A shift is occurring. As more employees work from home and remote team members are added, companies are learning that change is happening. A shift in the way that supervisors and leaders manage employees has occurred.
While employees can balance their work and personal lives more effectively, managers have had to rethink the methods that they use to manage these remote employees. The term “virtual teams” has been created to define employees working for the same company yet from physically diverse locations. In other words, working remotely from someplace other than the office or headquarters.
According to Keith Ferrazi, CEO of a research-based consulting and training company, in his article in the Harvard Business Review, Getting Virtual Teams Right, “physically dispersed employees are more often just a necessity of doing business.” With the massive improvements in technology, many employees now have the ability to do the same job from anywhere in the world. In some industries, they may even do it better!
While working remotely may be appealing, cost-effective, and efficient for most employees and companies, it is not without its own set of challenges. Unmotivated employees, technology issues, lack of communication. These are just some of the stumbling blocks that may inhibit productivity. However, by making some changes in the way that remote employees are managed, this shift from an onsite team to a virtual team can be seamless and ultimately, prove to be efficient and productive.
Building the right team is a challenge that many managers face but building the right virtual team may be an even greater hurdle. The first step to managing virtual teams is to put the right people in the right roles. Not everyone is suited to work remotely: lack of motivation, discipline, too many distractions. These are all indicators that a team member may not have what it takes to effectively do the job remotely.
While every manager has risen to the position because of their leadership qualities, managing virtual teams, in fact, requires some additional skills:
- Building trust. Of course, developing and maintaining trust is essential to every work and personal relationship. In an office setting, coworkers instinctively know who they can trust and a rapport is built through the day to day interactions. In a virtual environment, trust must be formed exclusively based on reliability. Trust is built when specific requirements and defined responsibilities are met or achieved.
- A team is built on relationships that are nurtured through interaction and communication. When team members have to rely on video conferencing and phone calls, the interpersonal connection can be lost or hindered as body language, intonation, and movement are much more difficult to read. The manager of a virtual team must hone in on various methods of communicating more effectively including using the body more to communicate meaning on video calls and changing tone, volume, and pitch to more effectively communicate meaning, passion, persuasion, and intent.
- Decision-making. In many organizations, the style and method of decision-making are dictated by the organization’s culture. In a virtual environment in which the culture may not necessarily be transparent, the decision-making process may be less defined. However, to effectively manage a virtual team, managers must clearly define the process of making decisions to e30nsure that they are made effectively, efficiently, and in the best interest of the company and employees involved.
- Leadership skills. Leadership skills in an office setting may be defined by the culture as well as the defined roles and responsibilities. In a virtual team, lines of responsibility can easily be crossed, confused, or blurred if there is no clear and distinct guidance from team leaders and supervisors. Roles and responsibilities should be more clearly defined than in a typical office environment where employees can more easily ask for clarification, assistance, and guidance.
Virtual teams are the wave of the future as advancements in technology make working remotely more efficient and more appealing. Those managers who can easily transition into this role of managing remote employees will find that they develop more productive team members who are dedicated, loyal, and committed to completing the tasks at hand and working towards the common goals as defined by leadership.
Aside from these very important skills, managers must be ready to change the way that they work, communicating differently, micromanaging less, and trusting more. In a virtual team environment, it is more difficult to keep a finger on the pulse of employees and projects. By nurturing and honing these skills, managers can better identify problems before they arise, improve cohesiveness within the group, and improve productivity. Welcome to the new world of virtual teams!