My team members are spread geographically and we do not communicate face-to-face on a daily basis. It is difficult to lead a team remotely and to build a strong engagement. Sometimes it is really hard to create a relationship based on trust. It is amazing how issues related to cultural and language differences fire up misunderstandings.
Leading a virtual team can be more challenging than a co-located team. Finding the right approach and work efficiently with a virtual team will not happen by chance and it will require effort, dedication, time and new skills. One of the biggest challenges is that when you lead a virtual team, you might lose all those informal communications and social cues (lunch or coffee together) that are subtle elements of creating a bond with your team. When people are separated by distance is harder to read their expressions, understand their feelings, build trust and connect. Moreover, sometimes leading a virtual team might be stressful as you need to constantly look for signs that indicate that your team is not fully engaged and obstacles due to cultural and language differences. Virtual team working might be tough if there is an imbalance between the team members and we fail to identify it. Thus, it is essential for every virtual leader to develop the skills and the techniques to improve team effectiveness and new ways of working.
How can you manage successfully a virtual team?
1. Create clear guidelines and procedures
A clear plan is essential for every team or organization to avoid frustration, confusion, and misunderstandings. In virtual leadership, where disconnected communication might be an obstacle, having clearly defined guidelines and procedures on how the team needs to operate and work together is crucial. As a virtual leader, you need to schedule online meetings and set expectations on time. Your team needs to be aware of the daily challenges, how they need to work, how to share knowledge, and how they can approach you when something is not clear enough. There is a need for a clear agreement on procedures between you and your team members irrespective their location, time zone, culture, and language.
2. Engage people
Working remotely might give the perception that people do not feel connected. In virtual teams is much easier for a person to hide. You have to remember that you need to include all people in the conversations and ask questions to each one of them. Engaging people might be tough as you need to pay a lot of attention and concentration on how are people behaving or talking during your virtual meetings. Connect people together by assigning them tasks to get to know each other better and helping each other. Ask opinions and concerns, create brainstorming sessions, and team building activities, even during your virtual meetings. Nevertheless, make people look forward to the next meeting by adding some unexpected spice. For instance, invite people from different departments of the organization, create some virtual engaging activities or ask them to present parts of the meetings.
3. Actively keep in touch
In co-located team is much easier to stay in touch as you share the same working space. Breaks and lunch are a great way to keep in touch with your team even if you do not have time for a meeting. However, this luxury is lost in virtual teams. Try to keep in touch with your virtual team by sending regular emails to not only check performance issues, but also to check how your team is doing. Sent positive emails and be aware of your tone of your emails. Encourage them to use other platforms, such as Facebook at work or what’s app groups to interact with each other and you at any time. Provide continual feedback and give credits for accomplishments as a team. Create some opportunities to plan some events for the team to come together and get involved in how you will achieve that.
4. Develop new ways of listening
Stay focused on what is said and be aware of your tone, pace and intonation. Do not allow people to talk over each other, follow discussions and respect of what is happening without judging. Listen and find out the unspoken information by simply asking if there is anything else you can help with. Try to make it obvious that you are listening by summarizing key points of what it was said or paraphrasing as different languages and accents might impede clear understanding. Ask meaningful and specific questions to get out thoughtful responses.
5. Invest time to create a positive environment
Get to know your team, who they are, how the team is shaping up, which are their interests or hobbies. Understand possible concerns and create an open environment for discussion. Allow people to provide alternative ways of successful communication plans. Invest some time and schedule meetings just for general discussions and not only on job objectives. Try to spend some minutes on non-business conversations and shift your focus on them, as individuals who have a diverse variation of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Build relationships and highlight that even remotely they can rely on you and trust you. Be open for discussion of cultural dilemmas and differences in the team and how these differences affect each one of the team members and the company in general.
To master the virtual equation and make all the elements work together, you have to become the connector … You may need to shift gears, perform ream tune-ups, realign, and refuel your team’s energy along the way.