Managing Virtual Teams: 7 Simple Tips to Keep Performance and Teamwork High

October 27, 2017

With more people working at home or in remote locations, managing virtual teams is a growing responsibility for many types of businesses.

But it doesn’t have to cause daunting fears.

More than 78 million baby boomers will retire in the next 10 to 12 years, according to Jennifer Wilson of Convergence Coaching. Fewer than 50 million Generation X members are waiting to replace them. With younger workers, work-life balance and flexible scheduling are almost as valued as compensation and advancement potential.

A recent survey of CPA firms found that almost all of them allow for flexible scheduling or work locations, Wilson says. Forty-two percent retained a member who moved out of town, while 15 percent actively recruited from another geographic location with the intent to use that employee remotely.

To attract and retain top talent and support work-life balance, employers must embrace a workforce that works smarter and leverages technology. One way or another, these growing trends will come into play for anyone managing employees whose work doesn’t always have to be completed on site.

Here are seven simple ideas to help manage your employees who work a flexible remote schedule.

1. Set Them Up With Technology

Technology is a great enabler and the most critical and important tool. Work with your IT team to make sure remote employees are educated on Internet speed requirements and home office set-up and ensure they have the tools and equipment necessary to work efficiently and effectively in a secured environment. That will let them be as productive outside of the office as they are inside it.

2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

And then communicate some more. Learn each team member’s communication preferences – email, phone, text, etc. Establish and keep regularly scheduled meetings using Skype, Zoom or other video means to see and connect with everyone involved. Make everyone’s schedules and contact information accessible. Be intentional about communicating on a regular basis. Communicate early, often and clearly, with meaningful follow-up.

3. Establish Expectations

The level of flexibility clearly depends on what works best for the team and for clients, ensuring you’re providing the same level of excellence and service. Are there core hours that remote team members need to work or be available? How prompt must all email or voicemail replies be? How often will you check in with each remote worker? What is dress protocol for video conferencing? These expectations must be established from the onset.

4. Establish Trust

When thinking about managing virtual teams, a typical mindset is: If I can’t see you, then you can’t be working. But trust is everything. Make it clear you respect everyone as a professional and you expect them to deliver results, stay focused, ask for help and meet goals.

5. Practice Accountability

Just as you do with team members down the hall, you’ll need to establish metrics to monitor remote workers’ results and productivity. Are they completing assigned tasks? Are they meeting requirements and goals? Are they communicating properly with you and colleagues?

6. Be Clear on Roles

Make sure everyone in the office, and everyone working remotely, is on the same page about who’s doing what and who’s responsible for what. Clarity of ownership is critical so there is no misunderstanding. Anyone working remotely must make sure that he or she can still perform their job responsibilities.

7. Policy and Rollout

Create a written policy and guidelines for preferences, expectations and any specific rules your firm has when it comes to managing virtual teams. Then pilot it with a few teams at a time, seek feedback, make adjustments and incorporate the feedback into the policy.

Finally, a bonus tip from Jennifer Wilson – and it’s absolutely essential. Do not tolerate sludge or sarcasm.

For example, don’t allow anyone in your organization to use “air quotes” when talking about working from home. Don’t let a colleague say, “I forgot you even worked here,” to another teammate they don’t see in the office every day.

Everyone in the organization needs to be on board and participate openly, from the CEO on down.

Remember that one size does not fit all. Flexibility is key, as long as the work gets done and can be measured.

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