Managing virtual teams effectively

Managing employees is a bit like conducting an orchestra—directing everyone so that the different parts work together for the good of the whole. So, in that vein, managing virtual teams can feel like you’re conducting that orchestra blindfolded. It’s not impossible; it’s just a special challenge.

With COVID-19 restrictions forcing many employees to work from home, some managers are taking on a challenge they’ve never faced before: managing entire teams remotely.

With 50% of the U.S. workforce expected to be remote by 2020, this trend is not going away anytime soon, so the silver lining to this pandemic may be the opportunity to practice remote management skills. Without effective management, keeping virtual employees productive can be a struggle. However, when managed correctly, virtual employees can be a great asset. The following are four helpful tips for managing virtual employees.

Set the ground rules

Working remotely is different from working in an office. Most notably, you’re not surrounded by your co-workers and supervisors, so work can take on a different dynamic.

In order to ensure efficient employee performance from your virtual workers, it is important that you set the groundwork from day one. Employees should have a dedicated working space and working hours. Within that space and hours, they are expected to be within reach of their phones or computers.

Some firms allow more flexibility than others, but your company’s policy needs to be clearly stated so that employees can be held accountable. If your handbook does not include information related to working remotely, it should be updated to include this information. Most of the policies in the handbook should be all inclusive for both virtual workers and in-house staff.

Provide some face time

For the sanity of both the employee and the manager, there needs to be some face time throughout the week. Since many of your employees may be scattered throughout the world, this face time does not need to be in person.

General communication tends to be through email, and in a typical office setting, you can walk next door to your co-worker’s office for clarification on an email. This doesn’t happen when you’re managing virtual teams. Instead, call a brief meeting via webcam and get any clarification that is needed. Video conferencing allows you to see expressions and overall tones that might have been lost in translation.

Skype is widely used for webcam conferencing, but there are others as well, including the emergence of mixed reality. The best part—it’s usually free. It also gives you the ability to meet with multiple virtual employees at the same time. Make these meetings a requirement, and make it a point to chat with your virtual team via webcam every day.

Set up reporting

As a virtual manager, you can’t police employee productivity in person, and the ability to drop things off on someone’s desk is non-existent. Therefore, an adequate reporting measure must be established. A project management system helps you track time and the flow of projects. Employees log their time and their tasks and link any critical files with those tasks. This puts everything into a central place and allows for easier managing.

Services like Google Documents are great places to share and set up report templates. Dropbox is another file-sharing tool where staff can drop their daily reports and files into a folder, and those files are then immediately uploaded to their manager’s computer. Daily, weekly, and monthly reporting is absolutely essential.

Some believe that virtual employees don’t work as hard as their in-office counterparts. But some studies have shown the opposite is true. How much time is wasted talking at the water cooler, or just having meetings for the sake of meetings? Using consistent reporting alleviates concerns that someone may not be putting in their time.

Schedule in-person meetings when possible

A fourth tip for managing virtual teams is to hold in-person meetings. Having virtual employees is great, but you should spend at least a few days a year meeting and bonding in-person.

Many people tend to hide behind computers and webcams, but you shouldn’t underestimate the value of face-to-face meetings. One idea, if the budget allows for it, is to hold a yearly company retreat somewhere fun where you focus on team-building and bonding. Or, if a number of employees are clustered in one geographical region, you could travel to meet them on their home turf. The key takeaway is your virtual employees feel more bonded with you and the company.

Hiring smarter can help with managing virtual teams

When managed and treated well, virtual employees can be productivity powerhouses. But remote work is not for everyone; you need to find self-motivated individuals with good communication and time-management skills. Get help assembling your team with expert recruiting advice and the latest hiring trends from Monster Hiring Solutions.