Managing a virtual team requires managers to learn a new set of skills. They have to assure the cohesiveness and engagement of people they can’t see. Above all, this requires open lines of communication and using technology in place of face-to-face contact.
But managing a virtual team requires managers to learn a new set of skills. They have to manage the performance and assure the cohesiveness and engagement of people they cannot see. Above all, this requires open lines of communication, using technology in place of face-to-face contact.
Contact with your remote team
- Schedule team meetings by telephone conference call or videoconference at least once monthly. Team meetings are for group problem solving and consensus building. Write out an agenda. Distribute any documents to be discussed well in advance.
- Meet with each team member one-to-one at least once monthly. Individual meetings are for checking in about what employees are working on and how they are doing, and for identifying any problems or help they need.
- Stay in frequent e-mail contact between telephone calls.
- Try to get your team together in person at least once each year. Build in some fun, team-building activities if possible. At least have dinners together.
How to manage performance
Team meetings by conference call or videoconference are an opportunity to assess how people are doing. Listen carefully to each member on the call. Do they sound engaged and excited? Are they actively participating and contributing to the agenda? Or are they silent? Do they seem to be bored or lacking in energy?
When you notice any of the latter, follow up right away with a private phone call to find out what it means. Do they disagree with the direction of the team? Have they become unmotivated? Do they have a personal crisis distracting them? Your response will depend on the answers. Of course, the best gauge of performance is whether the employees are getting the expected results. Is their work as good as before they started telecommuting? Is their productivity on a level with other similarly situated employees?
Working remotely is not for some people and this needs to be recognized. Some employees need face-to-face contact to feel fulfilled in the work place and to be productive.
Following are some additional signs that might indicate performance problems:
- Do the employees often have long delays in returning emails and phone calls?
- Do they never pick up the phone when you call, always letting it go into voice mail?
- Is there noise in the background during phone calls? Are they frequently interrupted during calls?
- Do they miss deadlines?
- Is their work rushed or of poor quality?
Employees who show any of these signs may lack the self-discipline to work remotely or may allow their personal life to interfere with their work. You will need to have a frank discussion about your concerns. Stick to behaviors that you have observed. Don’t make accusations or assumptions about the causes of those behaviors. But hold employees accountable for meeting the expectations of their job if they want to keep that job.
Establish a set of company wide guidelines for the work-from-home structure. Include whether the company will or will not pay for the following: Internet connection, fixed phone line, mobile phone line, printer, desk, etc.
Virtual teams, remote workers, telecommuters – whatever name you call them – the practice is becoming more commonplace. For good reason.
Allowing employees to work remotely saves the company rent, utilities and cleaning services. It gives you a much larger pool of talent to choose from, and you can have employees located wherever you have customers.
Not surprisingly, working remotely is popular with employees, so they have higher job satisfaction and lower turnover.