Communication: Managing Virtual Teams without the Pain
Managing teams has always been a challenge. When you bring a group of people together, there is a constant possibility of disagreement and conflict. Different works rates and communication styles also muddy the waters of collaboration. When you take those challenges and put them online, it can be even more difficult to get things done.
Most professionals assume that a virtual team is less productive and efficient than an in-person group. However, with the right management style, virtual teams can exceed the performance of onsite teams. Clear communication is the key to managing virtual teams to success.
Successful Strategies for Managing: Communication
Before the 2020 pandemic, businesses were experimenting with the possibilities of remote teams. Using online tools, a group can include people from across the country and around the world. This ability increases the diversity of team members and creates new opportunities for innovation and unexpected connections. The arrival of COVID-19 made such remote teams a necessity.
Many of the typical strategies for managing teams are not as effective in remote settings. They rely on establishing a team culture through the many small daily encounters that happen in a shared space. For a remote team, there must be an intentional focus on communication and connection.
Provide Resources for Tech Proficiency
Online communication begins with a shared platform. The team members must not only have access to the same communication software, but they must also know how to use it. There is nothing more frustrating to an online meeting than participants who cannot unmute themselves or share their screens at the right time.
The group must also agree on how to communicate outside of regular meetings. If you are managing global virtual teams, you may be dealing with several time zones, and phone communication may not be feasible. You also want to establish expectations about person-to-person versus group emails and texts.
In an office setting, team members learn to trust one another through casual interactions. They make connections over shared interests or family situations. Developing this kind of rapport can be difficult online.
A growing number of remote teams are using unstructured coworking models to develop closer relationships. At a designated time, team members join together online. However, it is not a formal meeting. Each person works on a piece of the project in the same virtual space. Sometimes, these sessions may involve no talking at all or only brief moments of consultation. It seems that being available for one another over an extended period helps create professional trust.
The most effective teams know that they can rely on one another to get the pieces of the project done. As the manager, you must foster a culture of accountability. Remote team members may not feel as much pressure to accomplish tasks. Having them share progress reports in an open forum creates a social pressure to achieve.
Communicate the Company Culture
In a remote group, the team members may not all come from the same organization. Managing global virtual teams may involve freelancers and contractors as well as regular employees. By helping each person feel like they are part of the larger organization, you are encouraging them to work toward a shared goal.
Virtual managers should also communicate their expectations about issues like deadlines and participation early in the onboarding process. They should understand the group’s style of communication. Some teams prefer a free-for-all discussion style, while others work with a turn-based method for input.
Evaluate the Process
Participating in virtual teams is new territory for many of your employees. It will take time to learn what is and is not working. Dedicating time to regular evaluation will help streamline the team’s process. In a global team, are there barriers to communication beyond time zones? Are there cultural assumptions that prevent dialogue? Addressing the blind spots of a diverse team will lead to greater trust and enhanced cooperation.
Communicating in a virtual team does not just need to be about deadlines and status reports. It should also focus on positive progress.
Acknowledging excellence and celebrating completed project milestones help the team focus on the final goal. Giving a weekly shoutout to an outstanding member will also cultivate respect. As the team hears about positive achievements, they will have a better sense of one another’s capabilities.
If it is possible for your team, you might consider hosting an occasional in-person gathering. A retreat that celebrates the completion of one project and launches the next provides in-person interactions that will sustain the virtual work.
Meeting the Challenge of Managing Virtual Teams
Helping managers develop effective teams is one of the goals of my organization. I can provide tools and advice that will help you get the best performance from your group. Whether you are working with a traditional in-person model or stepping into the world of virtual management, I will work hard to help you succeed. Contact the Productivity Intelligence Institute today.