With 43% of employees spending at least some of their time working remotely, knowing how to effectively manage virtual teams is more important than ever. The dynamics of the virtual workplace are quite different from those in a traditional office, yet many organizations fail to take these unique circumstances into account. It’s no wonder, then, that nearly a third of virtual teams end up performing below expectations.
Fortunately, there are several remote leadership strategies that contribute to a healthy and effective virtual work environment. Organizations looking to get the most out of their virtual teams would do well to invest in remote leadership training to set their employees up for sustained success. Managing remote teams can be a challenge, but taking the following secrets to heart will help to avoid some of the more common problems in the virtual workplace.
1: Communicate Early and Often
The physical distance between virtual team members presents a major challenge to productivity. Without a clear set of expectations and procedures to provide guidelines for communication, there’s no guarantee that employees will be using the tools at their disposal effectively.
Virtual leaders must set the example for how they expect a remote team to communicate. This could entail holding daily virtual meetings, frequent question and answer sessions, or one-on-one updates with individual team members. Establishing clear and direct lines of communication from the onset helps remote employees see how their work fits into the team’s overall goals and how they can empower their teammates.
2: Manage and Resolve Conflicts Quickly
Virtual teams are more susceptible to conflict than traditional teams. According to Stanford professor Lindred Greer, people are more likely to take criticism personally when they lack information about the source. What might be taken as constructive advice in a face-to-face meeting could very well be interpreted as a personal attack in an email or text message. Over time, resentment between team members can escalate to create a toxic and unproductive work environment.
Effective remote leaders must identify and resolve these conflicts quickly. Here again, the importance of good communication comes into play—addressing problems directly can help to clear up misunderstandings and resolve any disputes before they become more serious. In addition to keeping the team focused on its tasks instead of infighting, defusing conflicts quickly also allows virtual managers to establish themselves as trusted and fair-minded leaders.
3: Earn Your Team’s Trust
Speaking of trust, there is perhaps no more important aspect of remote leadership than earning it. The traditional workplace offers many opportunities to build familiarity and cultivate trust over time, but working remotely can leave workers feeling like they’re taking direction from strangers who they might not trust to support them. If employees don’t feel like leadership is invested in their success, their job performance may suffer and undermine the rest of the team.
Virtual leaders must establish a consistent approach to management with an emphasis on fairness and reliability. Team members need to trust that leadership is on their side and committed to the same goals as they are. If they feel like a remote manager is constantly undermining them with unfair criticism or doesn’t support them when they face adversity, they may find it more difficult to contribute to the team’s success.
4: Promote a Team Culture
Even though virtual workers aren’t working side-by-side in an office, it’s important to make them feel as though they’re still part of team. According to a survey by Harvard Business Review, remote employees are far more likely than on-site employees to believe that their colleagues don’t like them or care about them. It’s difficult to foster trust between team members in such a negative environment.
Building and promoting a positive, inclusive culture within the team can help improve morale and make employees more invested in each other’s success. Virtual leaders need to take proactive measures to help their team members become more comfortable with one another. Regular physical meet-ups, whether work related or otherwise, are an ideal solution. If meeting in-person isn’t feasible, remote leaders can organize virtual meet-ups to help team members get to know each other a little better. Even taking a few moments to share personal details during a conference call can help employees form better relationships with each other.
5: Be Flexible
Adaptability is one of the key advantages of the virtual workplace, but to get the most out of it, remote leaders need to be willing to embrace change rather than resist it. Rapid shifts in workflow might require them to rethink how tasks should be distributed among team members, or a change in scheduling might leave multiple team members unavailable during normal business hours. Identifying and implementing the necessary changes quickly enough to keep the team on target is one of the ongoing challenges of remote management.
The task oriented nature of working virtually also makes it possible to experiment with alternative solutions to ongoing problems. If certain team members are more productive at different times of the day, for instance, it might be worth accommodating that change into the team’s structure. By continually experimenting with a virtual team’s workflow and task allocation, remote leaders can discover new ways of making their team more productive and energized about its success.
Remote leadership training that emphasizes the importance of good communication will provide the tools that allow virtual leaders to manage conflict, build trust, and foster a positive team culture that contributes toward success. A productive remote management strategy should adopt a holistic view of what makes a successful virtual team thrive.