Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today, I want to talk about managing virtual teams.
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed how and where we work. When the pandemic hit, many white-collar workplaces went virtual, and more people than ever found themselves working from home. Now, as most countries move into the endgame and lift restrictions, companies are faced with the choice about whether, and how, to head back to the office. Many are choosing not to return to in-person operations, or taking a hybrid approach, combining remote and in-person work.
Clearly, remote work in some form is here to stay. And as a manager, you shouldn’t be thinking about the virtual team as purely a stopgap measure. You need to consider ongoing management of virtual teams. And you need to figure out approaches that will ensure not only productivity and effectiveness but also employee wellness and job satisfaction.
Start by remembering that people deal differently with remote work. While some people thrive in the home office, others might feel isolated. So this may mean a highly individualized approach to management is required.
Regardless of your employees’ feelings about remote work, good relationships are critical. Some say that a workplace culture isn’t about a shared office but rather a shared vision. But connecting people to that vision, and to each other, can be tough in a virtual setting. In person, we develop a feeling of being a group through shared space, informal encounters, impromptu lunches, and the like. But on a virtual team, none of that exists.
For this reason, we need to build connection time a bit more deliberately. Meetings become critical. Regularly scheduled team meetings will help people feel more connected, and informed. And team meetings will give you a gauge of how people are feeling overall, and how they’re functioning as a unit.
But team meetings don’t have to be all business, all the time. Without the organic opportunities for getting to know one another in a physical office, we need to create those opportunities. This may mean opening the virtual meeting room a bit early to allow time for some chit-chat. Or you could do some fun icebreakers or have a round of personal sharing. Some companies have virtual happy hours or open a come-and-go “water-cooler” meeting at lunch.
Another thing to consider are ground rules for video use. While some people may resist having their video on at all times, it’s difficult to build a relationship with someone you can’t see. So requiring cameras on at certain times during a meeting or for certain meetings is wise. And even if your team normally works virtually, consider bringing them together in person from time to time. Some work functions, like planning or professional development, really benefit from being in a room together.
When you’re in a room together, communication is simply easier. We have body language and other visual cues. And as a manager, you can get a much better sense of how people are doing, both as individuals and in their relationships with others. But virtual communication? Well, that’s certainly more complicated.
One thing you’ll find with a virtual team is that people may have very different communication preferences. Jane hates the phone and likes everything in email. Jack gets frustrated by too much email and wants to talk things through over zoom. Jill hates the phone and email and deals with everything through texting.
In these situations, you’ll need to find the right balance between standards and flexibility. There may be certain issues you want people to put in email, for the entire team. But you may also want to create some guardrails, and establish rules about things like “reply-all” to avoid communication overload.
At the same time, you need to acknowledge and allow for individual differences. It’s a good idea to have people identify their preferred modes of communication, and provide that information to everyone on the team. I might learn over time, for example, that Jane hates the phone. But wouldn’t it be easier just to have everyone’s preferences stated clearly upfront?
Adapting to different people’s communication preferences is just one of many requirements of the modern manager. On a virtual team, there are many more opportunities for misunderstanding, miscommunication, and misalignment. So as a manager, you need to do all that you can to ensure good relationships through effective meetings and communication.
That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon!