Virtual Team Management – Tips and Techniques

12.11.2011 0

Tips

I was asked a little while ago what were some good tips for managing teams remotely and these days it’s not uncommon to have teams spread out in different locations. We no longer need the office surrounding to get projects done or to gel as a team, thanks to all the technology that is available to us today.  Still there is a certain art in managing a team remotely and establishing an environment where team members feel the same level of support and involvement as they do if their manager is right there with them in the office.

Make use of tools. Video conferencing, email, chat programs like Skype or MSN Messenger, and web conferencing like Webex, or joinme…the choices are out there and all these tools should become part of the day to day management of a team.  There isn’t as much need to be in the office with your team every day when you are able to see them and interact with them “face to face” via your webcam.  Most people prefer to work independently for the most part, but like to have regular check-ins with the team to align their expectations and make sure they’re on the right track.  Video conference while sharing work via Webex as a weekly project update meeting can allow each person to give their update, share their own desktop and have a captive audience on the line.  These tools must become part of the company culture just like a desk and a phone might be.

Communication. All the best tools in the world won’t work if we don’t communicate with them. This is no different than managing a team in the office – the key is to bring the team together on a regular basis, allow each person to contribute, and moderate the discussion. Working remotely requires you to make a bit more effort in communication – you can’t just stand up and walk over to someone – you have to find other ways to get your points across while you’re not there.  This may seem awkward at first if you’re working with a team that is used to everyone being in one office, but with it doesn’t take long for people to thrive in this new environment.As the remote manager, you have to make sure your team feels your support and leadership without seeing you in person every day.

This can be done with frequent check-ins (even a quick call/chat to see how people are doing) and regularly scheduled update meetings that you don’t cancel / change / skip.  The regularity of communication must be  consistent and required by all team members for the team to gel.  For example, instead of one-on-one meetings, try meeting as a team so that the team members will feel more supported by each other.  That allows them the confidence to seek help from one another and not just from their manager.

 

Take responsibility. Often a company’s dynamic stems from the culture within, generated by the enthusiastic employees and the passionate leaders. When you are remote, you have to tap into that somehow.  If you don’t, you’ll find yourself feeling disconnected and out of the loop. It’s incumbent upon you as the remote manager to contribute to the company culture by making your presence known and heard. Schedule regular update meetings with peers, the management team, other departments you rely on.  The more people hear from you, the more top of mind you’ll be as someone that needs to be included in certain discussions.  This would normally happen organically if you were in the office so you have to replace that, not lose it.

Once other departments or your own team gets the hang of it and they include you in meetings, make sure you always attend. It’s too easy to tune out in conference calls, or skip them all together if you think it’s not valuable – but the more you participate and contribute, the more people will think to include you.  It’s inevitable that you’ll miss out of many of the spontaneous discussions that solve problems because people aren’t likely going to stop brainstorming to get you on the line, but you can keep yourself in the loop with frequent check-ins and scheduling on-line brainstorming sessions of your own.

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