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Managing a Virtual Team

Posted by Jessica Miller-Merrell

virtual team

Managing a team of virtual workers can be challenging when it comes to being on the same page and avoiding breakdowns in communication. As organizations come to rely more and more on virtual teams, it’s important that managers are equipped with the right tools, and that HR knows how to provide support for the workplace issues that may come up in a virtual setting.

How HR Managers Can Support Virtual Teams

  • Be proactive by recognizing the virtual team trends in your organization.
  • Be strategic by planning and implementing specific policies relating to virtual teams.
  • Ensure that virtual managers and team members meet required competencies set forth by your organization.

It’s often difficult for a manager to fully understand how a virtual team member is performing unless they are in close contact on a daily basis. This means maintaining ongoing communication through email or phone, setting specific deadlines, and following up to make sure deadlines are on track.  If possible, having the worker come into the office for occasional meetings is also very beneficial.

The approach to managing virtual teams has to be different. Since you can’t walk into a team member’s cubicle to see how they’re doing, you need to learn about their performance by keeping close tabs on the work they do. Stay on top of things by using the appropriate project managing technology, and adopt standard procedures that work across the board for both virtual and non-virtual employees. Virtual teams are very different than face-to-face teams in several ways. We’ve come up with three approaches that will help you get a handle on this management challenge.

Three Ways Virtual Teams Differ from Office Teams

Relationship Building: With virtual teams it’s more difficult to build personal relationships with each member of your team. One may be working in New York City while another is in the Silicon Valley. Not only will the time difference make meeting times tricky, but the fact that your employees are on opposite sides of the country—or the world—can lead to differences in how they approach the work. Being aware of these potential differences can help you smooth out any misconceptions early on.

Knowledge Exchange. When co-workers are stationed side-by-side in an office setting, a lot of informal information is exchanged. While working virtually, all of the information you wish to have shared must be made explicit via email and phone conversations or project management systems.  Scheduling regular virtual meetings with audio or video can help make up for this gap.

Cohesive Chemistry. I call this the unspoken bonds that people build while working together. It’s not necessarily a personal relationship, but it’s a bond that forms between two co-workers so they know what makes each other tick and how how they like information to be presented. This is an important part of team building because not knowing these things can create resentment or unnecessary misunderstandings. The key to making up for this is asking open-ended questions often, to give team members an opportunity to air any concerns before they grow.

Not all companies have virtual teams, but even if your company doesn’t today, you may need to prepare yourself for the possibility in the future.  Keep our tips in mind, to help keep team managers on track, whether their teams are virtual or not.

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About Jessica Miller-Merrell

Author

Jessica is listed as the 2nd most influential recruiter online and as the 8th most powerful woman on Twitter. She is the author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, a how-to business guide for Twitter users. She also writes for a number of leading publications, including Fortune, HR Magazine, SmartBrief, and HR Executive Magazine.

4 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Alicia October, 03, 2013

    People are social animals, and they tend to jump into the worst conclusions if they don’t know what others are up to.  To help build mutual understanding and trust between members of a virtual team it’s good to encourage them to share their feelings and chat informally  whenever they can.

  • Kim October, 04, 2013

    Some people need a lot of encouragement, while others are quite content with being left to themselves. To a degree, you manage people in the way they want to be managed. Still, not everyone can cope with being a member of a virtual team, some people aren’t cut out for remote working. Not having a boss in the next room to keep an eye on them, people sometimes get too relaxed and fail to accomplish the given task.

  • Viktor October, 04, 2013

    Managing virtual teams is a very touchy subject for global companies. Companies which have offices in Asian countries have some extra complications among which are language barriers, cultural and time zone differences. Asian culture doesn’t encourage open communication especially in large groups, and I think in this case it’s better to concentrate on one-to-one conversations.

  • Pete October, 06, 2013

    With the virtual teams it all comes down to one thing – communication. Skills and past experience mean little if the information shared doesn’t sink in and is misunderstood. Communication is the key to any team, virtual or not.

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Guest October, 06, 2013