Today’s business leaders must deal with radically changing business models. One model that is growing in popularity involves remote teams. Talented employees want the flexibility and ease of working from home, and allowing remote team formation helps attract the best professionals. However, leading these teams presents a number of different challenges compared to traditional, in-person collaboration models. People who attempt to use the same management strategies will not see the results they are used to, which means that they need to become more creative in fostering cohesion and bringing out the full potential of their employees. Virtual leadership involves much more planning and calculation than traditional management does, but the following tips can help people achieve the same level of success in both situations:
Emphasize processes as well as goals.
Great business leaders understand the importance of aligning a team around a set of goals. Everyone should be on the same page in terms of what the team is working toward and what their specific roles are in moving closer to those goals. However, virtual teams bring the added challenge of process alignment. Because not everyone is in the same place, leaders need to focus on the processes used to complete tasks. Everyone should understand exactly what he or she needs to do and when to do it to keep everything flowing throughout the day. Every now and then, it can be helpful to do a review to evaluate how the current process is working and how it could be improved. One way to do this is to look at the results of the current process. However, it also pays to ask for input from employees about how they think work is flowing.
Promote informal interaction among team members.
The image of the water cooler has become cliché in corporate America, but it represents a critical idea. Team members work best when they get to know each other on a personal level, which happens through informal communication, such as when gathered around the water cooler. Virtual teams need their own form of a water cooler to strengthen bonds among team members, and leaders must figure out how to create one. One of the easiest ways to do so is to start each team call with a quick check-in among all members. This check-in reduces the formality of the usual virtual call. Leaders can also increase sharing among team members by employing virtual team-building exercises or using a communication platform that integrates social networking features.
Check in with each team member on a daily basis.
Some leaders may adopt a bit of a hands-off approach when it comes to virtual teams, but this can give rise to some misperceptions. If a leader talks to one member of the team each day but talks to another person only once a week, it can start to seem like one of these individuals is doing much more work than the other. To fight misperception and establish open communication, leaders should schedule a daily check-in with their remote employees to make sure that employees feel comfortable with their work and have the tools that they need to get it done.
Invest in the right collaborative technologies.
Virtual teams work the best when they have the tools they need to collaborate. Fortunately, a number of communication solutions are being released that make it easier than ever before to collaborate remotely. Some of the newest innovations included shared desktops and multipoint video conferencing. Leaders should keep in mind that investing in the best technology does not necessarily mean purchasing a system with all of the newest bells and whistles. Often, simpler systems fulfill all the needs of the team while bringing added stability and reliability. Leaders should think hard about what features their teams need the most and ask for input from their employees about the tools that they need to complete their jobs. Importantly, everyone should be on the same system so that no individual feels like a second-class employee.
Have a conversation about language and meaning.
One of the biggest challenges that leaders face when working with virtual teams is bridging any cultural divides that may exist between employees. In the office, nonverbal communication goes a long way towards preventing miscommunication, although language can still be used in ways that creates significant confusion. The stakes are even higher when employees do not experience the culture of the office and must communicate with each other from their own home offices. Leaders should therefore launch conversations about language and meaning early after the creation of a team and then check in every now and then about any miscommunication that has occurred. Following the main conversation, leaders should create a document about effective communication and post it in a shared workspace. While this may seem like overkill, words as simple as “yes” and “no” can mean different things culturally and have nuances that create friction if everyone is not on the same page.