Managing a team of virtual workers can be challenging when it comes to being on the same page and avoiding breakdowns in communication. As organizations come to rely more and more on virtual teams, it’s important that managers are equipped with the right tools, and that HR knows how to provide support for the workplace issues that may come up in a virtual setting.
It’s often difficult for a manager to fully understand how a virtual team member is performing unless they are in close contact on a daily basis. This means maintaining ongoing communication through email or phone, setting specific deadlines, and following up to make sure deadlines are on track. If possible, having the worker come into the office for occasional meetings is also very beneficial.
The approach to managing virtual teams has to be different. Since you can’t walk into a team member’s cubicle to see how they’re doing, you need to learn about their performance by keeping close tabs on the work they do. Stay on top of things by using the appropriate project managing technology, and adopt standard procedures that work across the board for both virtual and non-virtual employees. Virtual teams are very different than face-to-face teams in several ways. We’ve come up with three approaches that will help you get a handle on this management challenge.
Relationship Building: With virtual teams it’s more difficult to build personal relationships with each member of your team. One may be working in New York City while another is in the Silicon Valley. Not only will the time difference make meeting times tricky, but the fact that your employees are on opposite sides of the country—or the world—can lead to differences in how they approach the work. Being aware of these potential differences can help you smooth out any misconceptions early on.
Knowledge Exchange. When co-workers are stationed side-by-side in an office setting, a lot of informal information is exchanged. While working virtually, all of the information you wish to have shared must be made explicit via email and phone conversations or project management systems. Scheduling regular virtual meetings with audio or video can help make up for this gap.
Cohesive Chemistry. I call this the unspoken bonds that people build while working together. It’s not necessarily a personal relationship, but it’s a bond that forms between two co-workers so they know what makes each other tick and how how they like information to be presented. This is an important part of team building because not knowing these things can create resentment or unnecessary misunderstandings. The key to making up for this is asking open-ended questions often, to give team members an opportunity to air any concerns before they grow.
Not all companies have virtual teams, but even if your company doesn’t today, you may need to prepare yourself for the possibility in the future. Keep our tips in mind, to help keep team managers on track, whether their teams are virtual or not.
Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.