Managing virtual teams can be a challenge – especially for those managers that find themselves in a brand-new and unfamiliar situation. There’s a delicate balance that comes with managing remote employees. Too little virtual management, and there’s the risk that the employee can feel disconnected and discouraged. On the other hand, with too much virtual management, the remote employee could feel micro-managed and frustrated.
As with many things in life (and in modern business), there is no hard-and-fast rule for how much virtual management is too much. Rather, it’s a balance that shifts from situation to situation and from employee to employee.
However, that does not mean there aren’t some helpful strategies that you can utilize when it comes to managing virtual teams and the personalities that make them up. Here are some strategies to consider when putting together the “perfect mix” of virtual leadership.
Consider the work that needs to get done.
At the very beginning of the project, take a step back and examine its different elements. Think about how often there needs to be a team or individual check-in to keep up-to-date on necessary progress – daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or other? If you do not see results, perhaps more updates are needed until you’re confident that things are progressing well. Or, if the team member expresses concerns about the pace or frequency of check-ins, try scaling them back or offering them asynchronous ways to track their work (shared online tracking, for example).
Take cultural differences into account.
Working styles differ among employees – and can influence the amount of management needed. If a team member comes from a culture that is more status-oriented, they may be more comfortable with a daily check-in (or even more frequent updates). Team members from more egalitarian cultures may want to come to you with any questions or concerns; their timing needs for check-ins may be broader.
Communicate clearly with your virtual team members.
Try asking team members individually what check-in pace they would feel comfortable with, and agree on what will get discussed during those check-ins. That can ensure the manager gets a good sense of progress and achievements. Additionally, team managers can try letting the team member guide the timing of the check-ins; this can give them a sense of personal comfort with the virtual management process.
Add in social or personal check-ins.
Remote work can be stressful for employees. A crucial part of managing remote teams is making those critical personal connections with your team members, allowing open communication to flow. Try sending a quick IM, just saying, “How are you doing today?” Hearing some of their personal frustrations or that day’s lack of motivation can help to bring the spark back to a team member that might feel isolated in their work environment or unsettled about everything happening around them. This can provide a helpful boost to the “balance” needed with virtual management. Additionally, make sure you schedule some team check-in time – either with formal meetings or informal virtual coffee breaks – to give a much-needed boost to morale.
Connecting employees is another integral aspect of managing virtual teams and managing remote employees. This can ensure that the lines of communication between team members stay as strong as the ones between manager and employee. Try assigning tag-team check-ins between team members (for example – in pairs and weekly) for each employee to talk to another for 30 minutes, connecting on both personal and professional topics. That will help keep the team connected, boost morale, stay in alignment, inform each other of achievements and roadblocks – and may even solve a problem or two along the way. It’s a perfect way to complement your existing management style.
Learn strategies for modern virtual management from Aperian Global.