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Managing Virtual Teams: How to Lead Remotely

Technology – no shocker – has revolutionized the modern workplace. Where once employees did all their work at the office, Gallup suggests that the virtual workforce is growing exponentially, with 43 percent of U.S. employees working remotely at least some of the time over the past year – up from 39 percent in 2012. And BONUS: It also found that employees who spend three to four days a week working offsite tend to report higher engagement in their jobs.

Managing Virtual Teams

But for virtual work to be successful – both for employees and their employers – one crucial factor is non-negotiable: Virtual employees need to have great working relationships with their team. No amount of technology or autonomy can replace the impact of having an effective, emotionally intelligent manager.

The way we work has changed and as such, the way managers must lead has to change, too. Here are eight ways leadership can successfully adapt to the virtual workforce model.

Here are eight ways leadership can successfully adapt to the virtual workforce model.

  1. Set Expectations. Be sure to let employees know from the beginning exactly what your expectations are of them and their role, specifically when it comes to …

Availability. Clearly communicate when you expect them to be ‘online’ by phone, text, email, chat or otherwise. And when they are not available, explain that they need to communicate this in advance.

Productivity. Explain the shared and measurable objectives in no uncertain terms to eliminate the temptation to micromanage.

Meetings. If there are mandatory meetings for which virtual employees will be expected to attend, whether weekly, monthly or quarterly, explain these expectations in advance.

  1. Don’t Separate Employees Into ‘Heres’ and ‘Theres.’ In a recent survey, remote workers reported having 25 percent fewer conversations with their managers than their colleagues in the office. So if, for example, there’s a meeting and even one person is virtual, have everyone attend as if they’re virtual, too.
  2. Communication Is Mission Critical. Written communication comes with subtle nuances that can create major communication failures so when in doubt, thoughtfully over-communicate and make sure your virtual employees do, too. More is definitely more here.
  3. Culture Still Matters. Unlike a physical environment, a cultural environment isn't something that you can see, taste, touch, or smell; culture is the only environment that you can feel. And it’s just as valuable to a virtual workforce as it is to any other, so be sure you foster, nurture and promote it.
  4. Lead With Trust. To lead a virtual team effectively, you must trust your team to do that for which they were hired. Remember to focus on what each individual is doing, ask yourself how they may feel about accomplishing the goals you’ve set for them, and then respond and manage accordingly.
  5. Be Accessible. Choose to use an ‘available or unavailable’ signal, as found in many email programs, to let virtual team members know when you’re available for a virtual ‘open office’ and then – and, this is critical – be available.
  6. Ask Questions, and Listen. Without in-person contact and its inherent physical cues, you miss important clues. Listening is at the core of emotional intelligence, and great listeners also ask questions. Actively asking questions not only helps you better understand your virtual employees, but makes them feel more valued, too.
  7. Use Technology. Inarguably, technology has changed the way virtual employees – all of us, really – work and interact on a day-to-day basis. So when you can’t walk over to someone’s cubicle, take advantage of GoToMeeting, Facetime, Google Hangouts and more to connect with virtual team members.

PRO TIP: Don’t forget the oft-overlooked and perennially avoided phone call, too, to stay in touch and nurture relationships.

The work environment of today has assumed a new dynamic as virtual employees enjoy the comfort of home or a neighborhood coffee shop. Technology has not only changed the way many people do business, but also changed the way managers must lead.

But with just a few adjustments and a little recalibration, great IRL leaders can be equally great virtual leaders, too.

Ready to take your remote management skills to the next level? Check out our on-demand Managing Remote Teams training course and get started today!

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