In our most recent Tech Park Academy, Dr. John Zachary, founder of the industrial-software development firm Cognize, detailed the challenges of using a virtual workforce and how to get around these:
Challenge #1: Too many moving parts to monitor
One of the biggest problems for the manager of a virtual team is that there is simply too much going on. Remote workers are all over the globe and it becomes difficult to coordinate everyone’s schedules. As a result, day after day, urgent problems aren’t getting resolved because no one seems to be talking to each other. In short order, you become overwhelmed and it starts to affect your business operations.
This is where the first principle of effective virtual teams, proactive management, comes in. With virtual teams, simplicity is key. Scale back in order to have as few roadblocks in your communication channels as possible. Only implement tools and software that everyone can learn to use, and give them time to do so. The leader of the virtual team must also work to ensure team cohesion by establishing specific goals for all involved. Through proactive management, you will know that in addition to speaking with the leader, everyone is communicating effectively with each other.
Challenge #2: Uneasiness among team members
Sometimes when managing virtual teams, you may no longer feel comfortable with your staff, and they don’t feel comfortable with you. As such, employees stop following through on the tasks they’ve been assigned, and you may become reluctant to give them anymore. You become aware that the team members have issues working with each other, but no one will come to you for help. Once again, work stops getting done because no one feels that they are a valuable part of the group.
To combat this discomfort, the team leader must build trust for their team and, in turn, earn the team’s trust. With remote workers the best way to do this is by communicating, directly and often. The team members will follow the lead of a manager that is open and sincere with all of them. So, a leader should give praise regularly, but also be honest at all times. If an employee feels trusted and valued, they will feel more comfortable and trusting of the other members of the team.
Challenge #3: Lack of organization
When there’s no established process for a virtual team, a lot of important documents and tasks will simply disappear. For example, meetings may regularly get postponed or cancelled, or perhaps the technological tools have too many bugs. When the team does meet, no one writes down or remembers the critical points. A failure to streamline and organize the workflow only ensures that important work gets lost, if it ever even gets done.
To fix this problem, remember that organization is all about consistency and discipline. The team leader has to put a specific purpose and plan in place for each technological tool and then stick with it. With a set-in-stone schedule for meetings, one person can be tasked with taking notes and reviewing them at the beginning each time. If meetings are mandatory events, no one will ever be left out of the conversation. Essentially, by establishing protocol for virtual communications, the team has more time to focus on the actual work that it has to do.
Challenge #4: Difficulties setting expectation
In addition to processes, expectations are another set of standards that need to be made clear to your team.
“Remoteness can make people paranoid about performance,” John said, in his Tech Park Academy presentation. This can cause people to become defensive, stressed, and discontent.
One example of where lack of expectations can negatively affect your business is in team meetings. Virtual team meetings are especially susceptible to being dominated by extroverted, assertive employees. As a result, quiet thinkers never get to contribute important ideas.
The fix for the above situation is the same solution in many instances: set realistic expectations and hold teams accountable. For example, allow everyone in a team discussion a chance to speak. Ensure that they are all engaging with each other and that you’re not just leading a round robin check-in. As the leader, if you fail to set boundaries and expectancies for your team, you’ll soon find your virtual team in chaos.
Challenge #5: Disconnect
For all involved, remote work can lead to feelings of isolation between virtual and in-house team members. Those feelings are often mirrored by the in-house staff that has no idea who the people on the other end of the line are.
To break up the monotony, try fostering camaraderie by making work fun. Celebrate birthdays, host online happy hours on Friday afternoon conference calls, and just let people have a blast without it getting out of hand.
Using virtual teams can lead to breakthrough results in terms of employee job-satisfaction and overall company performance. But you can’t manage a virtual team as you would an in-house staff.
Whether your managing tools or teams, be proactive and consistent. And always communicate often and clearly to your team.
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