Remote MBWA

A client of mine recently started talking to his project managers about getting their “Remote MBWA.” I had never heard of this particular degree, so I asked him what that was.  He said it wasn’t some new kind of MBA, rather it means Management By Walking Around.

Here’s how he described it to me:

“Management By Walking Around” is the term used for the kind of manager who walks around the office and sees what is going on, getting to know the people that he or she manages. It is successful because the manager learns first-hand what people are doing, what some of the challenges are, and most importantly, develops more of a connection and relationship with the people.

Can you get a Remote MBWA?

MBWA is obviously a technique that cannot be used when everyone works remotely. Or can it? What if you “let your fingers do the walking,” to borrow an old advertising slogan for the telephone company. Using the phone could be part of it. But today we have richer communication methods. There are a number of web meeting services that support audio and video communication. Your “yellow pages” is the short list of those people you manage.

Go ahead and “walk” around. Contact the people you manage and find out what’s going on. What’s on their mind? Schedule some web meetings with webcam to make sure you do it. If you have not been doing this, make sure it doesn’t appear to be threatening. Don’t leave them asking themselves, “Why does my boss suddenly want a webcam meeting?” Give it some time to see what happens – a few months, probably. Then ask yourself if it was worth your time. It probably was.

Some additional thoughts on what your MWBA sessions should look like:

Schedule short, frequent check-ins rather than longer meetings.

When people know they’ll be speaking to their boss, it’s easier for them to create a running list of things to discuss rather than having to get through a lot in a short time period. There’s less chance of either of you ending the meeting and thinking you forgot to discuss something.

The answers your get are based on the questions you ask.

Open-ended questions such as “what are you working on?” and “what can we do for you to help you hit that deadline?” will get you better, more honest answers than, “how’s it going?” or “Will you be done by Thursday?” These MBWA moments should be the equivalent of walking through the office and seeing how you can help.

The key to MBWA is to notice the little things.

When you manage by walking around, you notice whether someone is slouched at their desk in misery or ploughing through their workload. You overhear conversation that either lets you know things are fine or sets your managerial spidey-senses tingling. Are people being snippy with each other? Is there a lot of grumbling or complaining? When we’re in the office we tend to respond much quicker than when we read little clues in an email, or get the feeling someone is unhappy in a meeting but we don’t follow up because of time or priority. Better to respond to little things now than have to schedule formal time later once the problem has become bigger.

My friend’s idea of the MBWA is a good one. Management by Walking Around was coined in the 70s and 80s, and implied managers should leave their offices or desks and get out among the folks in the office or on the plant floor.  This was in the days before email or WebEx, but the concept is no less valid..

It might be a long walk to Denver or Bangalore from where you are, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

As you can see from this example, the fundamental principles of leadership don’t change when we’re doing it remotely. What changes is how we do it. Join us for Virtual LeaderCon to learn more about how the world of leadership is changing. Over 30 of the world’s top leaders will be presenting. Learn more and secure your spot.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.

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Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 26 years. He has taught and consulted at Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world. For the last 18 years, he’s focused on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.

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