As a Human Resources professional, you thought you could see the trends coming before they impacted your organization. Did you anticipate that a killer virus would force all of your employees to work remotely? Did you have a plan for managing your virtual teams? If you are like most HR managers, you were more than likely blind-sided by this one. However, even without the pandemic, a recent report by the World Economic Forum reveals that remote work is “one of the biggest drivers of transformation in the workplace.”
This trend was coming whether we like it or not. In the last 5 years, the employment of virtual teams has increased by 800% globally. Although many HR professionals and company leaders have refuted the idea that employees who work from home can be productive, it does reduce costs to the company and offers employee flexibility and greater job satisfaction. So as many of the world’s companies jump on the bandwagon and hire more and more remote employees, it is time for you to do the same.
For those in Human Resources, virtual teams pose additional problems including communication, training, management and accountability, and productivity. What do you do to ensure that all of your employees receive equal treatment whether they are working remotely or in the office? How do you ensure that employees and managers communicate regularly and effectively? How can you guarantee that the corporate culture exists and is maintained across the work environment? These may all seem like impossible tasks given the magnitude and diversity of your virtual teams. With the right tools, you can meet the corporate needs in this new environment.
Tips for the HR Professional
- Virtual team members do not have the luxury of chatting in the break room, or at the water cooler to build relationships. They must build relationships another way since as team members they have to trust and rely on one another. To accomplish their tasks and to be successful, they must learn to collaborate and develop a sense of accountability. With remote employees, this requires encouraging connections in other ways including through consistent communication and engagement. Encourage managers to hold regular team meetings that allow members to chat about their weekends, family, personal interests before they get down to business. Develop a culture of having fun by posting exciting news, sending e-cards, and recognizing team members for their accomplishments. By building relationships among the team members, you can establish trust, boundaries, and collaboration.
- Technology is critical to the success of any virtual team. It is imperative that team members not only have access to the technology that they need to accomplish their tasks but also proper training in using technology. Conduct regular training on key components of the programs that the company utilizes as well as on appropriate use of communication systems such as video conferencing, email, and phone calls.
- Working remotely can be very isolating for some employees even if they work at home with their families. They may feel disconnected from the rest of the team and alone which may lead to other challenges that an employee may face. Be sure that each of your employees understands the open-door policy and that you are there as a resource to aid them with their challenges. As you would with any employee, it is important to build a rapport of trust and understanding with remote employees, guaranteeing that your “office” is a safe space for them to share their concerns.
- Communication is essential no matter the environment but virtual teams need assurance through constant communication that they are vital members of the organization and that out of sight does not mean out of mind. Encourage team leads and managers to have weekly conference calls, ensure that they receive all company communications and that they encourage participation and interaction among team members. Because so much communication between co-workers is non-verbal including body language and facial expressions, video conferencing is for virtual teams to interpret and understand processes and people.
- Just because employees are not sitting side-by-side with one another does not mean that issues and conflicts will not arise. Be sure to clearly define appropriate methods of conflict resolution on both a task and interpersonal level including mediation by a member of the Human Resources team if necessary.
Human Resource personnel play a vital role in the development and engagement of remote employees and teams. As companies move in this direction, HR managers must remain on top of technology, stay in front of the concerns, and make the best use of their employees to ensure the success of the organization. As Sebastian Reiche, Professor at IESE Business School tells Forbes.com, be available, be creative, and be sensitive and you will be well on your way to successfully managing your remote teams.