You thought that being a manager of a virtual team was going to be easier than dealing with water cooler politics? Turns out that you were wrong. As virtual work becomes infinitely more common, it throws up certain challenges for a manager. Yet where there are challenges, there are some exciting solutions. Research shows that virtual teams tend to be happier and more productive than their office-bound counterparts – but only with the right tools and under the right leadership. Here we address some common frustrations of managers of virtual teams and suggest some solutions.
Problem: You can’t walk over to their desk and check that they’re working.
Experienced managers understand that in every team, there are those that fritter away time more than others and who need to be supervised in order to meet and exceed targets. They will also know that in reality, virtual workers might not always be working when they should be – for example, a person working from home might give themselves an extra hour off if they finish a project early in Sydney, when they know that head office is sleeping in London. That’s an hour lost, and it really adds up – and lost productivity reflects on you as a manager.
Use a good project management software that allows you to track productivity, and employees can see how their work impacts on the rest in the team. There are many great alternatives on the market.
Image Courtesy of Capterra.com
Always have a list going of small tasks that people can get on with between projects, or if they are waiting for confirmation of something across time zones.
Problem: The virtual employee feels isolated so loses motivation
It is harder to emotionally bond with those you’ve never met in person. Yet if it wasn’t possible, then internet chat rooms wouldn’t work- and nor would pen pals back in the day. The problem in virtual work arises from the lack of personal information that is exchanged in email exchanges and quick faceless communications. Personal relationships are key in making teams work.
Solution: Wherever possible, communicate on Skype or Google Hangouts with video to build personal bonds between employees. With video calls you can also see body language and facial expressions that suggest that someone is reluctant to do a task, stressed about a workload or even worried.
Emails are the poorest way to communicate with your virtual team as they can be misinterpreted and add to a sense of facelessness, as well as becoming disorganised (unless everyone you’ve employed is an email filing wizard). Again, use a project management tool designed to make virtual work easier.
Have plenty of virtual meetings to discuss projects and successes. Don’t get cross if you hear someone having a non-work related chat with a virtual colleague, in fact encourage it within reason.
Make sure you have a page set up with employee photos and personal info, as well as voluntary works the company or employees are involved in. If there is a physical office, post photos of it, as well as any staff parties.
On birthdays, send flowers or cupcakes. Every once in a while, call a long lunch or a 4pm finish on a Friday- if it happens in the physical office, remember to show those touches to your virtual workers too.
Wherever possible, meet in person. When you have identified a star virtual performer, do whatever you can to keep them- even if it costs your business an airfare.
Problem: You trust your virtual employees, but your other employees don’t trust each other
Again, this comes back to a suspicion that people don’t work as hard if they are not sitting together- and it’s particularly prevalent in the team members who are part of a virtual team.
Tell the employees about the other employees’ successes and projects.
Make it clear to your employees that each person’s output is measured and they are very much part of the whole team.
Use a good project management system where all team members can see remote workers ticking things off the task list is a useful strategy; as well as enabling you to keep a handle on progress.
Until next time,