More and more companies are embracing remote work—it’s a perk that’s become commonplace in many tech firms, where the best talent might not necessarily live within driving distance of a physical headquarters. Effectively managing an increasingly virtual environment, however, demands a different way of thinking and working; many of the same kinds of management rules apply, albeit in modified ways.
For managers who work with widely dispersed teams, the key to success revolves around a couple of key things:
- Establishing and meeting specific metrics for work projects and goals.
- Being extremely clear with goals and directions, with a constant focus on the big picture.
- A capability to work on projects with a high degree of complexity.
- Promoting a commitment to goals throughout an organization.
Those tactics and skills will prove critical when handling some of the biggest challenges of dealing with workers in a virtual environment, which include:
- Facilitating meetings (especially large ones).
- Monitoring team progress over time.
- Fostering a good life-work balance when everybody’s accessible 24/7.
- Establishing and maintaining trust in a diverse environment with multiple cultures.
Virtual workers have a great deal of autonomy, but managing that autonomy in order to keep staff as productive and effective as possible is a gray and complex area. Many of those who work remotely report a sense of isolation due to a lack of face-to-face contact with team members and managers. Differences in time zones can emphasize the difficulty of collaboration.
Faced with those sorts of issues, managers need to promote inclusiveness, as well as build relationships and trust. That involves more than simply “checking in” periodically; relationships with team members must be planned out, with frequent touch-points and a variety of activities:
- Managers have a lot of tools at their disposal when it comes to keeping track of the team: phones, email, instant messaging, virtual media, Web conferences, Skype, and more. Use all of these to keep the team engaged, checking in frequently. If you’re the sort of manager who relies on phones and voice apps more than video, you’ll need to learn to pick up on the nuances of conversation without visual clues—a whole new skill set for some people.
- Leaders must have a complete understanding of virtual team dynamics in order to be effective. Some effective team-building activities include regularly scheduled celebrations such as birthdays; fun puzzles or games that unite the team to reach a common goal; frequent orientations via Skype or some other telepresence module; and having everybody connect in common chat rooms.
- Teams need established ground rules for success, as well as clear guidelines for work, deliverables and expected goals. This will collectively result in fewer pitfalls: Metrics (along with feedback) are critical in producing high-quality deliverables.
The demands of collaboration in a virtual environment force leaders to know a little bit more of everything: They need more knowledge of technology, more knowledge on how to work with team dynamics, stronger communication skills, and more patience. With the use of virtual teams expanding, managers are obligated to learn all they can about managing their people over long distances.