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Supervising and surviving virtual teams

By Lynne Curry  bio

As a manager, how can I supervise employees at remote locations—particularly when I never see them?

If I work remotely, how do I make sure I stay on my supervisor’s radar for promotional opportunities?

Which employees thrive in virtual team situations?

If you manage a virtual team

If you manage employees you never meet face-to-face, you may feel disconnected from them and them from you. In the same way that radio can’t replace television, email and phone conversations offer a weak substitute for the understanding and connection created when two individuals watch each while talking. Whenever you can, arrange video interactions. Cloud computing video conferencing makes this possible with lower overhead and higher flexibility.  

Because you can’t wander down the hallway or onto the site and see your employees working, learn to manage by results. Set specific, non-ambiguous, challenging and attainable goals for each employee—and follow up with regular communication. Ask your employees to give you streamlined but regular work updates. Provide constructive and motivating feedback early and often so they don’t feel they’re playing handball without a wall.

To avoid work derailment, make sure your employees have the tools they need to work remotely, such as personal digital devices, high-speed Internet connections and laptop computers with virtual private network connectivity. Also, software tools and virtual private networks give you effective ways to assess your employee’s contributions so you can accurately recognize and reward positive individual performance.

If you supervise both virtual and office-based employees, be careful not to use two sets of performance standards as that can lead to allegations of unequal treatment and legal headaches. Standards that measure job performance such as call volume, customer satisfaction ratings, work orders completed and projects completed on deadline can help managers fairly assess both office-based and virtual team members

Remote workers can feel disconnected from colleagues as well. Keep remote workers in the loop on the latest departmental and company news via newsletters, intranet postings and, if economically feasible, personal visits.

Clearly, not everyone can effectively manage virtual teams. Choose managers with strong written and oral communication skills who realize that managing virtual teams requires concentrated effort.

Staying on your boss’s radar

Virtual team members risk out of sight, out of mind stature, impacting them during performance and salary reviews. If you want to stay a positive face on your manager’s radar, provide frequent status updates on key projects and look for opportunities to interact with your manager and co-workers. Further, because you might misinterpret an ambiguously worded assignment, proactively communicate with your manager whenever tasks need clarification.

Which employees thrive in a virtual work?

People who like regimented schedules, hand-holding, or need specific, detailed instruction before moving forward tend to flounder in virtual work settings. And lone wolves perform poorly in virtual situations because they keep things to themselves and aren’t adept at collaboration.

When choosing employees for virtual slots, look for good communicators who show initiative, self-reliance, and self-motivation.

Need help implementing virtual teams in your organization? We’d be glad to help.

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