Leading a remote team for the first time? Here’s what you need to consider — KNOLSKAPE

Summary: With the Covid-19 pandemic, many employees — and their managers — are finding themselves working away from office and separated from each other for the first time. Fortunately, there are specific, research-based steps that managers can take without great effort to improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees, even when there is little time to prepare. First, it’s important to understand the common challenges, from isolation to distractions to lack of face-to-face supervision. To overcome these challenges we have shared 10 useful tips that will help leaders manage virtual teams effectively.

Introduction

If remote team managers are capable and understand how to work with them effectively, remote teams can be a huge asset to a firm. It’s obvious to executives who are just beginning to manage a remote team that conventional methods of organization won’t be effective. The dynamics between the employee and management have significantly transformed. Leaders may be unsure about how to approach remote management due to increased individual freedom and reliance on workers to manage their own time.

And while it is generally desirable to develop clear remote-work policies and training beforehand, this degree of preparation may not be possible during times of crisis or other fast-changing conditions. Fortunately, even when there is little time to prepare, managers may boost the engagement and productivity of remote staff by following a few simple, research-based strategies. Guess what? It’s now or never!

Common Challenges of Remote Work

Managers must first comprehend the elements that can make working remotely particularly hard. If they start working remotely, otherwise high-performing individuals may see a reduction in job performance and engagement, especially if they haven’t had any training or preparation. The difficulties of working remotely according to Harvard Business Review include:

Lack of face-to-face supervision: When there isn’t much face-to-face engagement, both supervisors and their staff frequently voice their complaints. Supervisors are concerned that workers won’t put in as much effort or be as productive (though research indicates otherwise, at least for some types of jobs). On the other hand, many workers suffer from lack of communication and assistance from management. Some workers believe that remote bosses are out of touch with their requirements and are therefore unsupportive in helping them complete their work.

Lack of access to information: First-time remote employees are frequently taken aback by the increased time and effort required to get information from colleagues. For a professional who works from home, even getting answers to seemingly straightforward inquiries might feel like a significant challenge.

This phenomenon goes beyond simply task-related work to include potential interpersonal issues among remote coworkers. According to research, remote workers are less likely to extend the benefit of the doubt to their coworkers when things are challenging because they lack the “shared knowledge” that in-person employees have. For instance, if you are aware of your coworker’s difficult day, you will perceive their acerbic email as a natural outcome of their stress. However, if a remote coworker sends you this email without explaining their current situation, you are more likely to take offense or, at least, to question their professionalism.

Social isolation: Employees who work remotely frequently express loneliness as a drawback because they lack the casual social interaction that comes with working in an office environment. Extraverts are believed to experience isolation more acutely in the short term, especially if they are working remotely and have limited opportunity to socialize. Isolation can, however, make any employee feel less “belonging” to their organization over a longer length of time and even raise the desire to leave the organization.

Distractions at home: We frequently see images of remote work that show a parent holding a child while typing on a laptop, frequently while seated on a sofa or living room floor. In actuality, this is a poor example of efficient virtual work. Usually, before allowing employees to work remotely, we advise businesses to make sure they have a designated workspace and suitable child care. However, there is a far higher likelihood that workers will have to deal with less than ideal workspaces and (in the event of school and daycare closures) unanticipated parenting duties if there is a fast shift to virtual employment. Even in normal conditions, demands from family and the house can interfere with remote work; managers should anticipate that these distractions would be more pronounced during this unforeseen shift to work from home.

Tips for managing virtual teams

Leaders must be aware of the key elements that have a big impact on employee engagement and work performance in order to navigate the obstacles of managing remote teams effectively. Leaders must also develop a solid plan to guarantee that each member of the team contributes to that goal to the best of their abilities.

Here are a few tips for leaders on how to successfully manage remote teams and advance their company:

Among the most crucial actions to do before beginning your project are providing guidelines, establishing boundaries, and going over the fundamentals. There will be inquiries, so be approachable and clear about priorities, landmarks, performance objectives, and more. Describe the availability of each team member and make sure you can reach them when necessary.

In addition, managers should inform staff members of any changes to policies or personnel, as well as any firm accomplishments and advice for working from home.

They should also set an example for how employees should act in relation to the hours they work, for example, by defining what constitutes acceptable after-hours work email and text response times.

Virtual teams have much poorer visibility. This makes it essential for you, as the team leader, to set out time to periodically check in with each member of your group. You may learn how your staff members are doing both personally and professionally by using these check-ins.

As much as possible, stay away from the transactional status updates and try to create a personal connection with your employees. How do your employees feel about their workload? Inquire about their passions. Invite them to a sincere conversation about their overall health — physical, mental, and emotional.

Creating opportunities for employees to interact socially (i.e., have casual chats about subjects unrelated to business) while working remotely is one of the most crucial actions a manager can do. This holds true for all remote employees, but it is especially true for those who have recently left the office.

Leaving some time at the beginning of team conversations purely for non-work-related matters (e.g., “We’re going to spend the first few minutes just catching up with each other” is the simplest method to develop some fundamental social connection. So is, “How did your weekend go?”). Other options include virtual pizza parties, when pizza is served to the entire company during a videoconference, or virtual office parties, where party “care packages” can be sent at the same time. Virtual events, according to seasoned managers of remote workers (and the employees themselves), are said to help decrease feelings of loneliness and promote a sense of belonging.

It is crucial for managers to recognize stress, pay attention to employees’ worries and anxieties, and show empathy for their challenges, especially in the context of a sudden switch to remote work. Ask the newly remote employee how they are doing if they are obviously having trouble but are not expressing any tension or anxiety. How is this remote work situation working out for you so far? — or another question of a similar nature can elicit crucial information that you might not otherwise hear. After you’ve asked the question, be sure to pay close attention to the employee’s response and quickly repeat what you heard back to them to be sure you understood it correctly. Instead of focusing on your own problems or worries, let the employee’s stress or anxieties take center stage.

When you lead a virtual team, you have to accept that you won’t see, hear, and know about everything going on with your employees. And that’s OK.

Instead of trying to control every moving piece, give your employees autonomy. Trust them to make the right decisions and meet their deadlines. Not only will this make your life easier, but research also shows that autonomy drives motivation, performance, and well-being.

We advise you to offer your team members autonomy, but there are still things you can do to foster accountability. Tracking the development of various projects on a collaborative platform or document is one of the finest methods to do this.

With this strategy, you can request that your staff members frequently publish updates on their progress, enabling the rest of the team to see what they’re working on and how the project is progressing. On virtual teams, having this kind of visibility will increase productivity and collaboration.

No leader is flawless. And if this is your first experience managing a virtual workforce, making mistakes is quite typical. The good news is that you can learn from these blunders and get feedback on how you can do better. Here are a few strategies to get your virtual team to provide helpful feedback:

Ask during your one-on-one conversations: Ask your subordinates to provide comments on your leadership during your subsequent check-in. What would they have you alter? How do people feel about the way you communicate? Are there any processes that are not functioning properly? Give your staff time to think about their answers before sharing them because they could find it difficult to respond immediately.

Send out an anonymous survey: Many of your team members might feel awkward giving you straight constructive comments. Send out a survey in this situation that enables anonymous responses from everyone. This helps your staff feel less stressed and guarantees honest responses.

Use 360 reviews: Another choice is to ask for a 360-degree performance evaluation. With this strategy, your manager solicits input from your direct reports and coworkers to ensure that you have a complete understanding of your performance.

Recognition is another important part of managing virtual teams. You want the high-performing staff members you have to know that you notice and appreciate the job they accomplish on a daily basis. And acknowledgment is the most effective method to achieve this.

Recognition comes in many forms. It can be verbal, experiential, or monetary. Casual or formal. Big or small. Regardless of the type of recognition you share, make sure it follows the following criteria:

  • Timely. When a worker performs outstanding work, they ought to be commended right away. The significance of the acknowledgment is diminished if you wait too long. Additionally, your direct report can grow bitter if their accomplishments aren’t acknowledged right away.
  • Personalized. Additionally, you ought to give your staff members recognition that means something to them. Take a team member out for a great lunch by yourself, for instance, if they value your time alone. Or, if you are aware that they would want to spend more time with their family, provide them with a weekend break that is all-inclusive.
  • Aligns with the contribution. Finally, the form of acknowledgment you bestow should correspond to the amount of contribution. It’s definitely worth praising an employee for a job well done and perhaps giving them a gift card to their preferred coffee shop. However, a worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty and takes on additional labor may be deserving of a greater reward.

Making sure your virtual team looks after their well-being is one of your most crucial responsibilities as a team leader. Work-from-home employees frequently experience burnout. Knowing when and how to unplug might be difficult when the boundaries between work and home are so hazy.

Leaders of virtual teams must therefore lead by example. Instead of sending emails in the wee hours, log off at 5 p.m., and tell your staff to do the same. Schedule an hour each day to exercise or prepare a lovely lunch for yourself. Give your staff a day off together to rest and recharge after a demanding job.

Lastly, the finest supervisors do more than just “manage.” They also comprehend the subtle and not-so-subtle distinctions and disparities between the management and leadership disciplines. And just because we are surrounded by volatility, complexity, and uncertainty doesn’t mean we should stop making any and all attempts to improve our teams-as well as ourselves. It’s not always easy to do that without outside assistance, fresh ideas, and time. So, get on it and move forward.

Conclusion

Leading a virtual team is not a simple process. To guarantee your team is effective, collaborative, and well-run, you must put out a lot of effort given the logistical difficulties and the lack of face-to-face interactions. But by practicing the recommendation we provided in this article, you could step up your leadership and support your virtual team members in reaching their full potential.

Originally published at https://knolskape.com on July 28, 2022.

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