Quality Technology is Required for Working Virtually; Thoughtful Communication is Required for Leading Virtually

I’ve been working in a virtual team for more than a year in my job.  The reason why I thought to pose the question of how a virtual team can be best managed to the Coffee Shop HR team is mainly because I don’t feel like I have an answer.

I know I’m a thoughtful employee: performance management, employee engagement and morale are concerns that I hold close to my heart.  And while I’ve given it a year’s thought in my current role, I continue to struggle with the question of how things can be made better despite personal experience and research.

Although virtual teams can be cost effective, and certainly require that employees travel less for their work, there are challenges that virtual teams face on a regular basis:

  • Measuring the performance of employees is difficult because you are rarely in the same physical space; you can’t see how people work, you can often only see the outcome
  • Missing out on casual discussions and informal training/mentoring that takes place when you’re physically in the same space is a disadvantage for employees and management
  • Attempting to build a rapport with coworkers using technology (over the phone or via video conference) feels impersonal.

Because the Coffee Shop HR team is located in different areas – and I prefer it to be that way for the sake of bringing you a diverse outlook – we also operate in a virtual team. This is certainly my foray into managing a virtual team myself, which was another reason to pose this question to such a reflective group.

While I don’t believe I have the answer to the question ‘how can you best manage a virtual team,’ I do offer three strong suggestions:

1. Find ways to connect with all staff on an individual level

This seems like an easy and obvious task, but because you’ll be relying on technology for communication, it’s not simple at all.  You must find ways to make a genuine connection with staff.  That doesn’t mean you’re necessarily friends who go on vacation together, but know who that individual is as a person.

From a business standpoint, if you don’t know who that person is, how will you ever know how long they’re planning to stay?  Turnover, no question is a significant expense.  And truly, that’s only one reason why you must accept the importance of knowing your staff.

2. Ensure that your expectations for staff is always clear

When video conference meetings end, you won’t run into staff in the hallways as they return to their desks.  You won’t run into them period because you’ll be communicating via technology on a daily basis.  So you must ensure that your expectations as a manager are clear.  This goes hand in hand with the need for stellar and inventive communication.  Clear expectations set the stage for performance and success, so it deserves your attention.

3. Success as a virtual manager depends on your ability to communicate

If each employee requires unique attention at the worksite, recognize that if you are working virtually, you will still need to connect with staff even if they`re not simply down the hall.  You need to manage your communication style so that you are leading your team from a distance.

Something to be aware of is how your communication style changes after starting to work in a virtual team.  Consider working with staff virtually, and meeting clients in person.  Do you email more, and meet in person less?

Whether or not changes to your communication are good or bad depend on the situation.  But what is clear is that your style will change because you’ll be working in a unique environment.  So be aware of how you adapt, and how it affects your business and management style.

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