Effective business leaders are resourceful and creative in overcoming challenges. But even the most talented leaders are often dogged by how to unite and motivate a virtual workforce. Limited opportunities for face-to-face interaction and the fast pace of business can leave virtual employees feeling overlooked, frustrated and disengaged.
If you’re not dealing with this scenario yet, you probably will be soon. Three out of four companies worldwide have adopted flexible working policies, including both at-home and virtual work, according to a 2016 study by Vodafone. More than 60 percent of survey respondents said flexible working policies contributed to increases in their company’s profits, 83 percent reported improved productivity, and 58 percent believed that it had a positive impact on their organization’s reputation.
Business leaders must adapt or change their strategies to keep employees effective and engaged, says Neil Halloran, who teaches about virtual work force management at Adelphi University’s Robert B. Willumstad School of Business. Today, leaders need to understand how to create virtual teams, understand the dynamics, and determine how to best manage them from a distance.
Leaders of remote teams need to “master all the skills we always have, with an additional complication: understanding the dynamics of remote work and the tools at our disposal,” says Wayne Turmel, co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute and the author of several books on virtual leadership. Often, that means mastering new tech tools to “mirror” the interactions you would have with employees in a traditional workplace.
Rick Lepsinger, president of OnPoint Consulting and co-author of Virtual Team Success: A Practical Guide to Working and Leading from a Distance, offers these specific tips:
- Building relationships and earning trust take time, particularly when face-to-face interactions are limited. Use technology to help. Schedule short video chat “coffee breaks.” Use video and desktop sharing platforms such as GoToMeeting, WebEx, etc. to host virtual celebrations for birthdays and to share life events with coworkers.
- Monitor work activity through project management software (Basecamp, Wrike, etc.) and maintain high levels of accountability.
- Be clear. It sounds simple, but when interacting with remote team members, restate any questions or concerns they raise in your own words to be sure you understand what they’re saying. Confirm the agreed-upon understanding of the issue in a shared document that is accessible by all parties to the conversation. And encourage remote workers to reach out if they find anything about their work is unclear.
Invariably, managing remote workers is a process of trial and error. However, when you maintain regular communication and invest in building relationships with your workers-;including making them feel as much a part of the team as if they were in the office-;you can find the path on which to successfully lead your virtual team.
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