Management is always challenging, but the virtual workplace can add an additional layer of difficulty. Remote or virtual employees often feel disconnected from their supervisor and team members and may become disengaged or less effective in their role. Managers can also struggle with tracking performance and facilitating work flow. Whether you lead a full virtual team or have some employees working remotely, try these tips to increase cohesion and productivity:
One of the many perks of working virtually is having autonomy to create processes for accomplishing tasks. Also, trying to oversee the process in the virtual environment feels like micromanaging, at best. Make sure to provide clear guidance on what you are looking for in the end product, schedule times to check-in, and give specific deadlines. Then, use these to track performance and provide feedback. Hopefully, you’ll be surprised at the new, creative ways your employees find to complete their work.
We’ve all attended a virtual meeting or conference call that felt like a complete waste of time. For virtual employees, all meetings can feel like this. Prepare for virtual meetings the same way you would in-person meetings – create an agenda, invite the right people, start on time, etc. (Read more on virtual meetings here). To make the meeting more meaningful try using webcams for all team members, use a short icebreaker, or use the first few minutes of the meeting for team members to share something fun or personal. Maybe have each person post a photo from their last vacation or ask everyone to share an accomplishment in the past week. Without any informal time to bond with co-workers, virtual teams often lack cohesion. Also, use a virtual meeting space that allows all users to view and edit documents in real time. You will likely see much more collaboration and team work than if you rely on voice-only conference calls.
If possible, try to plan for some way for your virtual employees to interact in-person. You could hold a monthly in-person meeting, quarterly training, annual team building events, or a combination of all of these. Another idea is to host a monthly happy hour for your team to just connect and get to know one another. Be creative and think of ways to build unity within your team. You can even ask your team for ideas or to plan events. When your team feels like a team, they will start to work like one, too.
It is often hard for virtual team members to collaborate on projects. Usually, dozens of emails are sent back and forth and then one person just takes the lead and others edit and provide comments – right? This may work for some tasks, but others may need opportunities for brainstorming and creativity. Utilize document sharing applications such as SharePoint, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. to facilitate group work. You may start a discussion about a new project during a meeting and then use the initial comments to get the ball rolling. Schedule times to check on progress and provide guidance on next steps.
Remember that virtual employees should be treated like in-office employees who you see and talk to regularly. Be fair and consistent with communication. Plan time to talk to all of your virtual employees individually and give regular feedback on their work. Also, consider rewards and incentives that are equally beneficial for all employees. All members of your team want to be recognized and feel valued.
With virtual teams, don’t assume that ‘no news is good news’. As a manager, it is important to monitor the energy and productivity of the team. Since you will not be able to see things like body language and behavior changes at work, watch for things like reduced output, reluctance to engage, and lack of new ideas. Reach out to individual members or the team as a whole to correct any issues and rebuild cohesion.