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5 Key Strategies for Managing Virtual Teams

managing_virtual_teamsThe future of work is virtual, according to a survey published in Fast Company. Thirty-four percent (34%) of business leaders said that over half of their workforce would be working remotely by 2020. That’s less than five years from now.

While working from home or a café does take some getting used to, the real challenge with virtual work is management.

Over the past decade, managers have been responsible for assigning, monitoring, and evaluating work based upon what they saw. In today’s work environment, that has to change because many employees are able to do their work from anywhere.

If organizations want to realize the benefits of a virtual workforce, then managers must become better at managing virtual teams. Here are five strategies for managing a virtual workforce:

1. Set clear expectations

For virtual work to be successful, employees need to understand the reasons that the organization is embracing virtual work. Human resources will want to make sure the rationale is clear, aligns with company culture, and remains compliant. Managers need to set expectations with employees including roles and responsibilities in the virtual working arrangement. Employees should understand how work will be accomplished and what work processes are considered to be acceptable.

2. Establish a common communication methodology

Virtual teams rely on technology to communicate. HR should work with their technology department to make sure the organization is using capable platforms that are secure and employees are trained not only on the software but proper technology etiquette. Managers will want their teams to understand the best way to communicate information and possibly develop a job aid that guides the process.

For example, what types of messages should be sent via email versus text versus over the phone. In addition, just because this is a virtual team, that doesn’t mean managers should not have regular virtual meetings to discuss issues and share information.

3. Create opportunities for the team to bond

While we’re focused on virtual teams, there are times when the team needs to be in the same room together. Teams need the ability to connect and bond in order to be successful. HR can provide managers with training so they are comfortable conducting meetings – both in-person and virtually.

For instance, managers could have a “meeting in a box” so they could facilitate icebreakers and team activities. If you’re looking for a resource, check out “The Big Book of Virtual Team Building Games.”

4. Provide feedback

Work is different with virtual teams. Managers have to hold employees accountable for results. HR needs to provide managers with formal training on how to evaluate the performance of team members they do not see every day and how to deliver feedback in a virtual setting. While the principles of quality feedback don’t change, it still needs to be specific, behavioral, and timely, delayed feedback can be perceived as tacit approval.

HR has an opportunity to bring real-time feedback into onboarding so it becomes part of the company culture. Not only does this provide managers with feedback skills, but employees are able to provide each other with quality feedback.

5. Be accountable

Successful organizations have a culture of accountability, not only individually but to the other members of the team. The concept of accountability is simple: If you can’t deliver as promised, then you’re responsible for renegotiating your agreement. That’s done by either changing the deliverable, moving the deadline, or being given additional resources – or possibly all of these things. HR and management plays a role in accountability by being a role model for the rest of the organization and encouraging others to do the same.

There are tremendous benefits to a virtual workforce: lower office expenses, greater employee satisfaction, reduced carbon footprint, etc. But to make sure that the business doesn’t fall prey to some of its pitfalls, it’s important to communicate at a high-level. And not only communicate about the work that needs to be done.

Human resources needs to set virtual teams up for success by providing the resources managers and employees need. Communications software and training are more than simply tools; they are essential elements to the team’s success.

Managers must create positive working relationships with individual team members as well as facilitate the development of the whole team. This includes delivering quality feedback and using team meetings as a method of team building.

Managing a virtual team isn’t necessarily more difficult than managing a group that sits around the corner. It does involve different skills – setting expectations, communication, facilitation, feedback and accountability. No matter who you are…those are good skills to have.


About the author:

sharlyn_lauby_hr-bartender_author_myngle_blogSharlyn Lauby is an author, writer, speaker and consultant. She has been named a Top HR Digital Influencer and is best-known for her work on HR Bartender, a friendly place to talk about workplace issues. HR Bartender has been recognized as one of the Top 5 Blogs read by HR professionals by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM.)

Sharlyn is the author of “Manager Onboarding: 5 Steps for Setting New Leaders Up For Success”and  “Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers,” both are available at the SHRM Store.

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One Comment on “5 Key Strategies for Managing Virtual Teams”

  1. Prasanta Shee Says:

    Thank you for the above article for effectively managing virtual teams. In addition to following above mentioned points, one can easily manage virtual teams using tools like webex, R-HUB web video conferencing servers, gomeetnow, gotomeeting etc. They work well.