Technological innovations shape the workplaces of today, but none more so than the internet. Not only has the digital revolution improved performance and efficiency of employees, it has allowed flexibility for both staff and employers. One illustration of that efficiency in action is the use of virtual work teams. Being able to collaborate with colleagues around the world, has changed the way many companies do business. Here are just a few examples of the benefits of virtual teams.
- Hal, the Human Resources Director for a large telecommunications company, had no luck finding local applicants who met the job requirements for a team working on a new project. He opened the position for remote workers, and just three weeks later was virtually onboarding Jessica and Simon.
- When school was cancelled due to inclement weather, Alan had no childcare for his 8-year-old twins. His office allowed telecommuting so he was still able to get work done at home.
- John wanted to hire Kyle as a graphic designer for his new architectural firm, but neither could afford Kyle’s relocation expenses. John was relieved when Kyle suggested working virtually as a solution.
- Guy was out of the country when intern Arisia accidentally deleted the project their team had been working on all quarter. Although he was annoyed at the interruption of his vacation, he was able to remotely access his files and salvage the team’s hard work.
It’s easy to see why offering virtual work options appeals to many employees – it allows for a great deal of flexibility. Virtual teams can benefit your entire organization but managing them can be a challenge. How can leaders best approach managing a virtual team?
Leaders need to focus on two things when managing virtual teams: communication and culture. As with all leadership roles, good communication is crucial to a virtual team’s success. Your remote employees cannot simply pop into your office for clarification on a minor point, so you need to have a variety of contact methods, like instant messenger, text, and email. Company culture is as important because it can be a challenge to keep employees engaged in an office building let alone when separated by hundreds, or thousands, of miles. That means you must foster a culture that supports virtual work by ensuring everyone stays connected.
These suggestions will help you better lead your remote employees:
1. Be Approachable. Have a (virtual) open door policy for your team. Encourage them to share their opinions and reasoning. Good communication starts at the top.
2. Hold Routine Meetings. Check in with your team on a regular basis. Do not micromanage but do touch base with team members individually and as a group.
3. Give Explicit Instructions. Never take any information for granted when it comes to instructions for virtual employees. What one person sees as obvious, another person sees as unclear, and another person misses entirely.
4. Explain Your Logic. Just as you cannot guarantee that all your team members will understand how to do something, neither can you guarantee that they will understand why you need it done. You do not have to justify anything but explaining the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ will make your employees feel more connected.
5. Encourage Collaboration. Remote does not mean isolated! Introduce your team members to one another. Encourage them to brainstorm ideas and methods. Use the same techniques you use for on-site employees, modified as needed. For example, you could begin each teleconference with a brief recap of everyone’s weekend or have regular video conferences to foster team building.
6. Embrace Your Role as Company Envoy. You are the face of your company. It is up to you to make sure that every virtual team member understands your company’s culture. “Walk your talk” and embody the company’s mission statement, if you expect your employees to care.
7. Provide Equal Opportunities. Adapt team-building exercises for online use. If your company sends employees to conferences or conventions, include virtual workers as well. Provide opportunities for training and encourage your virtual team to continue learning.
Leading a virtual team is different from leading an on-site team. The goals, however, remain the same and these suggestions should give you a good start to leading your virtual teams!