Managing people, even when they are all at the same physical location, certainly has its challenges, but when you add distance to the mix, the process of managing a team 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.
When managing a virtual team, there are a number of things you should consider related to your management style. Various leadership techniques that work very well in person are much less effective when attempted with employees at a distance. The list that follows outlines some of these virtual management challenges:
Managing by walking around
This is the management technique of simply walking around the office with the goal of interacting with those on your team, providing guidance where needed, and observing them at work as a way of assessing their work ethic and job effectiveness. As you may imagine, this technique can be very effective if your team is outside your office door or down the hall, but virtually impossible if your team is at multiple physical locations.
Communicating with team only by phone and email
This technique can be very effective for your virtual employees. Phone-based communication is a form of human interaction that can help you build trust, develop a working relationship, and quickly communicate information without the need of crafting detailed emails. Email is also a good way to interact with others because of its efficiency at asynchronous communication across time zones and, of course, as a general communication tool.
When leading employees at your location, if phone and email are your primary communication mediums and you shy away from face-to-face contact, you may be viewed as aloof and unreachable.
Personally meeting all team members
This is certainly a standard management practice when you and your team are co-located. With virtual team members, meeting them in person may be very problematic. If you can’t meet them in person, at least try to meet them virtually via Zoom or other two-way video medium. It’s not as good as being in the same room, but it allows you and the employee associate a name with a face, which is very conducive to building a trusted professional relationship.
Observing day-to-day team work habits
If you and your staff are all at the same location, it is easy to observe their day-to-day work habits, after all, you are working together. This is impossible with people at a distance, therefore, you must assess their work habits in other ways, such as:
- Measuring the quality and quantity of their work, rather than time at their desk
- Team up with a manager at their physical location to be your “eyes on the scene”
- Assess their level of work activity by asking to be copied on emails and be sent ongoing status reporting
Bringing hard copy documents to staff meeting
This alludes to the added complexity of communication when you have virtual team members. You can’t just bring hard copies of your staff meeting agenda to the meeting room, you need the added step and forethought of emailing the agenda to your virtual staff allowing them to print it ahead of time or simply view on screen.
Encouraging team to engage socially in person
This can be done both locally and virtually. Locally, all of the old favorites apply, such as after-work softball or golf league, monthly department lunch, etc. Virtually, you can also bring the group together socially via online activities such as fantasy football and other fun multi-user internet-based games.
Ignoring technology-based communication tools
Lastly, as the manager of a virtual team, if you are not particularly comfortable using virtual tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and other similar tools, it will be very hard for you to effectively manage your virtual employees. My suggestion to you is to be willing to go outside your comfort zone and incorporate these types of tools into your standard management practices for the good of your team and the good of your future career.