The Trend Towards Remote Teams

For many organizations, remote or virtual teams have been a fact of life. There are many benefits, such as:

  • Flexibility and Work-Life Balance for employees
  • Leveraging talent from remote locations
  • Connecting geographically distributed parts of your organization

However, many have been hesitant to encourage more remote workers. Much of it revolves around how to manage remote teams. Some of the perceived risks include:

  • How to ensure performance and productivity in a virtual environment
  • How to keep employees engaged without face-to-face interaction
  • Challenges with communication and team building

The Urgent Drive for Virtual Teams

As we know from Dr. John Kotters work on Change Leadership – it usually takes that sense of urgency to force organizational change. And the COVID-19 pandemic has created just that catalyst. We now hear the call from Health Care experts to allow employees to work from home wherever possible. And in some cases – schools and workplaces have been shut down in an effort to control spread of the virus.

In this case, some organizations have a tough choice to make – either shut down or allow working from home. While working from home isn’t an option for some types of operations, even those that are more technology focused are struggling with the human aspect of a virtual workforce.

While individuals may be able to use technology from any location – maintaining a cohesive and productive team has special challenges. How do we ensure that people don’t start working in silos – as individuals rather than as a team? Can team members truly work as collaboratively as they do in a face-to-face environment? How can managers ensure the quality of results from their teams?

How to Manage Remote Teams for Performance and Productivity

Assuming that most organizations have tools for performance and productivity – how do we make these work in a virtual environment? Do we manage remote teams in the same way that we manage teams in the same location?

I have set up MANY virtual teams (25+) on short notice for urgent projects. While it’s important to have some tools, much of the success lies in leadership and taking the time to set the team up for success. Here’s my 4 step approach to quickly set up and manage remote teams, while maximizing their potential for performance and productivity.

Set clear expectations

While there are some similarities, it does take a different approach. That is, managers must be more proactive in planning. And they must be absolutely clear in communicating expectations. There is no room for ambiguity when it comes to managing remote teams.

Incorporate virtual team building

In an early article, I provided some tips for virtual team building. That is, we need to maintain that identity as a team. Where people connect in a human way, develop relationships and feel a genuine commitment to each other. In a face-to-face environment, these relationships can grow organically. But to manage remote teams, we must ensure a structured process for this to happen.

Define Team Processes

Again, we can’t rely on “organic” approaches for teams figuring out how to work together. These need to be set very clearly at the onset. And managers need to hold team members accountable to the process.

A Structured Approach to Feedback, Coaching and Motivation

For all of the reasons above, you need to be proactive about when and how you will engage with your team.