Virtual teams are increasingly common in today’s workplace due to the current pandemic. Whether your team is geographically dispersed and located in different cities or countries, you are on the road a lot and are not able to attend many team meetings in person or you have employees working from home, you are probably pondering the following questions.
- How do you overcome the challenges of supervising employees in different locations and/or time zones?
- What steps can you take to build trust and open lines of communication?
- How can you establish routines, expectations, and ways of working?
- And how do you help everyone to feel part of a team?
Ensure you have the right team
- Hire self-motivated doers that don’t require everyday direction to achieve.
- Manage by expectations rather than physical hours on the job and ensure that you can trust the people you hire.
- Communication is key to remote working so good communication skills (particularly writing skills) are vital.
- While it will be important to nurture a sense of team, the best remote workers will be ok without a social workplace.
Provide tools to support a virtual team
- Shared document storage/collaboration/intranet such as: Sharepoint, DropBox, Google Docs, etc.
- Digital signatures.
- Instant messaging/chat.
- Digital office chat rooms – Slack, etc.
- Video conferencing – Google Hangouts, WebEx, Lync/Skype, GoTo Meeting, etc.
- Ground rules for interactions such as: time, place, channel, agenda/topics.
- Clear accountability – monthly, quarterly, yearly goals, and stretch targets.
- Regular progress check-ins via an agreed-upon schedule.
- Communicate a consistent, transparent, fair application to all employees so there is no sense of inequality.
- Clear processes/guidelines around the “way we work”.
- Regular, agreed-upon schedule for face-to-face interactions with more frequent meetings in the early days to develop the relationship and trust. As arrangement stabilizes, the frequency can be less but it is still helpful to have a predictable schedule.
- Try to participate in conference calls/video meetings from a remote location when you are there to understand what it is like for the remote worker and their environment.
- Be available and responsive to your team.
- Be clear about your expectations in your communications, including how quickly employees are expected to respond to your email, what follow-up steps are required and on which days they should expect check-in calls.
- Establish frequent, recurring team meetings, and perhaps the meetings could be set up on a rotating schedule to ensure that no particular team member is disadvantaged each time if you are working across different time zones or schedules.
- Encourage the use of instant messaging, blogs, wikis, and other online collaboration tools and apps. Also, use these channels to encourage and spark impromptu interactions (water cooler moments).
- Try to use video calls/meetings as much as possible rather than phone or email to help establish familiarity and intimacy of relationships.
- Introduce/maintain a team newsletter highlighting key achievements, updates, team personal news, recipes, or anything of interest.
Develop familiarity and build relationships
- Build trust, familiarity, and empathy with your team by getting to know them on a personal level.
- Reserve the first few minutes of calls and videoconferences to talk about non-work-related topics like weekend plans, kids, pets, or last night’s big game. Encourage your direct reports to do the same with their remote colleagues.
- Set up buddy/joint projects or knowledge sharing across locations to encourage the sharing of information and development of relationships.
- Encourage team members to spend time in other offices.
Make everyone feel part of the team
- Be careful of using “us versus them” language when talking about remote workers.
- Focus on common organizational goals and objectives.
- Ensure that the work and achievements of remote team members are publicly recognized and shared with the team.
- Organize a full team get-together in person at least once a year if possible to work on team-building, development/communication of strategy, priorities, recognition/achievements, and sharing information/knowledge.
Enhance cultural sensitivity
- If you have team members located in offices in other countries, it is important that you have an awareness of the cultural differences in your team and promote cultural training for all members.
If you incorporate these ideas into your relationships with your team members they will be more successful and so will your business.