- Blog post
Managing Virtual Teams: 7 Best Practices
Research reported in Harvard Business Review confirmed what most people understand intuitively: Remote workers worry about being out of the loop. Offsite employees report that they often feel that decisions affecting them are made without their input, that they’re at a disadvantage when it comes to office politics, and that their contributions are often overlooked or ignored.
Seven best practices
The research study also asked more than 1,100 remote workers to describe a manager who was good at managing remote teams. From their responses, the researchers identified seven best practices for managers:
1. Frequent and consistent check-ins
It’s tempting for busy managers to take an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. After all, if an offsite employee needs something, they’ll let you know, right. But respondents said that successful managers check in often. Some check in daily, some once a week, some every two weeks. The key is to do so consistently. One way is by establishing standing meeting – for example, a virtual team meeting every Tuesday at 10.
2. Real-time dialogue
Email and texting are quick and efficient. They also create a paper trail so managers and employees can go back to confirm details and expectations. But real-time dialogue – face-to-face meetings and phone calls — helps reinforce a sense of connectedness, and contributes to success. Once again, regular contact is essential, so don’t leave these encounters up to chance. Put them on your schedule.
3. High-level communication skills
That’s a basic requirement for managers, of course. But it’s even more critical for virtual teams. In many encounters, you don’t have the benefit of body language to help you figure out what’s going on and create a sense of connectedness. So managers need to be good listeners, ask detailed follow-up questions and go out of their way to communicate trust and respect.
4. Explicit expectations
When someone is in the same location as you, you have many chances to make sure the employee is doing what you want and redirecting their efforts if necessary. With remote employees, you don’t have the same opportunities for midcourse corrections. So you need to be direct and clear about your expectations.
With far-flung teams, managers can’t work a 9-to-5 shift. They need to be available to employees whenever they’re working. Effective managers let employees know that they can reach out however and whenever they need to (subject to some reasonable limits, of course). And in an emergency – or any situation that requires the manager’s immediate involvement — employees need to know that they’re not only encouraged, but expected, to keep managers in the loop.
6. Comfort with tech
Virtual teams depend on communications technology, so managers need to be fluent in tools like Skype and Slack. Those who rely only on the phone and email will have trouble maintaining cohesion and focus among team members. If you’re not comfortable with the latest tech, set aside time to master it – and insist that your people do likewise.
7. Focus on relationships
Virtual teams lack the water-cooler moments where managers learn about their team members as people. So don’t limit your encounters to task-related calls and meetings. When you’re checking in with individual team members, take time to ask about their families and personal interests. Likewise, encourage team members to do the same on a peer-to-peer basis. Let them know that they’re not wasting time on idle chitchat; the team’s success depends on everyone knowing each other as people.
Source: Grenny, J., & Maxfield, D. (2017). A study of 1,100 employees found that remote workers feel shunned and left out. Harvard Business review, November 2.