Working in the modern world can be disorienting. Much of what has been common in the workplace is no longer so, and innovations in technology have the potential to transform the office from one day to the next. The idea of a workplace, in fact, has become outdated for some, as more and more people are working with each other all over the country and around the world, using technology to connect.
This presents new and unique challenges to maintaining the integrity of the workplace as a concept, as well as to preserving accountability and the flow of ideas. When it comes to managing virtual or remote teams — that is, groups of people who work together without being in close physical proximity to each other — managers need to know how best to ensure communication and complete goals. Here are a few tips on how to do that:
Set the Ground Rules
Just because there’s no physical workspace doesn’t mean that group members should treat the project your managing with a casual attitude. Be sure to set the rules for your collaboration early on, lest your virtual team be unsure of what is and isn’t appropriate conduct. Set deadlines and due dates for tasks, and be firm. Do what you can to simulate the atmosphere and appropriate consequences of a physical work environment.
Determine Which Technology Works Best
Technology is paramount when working with a virtual team; therefore, it’s important to consider which technology works best for the tasks at hand, as well as for individual meetings and other situations. In some cases, the direct, visual nature of videoconferencing might be best, while instant messaging might be preferable when discussing relatively minor aspects of the project. Remember: Use the most appropriate, not the newest, most complex, or shiniest technology, for each situation.
Keep Communication a Priority
Communication is very important, perhaps more so when dealing with virtual teams because they are not necessarily in an office space designed to motivate and keep them focused on their work. As a manager, it is your job to be as communicative as possible when explaining project goals, tasks, duties and obligations, just as it is your job to encourage your team members to be communicative with you. Do what you can to foster open and easy communication, while keeping expectations realistic.
Be Culturally Sensitive
In many cases, working with a virtual team means working with people who are not from the same culture as you. While a project will demand certain sacrifices from those working on it, as manager, it is your job to be culturally sensitive to your subordinates, particularly in matters of gender, race, religion and sexuality. You might even work with people in different countries who practice different customs and, more practically, work on different schedules due to the differences in time zones. Be aware of any aspects of your team members’ lives that might affect their work and try to understand the implications.
Empower Team Members
Because you’re not working in a traditional office, it’s easy for virtual team members to underestimate the significance of their work or feel as if their lack of physical proximity to you means that they are not as important to the team. You should work to instill a sense of confidence in your team members, a sense that the work they’re doing is vital, even if great distances separate you from them. In most cases, you are going to act as the central point of connection for your virtual team, the only person they really know in common, so it’s important for you to do what you can to make your team feel that their contributions are acknowledged.
Comments: What tips do you have for managing a virtual team?
Harrison Kratz is the Community Manager at MBA@UNC, the accredited online mba program offered through the University of North Carolina which also some of the nation’s leading executive MBA programs. Harrison also sticks to his entrepreneurial roots as the founder of the global social good campaign, Tweet Drive. You can connect with Harrison on LinkedIn and Twitter.