Wilson & Associates Monthly Newsletter, December 2017
Virtual Teams: Guidelines for Team Leaders
By: Laura Kilgore
As we discussed in our previous newsletter, managing virtual teams has both its challenges and benefits. Here, we’re going to explore some specific guidelines for managers of virtual teams that can help streamline the transition from face-to-face to remote. Many management tactics can be transferred to the virtual world, but will just look a little different.
Be clear about expectations at the outset. Good managers are always clear about the departmental structure and long-term goals of the team. But with virtual teams, it’s also essential to clarify individual tasks and processes. While your employees might feel comfortable asking the little questions in person, they might feel silly spending time seeking those minute clarifications over email or the phone. That’s why it’s important to make sure expectations are clear.
Establish ground rules at the outset for communication and accountability. Make sure each member of your team knows who they’re directly accountable to so they never feel lost. Remember: you set the tone for communication in your group. Make sure it’s clear, concise, and always courteous.
Check in periodically. Follow through carefully. Create rhythm with weekly or monthly meetings that meet consistently at the same time. If you have team members in different time zones, rotate the meeting times regularly so the burden of signing in early or staying late doesn’t fall on a single group.
Up next: Facilitate Communication and Relationships, followed by Use Technology
Facilitate Communication and Relationships
As all good managers know, team-members that work well together create a great end-product. Building those colleague relationships is difficult enough when you’re all located in one building and becomes even more so when everyone is remote.
Periodic face-to-face interactions are essential to building strong relationships and communication within your team. Again, your team members will take their cue from you. If you create a climate of warmth and open communication, your team will follow suit. Set the tone that regular communication is necessary and make it part of your team’s culture. Even something like a monthly team lunch can add a lot of value and cohesiveness.
Remote employment is possible to a large degree because of available technology that enables that communication and connection. As a virtual team leader, use technology to your advantage. Instant messaging, Skype, SharePoint, blogs, wikis, and even social media sites like Yammer can help keep your team connected. Consider using a shared Outlook calendar for your team or keeping a project status board on SharePoint. Using these resources together should deliver better team communication, relationships, and productivity above what you could achieve if the team were face-to-face.
As always, consider the individuals on your team, and be flexible. Don’t be afraid to try different things to find what works best for your team, and be sure to collect input from team members. Finally, emphasize to your team that you’re all in this together; working toward a unified goal will bring people together and make them feel valued.
By: Laura Kilgore
What are Virtual Teams?
As all Houstonians are acutely aware, back in September Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 52 inches of rain on the city, causing severe residential and business flooding (chron.com). Among those affected were many corporate campuses whose employees had no alternative but to work remotely until renovations from flooding are completed.
A virtual team is any group of people who are working toward the same goal but from different geographical locations. What was once known as “telecommuting” or “telework” has been rebranded over the past ten years with new labels like, “distributed work,” “workshifting,” and “smart working.” More and more large corporations are seeing the benefits of having employees work remotely, not only for their employees, but also for business.
GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com published statistics in June of this year that state that 25% of the current workforce works from home with some frequency and up to 90% of the workforce would like the freedom to work remotely. It seems the ideal work arrangement for many employees would be to work from home 2-3 days a week. This would allow for schedule flexibility and the chance for distraction-free work while maintaining the benefits of face-to-face collaboration. That’s where virtual teams come into play.
When a team suddenly switches from ‘in-person’ to ‘remote’, certain things have to change for them to remain on-target. You can’t keep doing what worked before and hope that it keeps working. Many managers and employees who are adept at forming tight-knit and efficient teams when gathered together in one office might be surprised by the shift in relationships when a team goes remote. The traditional office management models don’t work with this radically new team format, and there are several challenges that will likely show up right away if they’re not accounted for from the start.
Up next: Challenges that Virtual Teams Face, followed by Advantages to Virtual Teams
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