Working virtually has its challenges. However, when you are aware of potential problems, you can take steps to minimize the drain on productivity and morale. Ensure that you are addressing the following issues that plague the majority of virtual teams:
- Technology. Some people want to use it; others hate it. When you need to mandate that people use a technology, it’s difficult to train them to use it to it’s full potential. Plus, it’s all too easy to develop technology and app fatigue. Rather than latch on to “the next best thing” or stick with old technology that doesn’t meet your needs, work with your team to find a technology that meets your needs and solves your problems. Then commit to using it. Offer adequate training, and more important, ongoing, responsive support so that employees have someone to turn to when they have questions or the technology inevitably fails.
- Leaders treat remote employees and in-house staff differently. Some employees, leaders even, may be slightly jealous or even resentful of employees who get to work from home. Remote employees may feel that in-house staff receives more perks (e.g., catered lunches and social functions). You will exacerbate the problem if you treat the two groups differently, so ensure that you are assigning equal, fair workloads, offering the same perks and benefits, and creating learning and growth opportunities for everyone.
- Low communication. When you leave employees out of the loop, they feel confused, isolated and even angry. Make sure that you are updating virtual employees of any changes, decisions or plans that affect them. And make sure you do it before they hear the news from someone else.
- Unresponsive teammates. If you force employees to wait for your response or help, they lose precious time. Worse, they may opt to go above your head for answers. And if teammates constantly slow progress because they don’t respond quickly enough, it is frustrating for everyone involved. Set a ground rule that every team member, including you, must respond to one another within 24 hours, even if that is to say nothing more than “I got your message, and I will follow up no later than …”
- Too few meetings. Too many meetings are overkill and are a huge drain on productivity. However, if you aren’t scheduling time for the entire team to connect and collaborate, employees will become distant and teamwork will suffer. In addition, you need to make sure that you are talking with each of your virtual staffers at least weekly to check their progress, troubleshoot problems they are having, and update them on any developments or changes.
- Failure to evaluate how the team functions. You need to take time to assess how well the team is communicating, collaborating and problem solving. Schedule a team meeting at least quarterly to analyze your productivity and performance and to establish plans for making needed improvements.
- Leaders don’t actually know their team members. Employees want to know that you care about them as people, not just as workers. It’s harder to do that when you never see them. Don’t forget to learn about remote workers’ families, hobbies, interests and lives outside of work. A little small talk at the beginning of each call or meeting offers you an opportunity to build relationships with and among your staffers and will make them feel more connected to the organization.
- Lack of accountability. It’s hard enough to establish goals and hold employees’ responsible for meeting on-site when you are face-to-face with employees. The problem compounds when you don’t see, and perhaps even talk to, employees each day. If you’re looking to establish greater accountability and better relationships on your remote team, our 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate learning program is the perfect place to begin.
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