Remote management of your procurement team in the age of Covid 

With ongoing lockdowns around the country, and the general reluctance of white-collar workers to return to the office, how can busy procurement manager’s get the best from their team despite detached management and remote decision making?

Jonathan Dutton FCIPS offers some tips for SUPPLY CLUSTERS members … 

There is always one. You know them. In every office, one person who is always there. Always present. Goes to every meeting and always sure to turn up. Presenteeism. 

You can easily spot them in the end. They are usually the one arranging the team meeting, the stationary order, the office social function, the footy-tipping. Busy on everything – except work. In fact, any excuse to be in the middle of things – just things except work. 

They attend every meeting and nod sagely, yet take away no actions. They always agree with the consensus, but never take a view. The only meetings that they call are for inconsequential and largely unnecessary work – like the office party. Or, its grown up sibling – the office move. Watch them go on that one. They turn non-relevant jobs into a big self-serving projects, incidental topics into issues, minor tasks into workstreams and colleague liaison into an art form. They just don’t do any actual work. 

Today, these people are mostly ‘working’ from home. But what are they doing, exactly? This is the manager’s challenge: Measuring outputs, rather than inputs, as so many managers and processes do, to determine who is effective and who is not contributing. 


How you measure outputs and results when staff work-from-home should be no different from when they are in the office. But, in reality, this problem highlights the paucity of our measurement systems and the over-reliance on perceptions, personal interaction and your own experiences. 

Pointing at the procurement team’s balanced scorecard hardly helps. What did one person do to help? Really? 

My old boss used to ‘sniff’ work. He believed he could walk into any office and quickly tell whether real work was being done and WHO was doing it. The truth is that his theory was that in every office around 80% of the work outputs were done by a critical 20% of the staff. He was never as far off as he should have been. Experience counts.  

Measuring individual OUTPUTs remotely can be difficult. Measuring INPUTs can be much easier. Although, the famed management guru Peter Drucker put it better: 

What gets measured gets done.


My old boss had his own saying too – “INSPECT what you EXPECT” 

Defining success 

The trick to measurement is to be clear at the outset what you want success to be? And then measure the things that you can actually measure that are critical and indicate likely success – call them key performance indicators (KPIs).

As the leader, you should sell your vision to the team and describe what achievement looks like – you ‘paint a picture of success’ for your team members. Applying the SMART test helps turn this vision into something more manageable.

Working to this simple framework, or alternatives, enables better definition of the inputs and outputs you may be expecting. You then build systems (or reporting) that ‘inspects what you expect’  

Working from home 

The pros and cons of working at home are being articulated daily during the lockdowns – both online and offline and in nearly every publication. 

A neat summary might be: 

Work @ HOMEWork @ OFFICE
PROS More employees like WFH than not Better teamwork 
 Higher productivity mostly More creativity 
Hyper availability of staff  Development of corporate memory 
CONSHome distractions Wasted commute time 
 Disconnect from the brand & culture Higher chances of infection & sickness 
Disengagement from colleagues & fun The cost of running professional offices  

A brutal truth for managers is that it is definitely more difficult to manage teams remotely and over technology than in-person. Understanding WHY exactly, and mastering ways to overcome detachment from the team, will help us become better managers … 

Managing remotely 

There is much content in the business press currently on remote management. Some quick googling will yield plentiful advice. 

But, to help answer the question WHY it is more difficult in practice to manage remotely, it is certainly worth focussing on FIVE generic key points of good practice useful for managing any type of remote ‘office’ worker: 

  1. Establish a shared vision, common values and a clear strategy – which helps everyone pull in the same direction when process is scant and managers are not around to ask on the spot. People will then find their own way forward … correctly, if they subscribe to the same vision and values.  

  1. Develop a working team agreement – rules of engagement if you like. AGILE teams do this well. They prefer conversations and team discussions to curt emails and bossy requests. Team agreements define WHEN we work, when not. They define HOW WE WORK and how not. They specify protocols for availability, style, contactability, breaks, leave, down-time and team-time. They take implicit corporate culture and make things explicit. They define “HOW we work” in this group – both online and offline. And they work, because all the team ‘own’ the final agreement and buy-in at the outset.  

  1. Utilise the tools we now have – don’t over rely on just your management skills. Structure works. Set regular meetings with teams, sub-teams and individuals – on ZOOM or TEAMS if necessary. Work to timeboxes to stay efficient and set clear agenda & take minutes of action items. Use the measures you have developed at every opportunity.

    Visit team members if you can, but stay in touch in any way you can; use different tools to do so, not just e-mail. Consider how you could use SMS, Sharepoint, Mural, Slack, LinkedIN, Whatsapp, even Messenger or Snapchat, as well as your proprietary in-house systems. Each has advantages and benefits. 

    Most of all, invest in shared and pooled knowledge and information sources: share-drives – these help minimise all the time it takes remote teams to find simple information that is often easily to hand in the office environment. 

  1. Ensure that you too are accessible – and take time to empathise with how team members are feeling and time to listen to their concerns. Invest in detailed support to help them overcome hurdles to success and develop solutions to the problems they face. Coach them. Make an effort to praise any success and, as the One Minute Manager demands, “Catch them doing it right.” Most of all, be flexible. After all, inevitably your teams working at home will be flexible for you
  1. Make time for social interaction – and little things like small-talk, team-building, and social development amongst the group. Find things in common, enjoy time together. Make time in teams events, online challenges, before/after meetings, even BYO coffee mtgs. Work to avoid isolated employees, people feeling lonely and uninspired – especially singles. The best motivation can be teamwork!

Facilitating procurement effort 

So, what makes PROCUREMENT, specifically, relatively difficult to manage remotely, compared to just regular remote office workers in other disciplines?

Essentially, five more ways :

  1. Aligning procurement goals to the business:

    This is sometimes more difficult than it appears. Isolating key corporate goals should be straightforward, aligning your supply-side strategy to them in line with point (a) above is not quite as easy.

    Talk to your stakeholders to understand priorities and communicate these to the team – in the framework of point (a) above. Showing a sense of urgency to help them, understanding their immediate needs and facilitating fast solutions is likely needed.

    Give your team the latitude to find solutions and balance priorities. Which is more important today on this one project – RISK, COST, SPEED, QUALITY or more SUSTAINABLE outcomes? Free your team to find the right answers for your harassed stakeholders.

  1. The break-down of paper processes:

    Working from home (WFH) early in the pandemic led to the speedy breakdown of paper processes. Suddenly the ‘paperless office’ was real. And procurement, built on paper processes over years of development was compromised. But investing in template documents, streamlined workflows & enablements like eSignatures can immediately make a difference to the responsiveness of your team to its stakeholders. Discuss them in your working team agreement above (b) and embed your new team driven workarounds.

    Being agile can also help immeasurably. AGILE is a business philosophy – one which follows the traditions of TQM, Continuous Improvement, Just-in-Time and Six-Sigma. AGILE PROCUREMENT delivers both speed and responsiveness for your stakeholders. The core values of AGILE lend themselves well to disrupting procurement process to bring better outcomes quicker. Download the free PASA white-paper to learn more about AGILE PROCUREMENT and how it can help?

  1. Using supply-side TECHNOLOGY – from home:

    Enable the team to actually work virtually and establish the right remote office infrastructure for them at home including hardware, furniture and connectivity – including VPNs.

    In procurement we often use a very limited range of the functionality built into our ERP and P2P systems as well as our proprietary procurement systems. These include many functions designed to help us – use them and combine this capability with widely available and cheap off-the-shelf desktop software to empower the procurement team.

    Following on from point ( c) above, put your analysts to work to set up easy-to-use systems & processes leveraged off the ‘right’ desktop software mining the data in your legacy IT systems. It is all much easier than it feels. Well within ordinary IT Depts capability nowadays.

  1. Building supplier relationships remotely:

    The business case for SRM is building. Top ‘C’ suite managers instinctively understand the value of good business relationships and strong teamwork. Using the goodwill of the pandemic period to grow and sustain good relationships with your essential suppliers is common sense – even remotely.

    Institute weekly calls or cycle regular meetings with your most important suppliers. As well as your team in (d) above, make time for your key suppliers – they are part of your team as well!

  1. Investing in CPD whilst managing a crisis:

    Finally, do not ignore the team’s real requirements to grow its capability now. In short, the need to grow capability has never been greater. The challenges of WFH and the challenges awaiting us post-Covid will sharpen the need for more skills and even greater capability.

    The best use of team-time – outlined in e) above as social interaction – can actually be team development & learning; which can be both rewarding an fun.

    To build your team development plan, see the previous SUPPLY CLUSTERS article last August. Of course, there is never a good time for training. No easy time to walk away from operational priorities to learn. But, in fact, team development is now more accessible online with many more options being developed in real-time for busy procurement teams – PASA CONNECT being just one. And procurement team’s that WFH have generally more time to invest on learning & development remotely.


Successful remote management is entirely possible. Yet to be successful, like much else, takes hard work and genuine application – concentrated effort. 

The UPSIDE from a successful team, we already know, is substantial. The DOWNSIDE of a poor team ethic is also substantial and can be disastrous. Applying these FIVE tips on good remote management, and their direct application in a procurement context, will help you succeed as a remote Procurement Manager. 

Of course, should you choose not to make the effort, and rely on the old ways more centred on an office environment, then maybe you are the ‘present’ one who is focussed more on the office move than the business? 

Jonathan Dutton FCIPS has a non-executive role at SUPPLY CLUSTERS and writes a monthly column for the website. Jonathan is the CEO of PASA who run a wide range of procurement events and training programmes each year and cover all aspects of procurement thoroughly. PASA AGILE is the coaching, training & consulting business of PASA which specialises in AGILE PROCUREMENT. He has also worked extensively in the past as a senior procurement consultant and trainer.