest soldiers under my command, they kept such a tight schedule that I could set my watch to them. I knew my Slime® had precisely 4 minutes before becoming so inundated with dog hair and carpet lint that it ceased to be of any use whatsoever.

Strategy 3: Call in reinforcements. At some point, we all get overwhelmed and we do what we must to stay afloat. That may mean reaching out to other departments or, if possible, bringing on contractors to assist on an as-needed basis. One of the keys to getting through those tough times is to have your reserves identified and, if possible, as close to “battle-ready” as possible before you actually need them. During any slow periods or down time you might be lucky enough to have, think about how strong your support network is for when things get really busy again. Are you familiar with your company’s policies for hiring temporary/contract help both internally and from outside the organization? What resources will you use to identify potential reinforcement candidates? Can you take advantage of the fact that your team is spread out across the country and cast a wider net to attract the best candidates? Better to answer these questions now rather than in the heat of battle!

Am I personally a fan of Barbies? Jem and the Holograms? Carebears, Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite, or even Popples? Negative. I repeat, negative. However, I had a (feeble) alliance with my younger sister and, during the darkest days of The Sibling Wars, I had to call up some of her more able-bodied soldiers to help defend my borders. And with the appropriate training, most of them were up to the task, despite their fruit-scented dresses, doe eyes, and abhorrent perma-smiles. Particularly that Rainbow Brite, whose equestrian skills and insatiable bloodlust served me quite well on the battlefield.

Alas, 25 years since the signing of The 1988 Peace Accord, The Sibling Wars are for the history books. Threatened by our parents with severe economic sanctions and extended prison sentences, my brother and I laid down our weapons and shook hands. But we still carry our scars. And the lessons we learned are many. Again, it is my hope that you, too, have learned something from that senseless and tragic conflict. Peace.

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