Leading Remote and Virtual Teams

11 March 20


Organisational success  is frequently dependent on how teams work together to develop smart, sustainable strategies and execute them. Teams need to be structured to manage fast communication channels and designed to enhance innovation, agility and creativity as well as getting the core work done well. They also need to reflect different ways of working and the increasing demand for flexibility over working hours and locations. This means teams being open to different ways and methods of accomplishing tasks and working together.  

One way of achieving this increased flexibility is remote and virtual working arrangements. As remote working digital tools  become more prevalent and reliable, organisations are shifting towards working in virtual or semi-virtual teams. Working remotely eliminates the need for office space, reduces commuting time and promotes a better work life balance but poses a new set of challenges. The most significant of these is increasing isolation and disconnect from the team and organisation leading to reduced performance and wellbeing. 

Here are some tips for managers who want to build flexible, virtual teams to be higher performing, more motivated and achieve greater levels of connection and job satisfaction. 

1. Communication is key

Keep the lines of communication clear, honest and accessible within your team by considering the best methods of communication. Email has a place but so do the messaging functions of applications like MS Teams in Office 365  that have an increased level of immediacy and reach, especially when it comes to knowledge sharing and problem solving. Video and audio conferences for 121s and teams are also key. Don’t overload the team with information, not everyone needs to be included in every message. It’s important that everyone knows each other’s preferred method of communication and unavailability. Make time for face to face with each team member to focus on coaching and feedback.  

2. Coordinate 

Flexible working is seen as a barrier to effective teambuilding, but technology provides easy communication channels to build relationships and team cohesion. Make sure you schedule regular check ins and reporting processes, so you know what is happening and are satisfied with levels of productivity and the coordination of work. Create communication guidelines to manage expectations of response times and assigning specific roles. For example, you could consider daily virtual huddles to view completed tasks, agenda issues and opportunities for improvement. 

3. Trust your team 

Both you and your team will have attitudinal and behavioural barriers to effective flexible and virtual working. Productivity-friendly work habits need to be developed and enhanced over time, so coach your team to achieve this. Be creative and open minded about flexibility to promote mutual trust. Create steps to champion this within your team. 

4. Design the team, not the job

Focus on the team level to give yourself greater flexibility about how you can tie together different working patterns and styles. Give space for individuals to step up and take more responsibility with flexible working patterns to develop leadership qualities when others aren’t working.   

5. Measure performance through outputs and outcomes 

Judge people on what they achieve and move on from the mindset that it’s about how long people are physically in the office. Instead, measure outcomes and productivity. Put employee output measurements in place so everyone knows what productive looks like.  

6. Invest in policies and procedures 

Make sure polices governing acceptable use of IT, employee privacy and social media are up to date. Think about setting standards such as how often a virtual worker should visit head office or what hours they are to be available for team meetings.  

7. Ensure work-life balance 

In theory, virtual workers with no daily commutes should have a healthier work life balance but they are at risk of the opposite. You have a responsibility to protect the wellbeing of each team member and ensure they switch out of work mode.  

Further Reading 

https://scienceforwork.com/blog/effective-virtual-teams-big-picture/ 

https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/companies-set-for-flexible-working-revolution/ 

http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/o/7/Flexibility-in-the-Workplace.pdf 

https://scienceforwork.com/blog/how-virtual-teams-thrive/ 

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