As the leader of a virtual team, properly interacting with your staff is much more complex and problematic than communicating with a group all working from the same location. There are, however, many techniques and processes that can be employed to minimize the effect of distance on your ability to effectively communicate with and manage your staff.
“Out of sight, out of mind” is one of the most obvious and insidious issues.
When people work outside of the office, unless your company’s culture is very accustomed to this, it’s very easy to forget that your remote employees exist. I don’t mean that this is done in a mean or calculating way. I simply suggest that if six people are physically planning on meeting in a local conference room, it’s easy to forget to call the seventh person, who will be connecting in via phone.
While forgetting to call someone for inclusion in a meeting is somewhat embarrassing, it’s the tip of the iceberg in regard to the issues that can occur.
- Remote employees may feel isolated and forgotten and leave the company.
- You may forget to assign them tasks, thus reducing department productivity.
- Without proper work direction, remote employees, wanting to keep busy, may perform the wrong task or perform the right task the wrong way.
One way to minimize the “Out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon is to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with remote team members to assure they are receiving enough of your attention. Regarding meetings, a quick trick is to include “Connect with virtual callers” as the meetings first agenda item.
Small tricks like these and those listed below will save you, as the manager of virtual team members, from continually having to apologize to your staff for having continually forgotten them.
- Have them call you for meetings, rather than you call them. This saves you from last-minute absentmindedness.
- Require them to send you a short daily status email. This provides them an ongoing outlet to inform you of their good work and a daily reminder to you that they exist.
- Establish a department-level blog or discussion board to allow all employees, local and remote, to converse online. This provides efficient communication between those in the office and creates an ongoing communication channel into the office for those working remotely.
- Define responsiveness rules. That is to say, how quickly they must respond to you and how quickly you agree to respond to them. This sets proper expectations and communication etiquette. This should also be done between your staff and those on your virtual team.
- If possible, use video calls via Zoom, Google Hangout, Microsoft Teams or other similar tool. Using video isn’t as good as them actually being there, but it is quite good and can help build personal bonds between you and your remote staff, as well as bonds between your staff members, thus helping your group develop a sense of “team”.
- If possible, have face-to-face meetings at some standard interval, based on distance, budget, and business necessity. Occasionally being with someone in person is a great relationship builder. This can be of much value in good times, but especially when conflicts arise.
- If all your work time is spent in the office, work from home once in a while to remind yourself what it’s like being outside the office and trying to communicate with those at the office. An additional benefit of working an occasional day from home is that it will familiarize you with the technology limitations and processes used by your staff when connected to the office via company laptop or home computer.
In closing, managing people at a single physical location certainly has its challenges, but when you add distance to the mix, the communication becomes even more complex. One of these complexities is the potential need to modify your management style to effectively engage, supervise, instruct, and evaluate team members who work at distant locations, whether it be down the street, across the country, and/or around the world.