In our previous article we started to explore the strategies to effectively manage a virtual team, here are the final 3 strategies.
4. Appreciate The Challenges
Like any team, a virtual team will have its challenges, and these can be compounded by the ‘virtual’ nature of their work. While it can be easy to overlook these, especially when there are so many pressing business priorities, you do so at your own peril.
Whatever the problems your team are experiencing it’s helpful to recognise them, discuss them, and find ways of working through them.
A common challenge is ‘misunderstandings’ which usually occurs when team members are relying on email, IM, and other communication platforms where it’s easy for people to create a meaning about something and take a comment personally when the person sending the message meant something entirely different.
Make a point of asking your team members regularly about the challenges that they face, and coach them to explore solutions. Then, help them to use their insights into the team and its tasks to come up with answers.
A frequent situation, for example, is where a team member can’t participate in a brainstorming session or call because of time zone differences. Ask them how they could use technology to submit their ideas ahead of time.
5. Build Relationships and Trust
While working in different offices, time zones or from home creates challenges for teams to meet, it is important to create opportunities for informal online and face to face get together.
If you can, plan to bring your team together in person at least once, preferably twice a year. Though this can be expensive and time-consuming, it does, give people time to nurture and strengthen relationships which then help to build trust.
Over time people will look to one-another, as well as you, for support. Encourage your team to build on those face to face get together using their preferred social networking tools. Creating and using ‘private team groups’ gives them insight into each other’s work and social lives as well as their personalities and interests.
These are great ways to share the different parts of their lives in a similar way as team members do who work in the same office day after day.
Remember: Let your team know that it’s OK to spend time on this (within reason) as it’s a team-building activity.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that depending on the cultures some of you team come from, it may not be considered appropriate to share personal information. If you manage an international team, take the time to understand the different cultures and what is and isn’t ok. Ensure your team are respectful of these differences too.
6. Support And Motivate
It doesn’t matter if your team are based together in one office or virtual, they need your direction, guidance and support.
In terms of team culture, it’s as important to create the same kind of working culture and environment that you would create if you were sat in the same office. Have an “open door policy:” make sure that team members know how to get what they need from you.
Which ever way you are communicating with your team remember; they need regular and specific feedback. They need to know when they are doing well and will need developmental feedback when they are going off track.
Managing expectations: As with any team there will inevitably be aspects of virtual working that you won’t be able to change, and it’s important that they don’t take out their frustrations on colleagues. Manage their expectations around what is easier to change and what they will need to work with. Encourage them to ask for help when they need it from colleagues or yourself, too. Often a buddying or mentoring system can work well and encourages cross-cultural learning.
Virtual team working is increasingly popular and provides many advantages to organisations and their employees. While it can be challenging for managers, there are numerous resources available to support you are managing your virtual team. Use these 3 strategies plus the 3 covered in part 1 of this article and see how you and your team reap the benefits.
How to manage a virtual team is one of the elements that we teach within our bespoke management and leadership courses at Excel Communications. To learn more, contact us here, or call us on 01628 488 854.