“I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.” —Georg C. Lichtenberg.
As a manager in the current dynamics, you may have found yourself managing a virtual team. As out-of-the-blue as the acceleration of remote work may have seemed, remote work is definitely not a new venture. With all the available technologies, and the increasing demand for talent, visionary companies have placed remote work at the forefront of their strategies for years now. An MIT Sloan Management Review article on managing remote teams better acknowledges that remote workers outperform the counterparts working in the same location. Another PwC survey, found that 78% of CEOs believe that remote collaboration is not a temporary shift, is therefore are here to stay.
The unknowingness when first starting out to transition in the virtual landscape, however, can often be overwhelming. At the end of the day, you are simultaneously trying to maintain productivity and while morale, while keeping everyone accountable. However, there are ways to make this process easier, and help you lead the way through a successful remote team.
Here are some expert recommendations on practices that lead to better virtual team management, curated from writers at leading business and management platforms.
1. Prioritize regular communication
Communication basically enables remote work. It allows the team to address any difficulties and questions that may come up with the process of working remotely, while also helping managers keep track of everyone’s progress. Bret Greeson, writer on leadership and organizational excellence, notes in his Forbes article that aside from daily check-ins (yes, daily), the key is to actually over-communicate when managing a remote team. That is, communicating insufficiently is a challenge in itself. But when working remotely, communicating as much as possible to properly assign duties and desired outcomes is vital.
In the Entrepreneur article on 10 Ways to Successfully Manage Virtual Teams, Rocco Baldassarre associates regular briefings to the efficiency that routines bring. As he notes, by scheduling briefings at the same weekday, the routine will create more familiarity for the team. He especially encourages video-calls when trying to recreate the routine feeling in remote work.
2. Unify processes with the right technologies
If there is an ultimate aspect to invest in when managing a remote team, it is the technological aspect. Quick chatting and emails, as effective as they are, will not suffice. As Rocco Baldassarre in his article in Entrepreneur notes, this approach can lead to misunderstandings. He makes another great point on the two-fold way of how communication tools help remote teams: for immediate or urgent communication and for standard ways of conducting conference calls, and other internal processes.
When choosing the right tools, on the other hand, it also helps to keep the tools efficient and minimal. A Forbes article on succeeding in remote work for the long run cites the remote work playbook from GitHub on how when functioning remotely, one should strip the tools down to a minimum. A stellar option in this regard are virtual offices. Because of their all-inclusive functions of videoconferencing rooms, screen-sharing options, and a real office simulation for office banter, they make an ideal way to facilitate maximum communication with minimal tools.
3. Promote flexibility
Whereas there are benefits to overlapping work hours and synchronous collaboration, it is ultimately outcomes that truly matter. And meeting the desired outcomes, requires a different pace and setting for everyone. As Greeson reminds, team members have different environments when completing work tasks. Varying circumstances, may necessitate different work hours and different settings. With defined outcomes, it is not hard to track progress and not impede flexibility at the same time. And most probably, you team will commend you on that—as a survey by the Society of Human Resource Managers shows, 89% of companies reported better retention as a result of flexible work options!
4. Create rules and standards
Bret Greeson in the Forbes article mentions establishing rules of engagement when trying to manage remote teams better, as seen in the military. He suggests that in order to keep remote work more efficient to managers, it is important to standardize some details such as timing of communication, or number of meetings per week, or ‘office hours’ when employees can approach you during the day. Baldassarre in Entrepreneur also promotes the importance of setting standards for repeatable work systems. He notes that this can make the work more efficient and reduce task or activity-related questions the team may initially have.
5. Show empathy and emotional support
The change with the whole remote transition can induce various anxieties and uncertainties for the team. And understandably, the managers are the ones who set the tone for the process, based on how they react or handle the transition. Larson et. al in their article on HBR, treat the ongoing emotional support as vital when starting off as a new virtual team. Greeson further states the need to listen to the team’s concerns, and to empathize accordingly. In the initial points, it is especially important to mentor rather than manage, as Greeson puts it further.
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