For three of the 25 years I worked in Fortune 500 companies, I worked remotely. This was back in the 90s, and because my work involved extensive travel, my home in Indiana was my office when I was not on the road. My supervisor resided in New Jersey and members of my team lived all over the United States. Our leader had to go to extraordinary lengths to make us work as a team.
Working remotely was unusual then but is much more commonplace now, and team members often live all over the world. Managing these teams to enable performance requires enhanced skills. So what is a virtual team? A group of people who work remotely and are expected to perform as a team in enabling results. When working remotely, three main areas that require special attention are:
• Project Management
When communicating, the leader needs to focus on the most effective technology, make sure that the scattered team members feel like they belong together, and build trust. Creating a “virtual water-cooler” requires emphasis not just on task, but on relationships. Leaders need to set time aside for relationship building activities that often have to be done via telephone or video-conferencing.
Project management becomes even more difficult when team members are remote. The chartering process of why, who, what, when, and how needs to be even more clearly defined and follow up, as well as deadline details, need to be most clear. This is often the biggest hurdle for remote teams between continents.
Development in the form of feedback and coaching are a greater challenge. The informal mentoring that happens after a face-to-face meeting is missing. The leader therefore has to build authentic relationships with all virtual team members and make sure that both constructive and positive feedback is given on a regular basis. Coaching and career path discussions need to be scheduled and done in a way that the individual feels listened to. When I worked remotely, my feeling of isolation was circumvented by a leader who was adept at this process. So if you are a leader managing virtual teams, here are three key points to remember:
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate and chose the appropriate technology to build trust and teamwork. Relationship building activities are key to creating “psychological proximity.”
2. Be very clear relative to chartering projects and conflict resolution processes. It is more difficult to raise and resolve conflict virtually and this can derail projects.
3. Check-in with team members often. Build authentic relationships, give feedback regularly, and coach and develop.
In today’s business world, virtual teams are a way of life. Managing such teams require leaders to pay even more attention to their task and relationship skills.