Long gone are the days where working from home is an unattainable, utopian concept. GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com reports that since 2005, nonself-employed, full-time, work-at-home employment has grown by a whopping 115%. The number of remote workers is expected to rise exponentially as our digital world advances, with roughly 40% of hiring managers predicting that their employees will work predominantly virtually in the next 10 years. Leveraging virtual talent is an increasingly popular and powerful trend as globalization rises and telecommuting as a choice is a staple in many people's professional lives.
A recent study revealed that the most common reason for the shift to a more flexible, remote workforce is that of a talent shortage. 52% of respondents said that a need for the right employees has prompted them to hire remote workers, and 70% argued that these workers are actually more skilled than those on-site. This trend is growing rapidly and managers are now faced with new challenges to effectively manage an intangible (virtual) team. Here are some tips I have gleaned from my consulting work to secure success when leading a virtual team.
1. Eye on the prize
Out of sight, out of mind? It is critically important to pay close attention to each employee regardless of their location. Whether teams are spread across the state, region or globe, it can be incredibly isolating to work remotely if not managed properly. Make your presence, interest and engagement obvious by ensuring regular, consistent contact with each and every one of your employees. Keeping your focus on the big picture, the entire team and overarching objectives, is paramount when you are leading people from afar. This means close attention regardless of time zone differences, cultural differences or language challenges. This does not mean micro-management, but it does mean micro-attention.
2. Coaching, coaching, and more coaching
It is my long-held belief that coaching is the single most powerful way to enable behavior change. While you may not be able to have a physical, sit-down session with your employee, you still have an obligation to be their leader, steward, and model. The primary job of every leader is to truly enable the performance and success of their staff members and how we engage, develop and manage talent requires an expanded level of managerial competence.
High-performance managers produce high-performance teams. Mediocre managers produce mediocre or limited performing teams. Great managers are highly proficient in their coaching skills. The authoritative command-and-control managerial approach is outdated and ineffective, whereas a coaching approach, in effect a partnering approach, has a significant positive impact on engagement, performance and retention. Invest in developing all your managers with a coaching mindset and coaching skills. The results will be dramatic!
3. Tack down the technology
With a dispersed team, it is imperative to decide what technology to utilize when, where, and how. Should we employ video conferencing? Shared workspaces? A project management software? Identifying and effectively utilizing the proper technology can increase team alignment
and cohesion, leading to higher levels of success and better quality of work. The chosen tool can either enhance or limit success, so choose wisely and smartly. Then inform and educate your employees on the technology, so that it enables their performance rather than frustrating and limiting their effectiveness! Technology is not a substitute for managerial competence, but in managing a virtual team it is a critical support tool.
4. Embrace and employ self-management
The manager who is ineffective in self-managing cannot expect to develop and lead a high-performance virtual team. Managing yourself—your communications, your calendar, your responsiveness, your emotional intensity, your follow-through, your relationships and your self-development—is essential. You must have an understanding of both the causes, and effects, of your own behavior in order to effectively guide your employees. Remember you are a “model” all the time, whether you want to be or not.
The Bottom Line is Powerful:
Managing a team is hard. Managing a virtual team is really hard. Our global, highly competitive environment makes the use of virtual teams essentially a requirement. The deployment of virtual teams leverages global talent, enables cultural understanding and increases a company’s market presence. Qualified talent is scarce, but using virtual teams opens up that talent base and in turn increases our ability to deliver to our clients. When done right, virtual teams are for virtually everyone.
Eager to learn more? I am teaching a workshop on how to manage virtual teams for high-performance Friday, Dec. 7 from 9 a.m. – noon at the University of Colorado South Denver. Registration is available here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Virg Setzer is a Certified Executive and Leadership Coach, Organizational Consultant, and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Colorado Denver in the Business School. He has an M.S. in Organizational Performance and B.S. in Business Administration. Virg is a Certified Social & Emotional Intelligence Coach; Certified Conversational Intelligence Coach; and a Certified Talent Strategist. He coaches leaders and managers to increase their interpersonal and leadership effectiveness in managing teams both domestically and internationally.