Without a doubt, things have been rapidly changing at my company. Our managers need to make sure they are adapting their management tactics to keep up with the changes in our operating approaches. Their failure to do so could put us at a competitive disadvantage. One growing phenomenon in our work place is the increase in remote management situations. While this is not new at our company, it is happening on an increasingly larger scale than in the past. More managers have remote staff members, while some (including myself) have completely virtual teams.
Needless to say, managing remote teams was an important topic in this week's training program. We reiterated the importance of using traditional leadership skills to help teams successfully meet their business goals. In addition to that, we discussed new skill requirements that are specific to managing virtual teams. Two key topic areas were approaches to building trust and maintaining strong communication while managing people at remote locations. Below are items that were explored during these topic discussions.
Building Trust with a Virtual Team
- Conduct Face-to-face Meetings - If possible, it is recommended that virtual teams have at least one in-person meeting so that people can put names and faces together. Studies show that meeting in-person helps teams overcome communication and trust barriers during those times when they must meet virtually.
- Maintain Transparency - Team members should always be aware of department goals and priorities and how well they are performing against those goals. Additionally, managers must make it a habit to continually inform remote team members about issues that impact their work.
- Be Accessible - Remote team members must feel they have access to their manager (and other team members). Managers must take extra care to make sure they are being responsive to remote team members. While team members who are co-located with their manager will see the things that my be preoccupying the boss, remote team members could interpret silence as disinterest, which might make them hesitate to reach out to the manager when they should be doing so.
- Share Team Member Profiles - The more team members know about each other, the easier it will be for them to be open and candid during remote communication. Sharing photos, interests and areas of expertise will go a long way towards bringing team members closer together.
- Establish Communication Routines - Make it a point to get to know when each team member is most easily accessible by phone, email or other means. Set up specific days and times for one-on-one and team meetings.
- Share Good and Bad News - Provide status updates to remote team members on a regular basis whether the news is good or bad. While managers may be tempted to reach out to remote workers only when the news is good, remaining silent when it is bad leaves things open to interpretation which can create tension and misinformation.
- Take Advantage of Available Technology - There are great tools available for conducting virtual meetings, engaging in instant communication, file sharing, and capturing group input. Many of these tools are intuitive and can be used with little or no training. Others do require investing some time to learn how to use them. But the payoff for this investment is usually well worth it.