Challenges of Remote Management - an Interview

Challenges of Remote Management - an Interview


Why close communication, team building and finding the right people are key to secure the success of our work

Halil Kurt is Head of Project of one of our largest emergency-aid cross-border project of Welthungerhilfe in Northern Syria with a total budget of 15.97 Mio EUR reaching 500,000 people. The tricky part: The entire project is remotely managed from Turkey due to lack of access for international organization to many areas in Syria and the remaining serious security situation especially for international humanitarian aid worker. Halil and his team, consisting of 3 people, work with six implementing partner-organizations. The project distributes food-baskets, vouchers, non-food-items, it provides bakeries with repair works, refugees camps for internally displaced people with sanitation facilities, ships flour to bakeries and organizes free bread distributions for people in need. The security situation, corruption, and the amount of work pose serious challenges. How can such an enterprise be managed and controlled at all?


What is important in remote management?

Halil Kurt: The most important thing is to recruit and contract the right people for your remote-management team. I mean with remote-team the implementing partner organizations and your field-monitors, that are inside the target area, where you have no access to. A good system alone will not help you. If you start with the wrong remote-team-mates, it may not be easy for you to achieve your goals and objectives. Therefore, hiring the remote-management staff and selecting the partners should be done by someone experienced. We asked lots of organizations how they do it, so to learn also from the experiences of the others.

It is crucial to set your objectives and goals in a clear way to all partners, I mean the field monitors and the implementing partners. You have to be aware that malpractices are a big threat and challenge even when providing so called Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) for the monitoring. Even if you may think that the objectives are crystal-clear you have to have close communication with the implementing partner to guarantee that you are on the same page. Take into account the capacity of the implementing partner. What can you expect and what can he really do? You have to understand capacities, and you have to build capacities. Daily updates through messenger services weekly meetings through skype, weekly monitoring reports and daily site visiting reports, those are tools to keep up the communication. We used to have long weekly meeting with the implementing partners. We were explaining repeatedly what we wanted. At the initial stages, patience is key to success. Some of the false doings might be repeated lots of times. During that process, you must let the partner feel as the member of your team. Repetition of routine is important.  


Halil Kurt (Head of Project) at his workplace in Gaziantep, Turkey


How do you make sure that you have the right information about the context and about what is happening on the ground?

Kurt: You must validate data by system of cross- checking. Your field monitors should not be your sole source from the field. You should diversify your sources. You must have close connections with UN institutions like OCHA, participate in the coordination meetings, the so-called clusters and peer organizations. Attending different clusters and communicating with peer local and international organizations is vital.


What kind of resources do you need?

Kurt: During the recruitment process of the field monitors, we underlined that each monitor should have a laptop/computer with internet access and a smart phone. Since our communication is now through messenger services, skype and/or email, internet accessibility is mandatory. The number of people you need is depending on various factors: Your goals and objectives, the number of activities, the number of locations, the remoteness of the locations you are covering, and also your confidence interval and error margin. I mainly recruited monitors based on the intensity of the activities at locations. How many supported people can one monitor validate? Due to the volatile security situation, I prefer the field-monitors to visit close-by locations. Security is priority, nobody should be risking their lives. Generally, I request them to arrive at their residence before dark. For example, if we target 95% confidence interval at 5% error margin and 2000 households in one activity, one monitor can visit 300 beneficiary households and finalize the verification process roughly in 12 days.
Regarding the implementing partners, we have one project assistant for each implementing partner, who is following up on the daily routine.


What is important in planning the communication with implementing partners?

Kurt: You should visit the implementing partners at their offices and see it. Then you understand a lot about them. You must let them feel as your partners and that you are both trying to reach the same goals and objectives. Your relation should be at eye level. You must clarify goals and objectives at the initial stage. They should know about your plans and your strategy. They should be part of the development of your plans and strategy. It is about ownership and belonging. You have to trust the implementing partners. At the same time, they should know that they are monitored. We tell them: “If we are successful, then you are successful.” It is also important to have a standardized approach towards all implementing partners. Not only at project level, but at program level. All implementing partners of Welthungerhilfe in Turkey and Syria should work with us according to the same procedures.

Once you have a fluent communication, you do detecting, deterring and judging. For example, we find a problem in the food-voucher distribution: How do we proceed in the coming days? How do we solve the problem on the longer run?


Weekly virtual meeting with Welthungerhilfe's five implemeting partnes inside Syria


How do you structure communication with implementing partners?

Kurt: At the beginning of the project phase, you should express your expectations clearly. Especially at the beginning of the project, scrutiny is paramount. Conducting regular meetings as well as spontaneous emergency meetings with them is crucial. The agenda shall be based on the information you gained from reports: from your monitors, such as site visit reports, or weekly situation reports. Additional you can use sources such as the 4Ws (what, where, who, when) (a reporting format used by UN to monitor and coordinate activities of non-governmental organizations), reports from the implementing partners themselves, from cluster coordinators or other peer local and international organizations. Even we cross check information by Facebook research. As communication is a bilateral action, sometimes your eagerness is not sufficient to guarantee good communication – you depend also highly on the communication skills of the implementing partners. They should inform you about start and end dates of distributions and about the locations, so that we can send our monitors. Our monitors check the satisfaction of the people we support. If there are complaints we communicate that to the implementing partners and we need them to respond quickly. Having a good reporting structure in place is crucial.  You need to follow up all previous reports, all monthly meeting minutes, all 4W information. You must compare what was said before and what is reported later. You should make sure that the information is consistent, even in small details.


Halil and his team planning new emergency response activities in Northwestern Syria


What is important in the work with the field-monitors?

Kurt: IN this project we are working with five field-monitors on the Syrian side. You must understand what you can achieve with the monitors. Your expectations should be set initially based on the capacity of your monitors. Ambitions beyond the capacity of your monitors will stress yourself and your remote-team.  The monitors should see themselves as the part of team. So, introduce all staff members to each other via skype. While developing some tools, we generally ask for feedback from the monitors. We try to use tools that the monitors like. For example, we are moving all data collection now to IT based technology. Our monitors collect the data this technology then they are transferred to our office in Turkey, to me and my team. We ask them, as well as our implementing partners, regularly about their opinion, how things could be improved. Thus, they know that they are part of the team during the development phase. Then it is important to give feedback. You must show that you take their work serious.
What are your recommendations for a good monitoring system?
Kurt: It should be dynamic and adapt to new needs and contexts. It should have a learning system. You have to update and let the monitors update it accordingly. In the end, this is the modern way of managing projects. Even in the private sector it is like that: Products are partly produced and manufactured in different countries, then assembled in another one and finally delivered in another country. Somebody has to organize and follow-up on all of this, and to make sure that the quality is good. And you should keep open communication channels at all times.  

The interview was conducted by Lennart Lehmann, Area Manager Welthungerhilfe in Lebanon

About the project

The project objective is to improve the living situation for victims of the civil war in Syria by improving access to food for IDPs and host communities in Idlib and Aleppo governorate. The capacity of local bakeries to produce bread is increased through their rehabilitation and repair. Bakeries are supplied with flour and bread is distributed to more than 150,000 IDPs. The food security for the most vulnerable households is improved and negative coping mechanisms such as extensive borrowing of money or cutting down on daily meals are reduced. Over 48,000 people receive food vouchers distributed over several months, which enable people to buy food supplies at local markets. Small scale agricultural production is supported through the distribution of vouchers for the purchase of seeds to grow peas, beans, parsley, spinach, pepper, tomatoes or eggplants and fertiliser. With the first voucher distribution, agricultural tools will be provided. Around 5% of project participants will receive training in micro gardening for the expertise acquired to be shared within the wider community.

(Project number: SYR 1047)


Cash Voucher Distribution through Welthungerhilfe's impelemting partner IhsanRD in Syria (c) IhsanRD / Welthungerhilfe