Virtual teamworkBy Kevin Eikenberry

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “Seven Keys to Leading Virtual Teams,” and I thought I’d share some more ideas for effectively managing a virtual team. After all, the advice is needed because so many of us are leading at least one virtual employee.

What was once the territory of geographically dispersed sales teams is now a reality for people in nearly every field, in nearly every part of any organization. Whether employees are telecommuting full-time or working in far-flung parts of the world only temporarily, they are being asked to collaborate and perform at a high level. And it’s your job to lead them. Here are four more bits of advice for managing virtual teams that I’d like to share with you today:

1. Recognize both the challenge and opportunity

There are clearly challenges when your team members are scattered across time zones and space. Remember, there are opportunities too. People who are remote and working from home have been found, in most cases, to be individually more productive. When your team isn’t together, you will have different perspectives and inputs (and perhaps more cultural diversity too), which means you should receive more varied ideas and be less susceptible to group think. Remote teams bring great opportunity; make sure you are capitalizing on those opportunities.

2. Have clear goals

In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of establishing clear expectations. Along with clear expectations, we must have well-defined goals. What is the team trying to accomplish? Do employees all know the goals, and can they all consistently describe them? What are you doing to remind people of your goals and ensure that they meet them? While establishing clear goals is always important, it is especially so when people are not in constant contact with one another. As a leader you must make sure that your goals are clear and that everyone is focused on progressing toward them.

3. Manage team dynamics

People are scattered but they are still a team. Make sure you are thinking about team dynamics. On conference calls, is everyone participating? Do you have people checking out or disengaging? Is your team the right size for reaching your goals? Are there better ways to manage various pieces of the work? Is there another means of communication that might work better?

4. Find small ways to nurture relationships

Building relationships can be hard enough to do when everyone is together. It is harder and requires a more conscious effort when people are remote. Find ways to engage people with each other beyond the work. Communicate with team members in the way they prefer. Send a tweet, connect on Facebook, call unexpectedly to check in, or send a text. Whatever you do, make sure that you are taking time to build relationships with each team member and helping team members connect with one another. Be proactive; don’t wait until relationships have fractured before you get started.

As you’ve read this you may think that many of my guidelines would be true for a “normal” team too. If you are thinking that, you would be completely correct! Because virtual or remote teams are still teams of people first. Remembering that is the first step toward success. Focus on the team aspect first and the virtual aspect second.

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  1. Hi Kevin,

    Great points and I strongly agree with nurturing relationships; if it’s tough in a normal office setting it’s tougher in virtual office setting the fact that you can be thousands of miles apart – adding to the challenge.

    Connecting through social media and texts are great ways in establishing relationships but overdoing it can also lead to negative results.

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