Trust. Communication. Collaboration. Isolation.
If you’ve ever been tasked with managing a dispersed team, you know the challenges all too well.
Undoubtedly, remote teams deliver a host of business benefits: increased flexibility, greater access to specialized skills, and cost containment, to name just a few. But when you can’t gather team members in the conference room for regular face-to-face meetings, how can you manage them effectively – and achieve the results you need?
Here are nine strategies for creating and maintaining a high-functioning virtual team:
- Assemble your team carefully. Choose people who are self-motivated, disciplined and who communicate well in writing.
- Assign responsibilities accordingly. When your employees must function independently, matching tasks to personalities and skill sets is extremely important. Give communication-intensive tasks to extroverts; assign introverts to solo projects such as research or analysis.
- Work with time zones. Establish a work process that naturally flows from east to west, and consider relative time zones when scheduling group calls.
- Set realistic deadlines. Despite your best efforts, distance can derail projects. When setting project timelines, give all team members an opportunity to review and respond before committing to deadlines. Build in time cushions for inevitable technology snafus or other project delays.
- Choose the right technology. When creating your virtual office, let the project needs dictate the best tool(s) for the job. Consider cloud- or internet-based vehicles for storing and sharing your files, documents and contacts. Determine which communications systems will facilitate secure, convenient communication and collaboration. And once you’ve selected your tools, make sure all team members have the equipment, training and support they need.
- Humanize communications. Building and maintaining connections can be especially challenging when team members can’t meet in person. Establish guidelines and routines for professional, friendly and detailed communication, regardless of the medium used.
- Make yourself available. To be effective, your team members must feel comfortable calling and emailing you during their work day (which may fall outside your nine-to-five). So be flexible – and be available. Whenever possible, answer their calls immediately. Respond promptly to emails. The speed of your response is nearly as important as its content, when it comes to helping remote workers feel like part of the team.
- Find ways to build trust and a sense of community. Combat isolation and insecurity by:
- Avoiding sarcasm and teasing in distance interactions. Even the most innocent intentions can be misinterpreted.
- Handling sensitive issues with discretion.
- Creating a “virtual watercooler.” Encourage informal communications to build bonds and improve performance. Call your virtual team members, even when an email would suffice. While you’re on the phone, chat a little about non-work issues.
- Celebrating project milestones as a group. Videoconferences are great for this!
- Providing regular, timely feedback. Be deliberate in letting remote employees know what they are doing well and what needs improvement.
- Periodically assess processes and results. Effective remote team management requires you to regularly review and, when necessary, modify your approach, timelines, processes and/or technology. Ask your team to report on their accomplishments, and compare those results with your own. Revisit and revise expectations and goals for both individuals and the entire team, to ensure future success.
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