Two-thirds of experienced managers fail in their first attempt to run a virtual team – and for new managers, the failure rate is even higher. In fact, misunderstandings are five times more likely to occur without face-to-face communication.
While in our last post we focused on the dangers for virtual teams in general, today we look at virtual team managers. For them, it is essential to understand why these issues occur, and how to develop the communication skills that work in the virtual environment.
Virtual managers and their teams can be every bit as effective as their co-located counterparts, if not more so. But without strategies to work in the virtual environment, managers will be at a significant disadvantage and are likely to fail, costing taxpayers far more money than they save in travel. Key issues:
- Virtual teams can’t be managed in the same way as co-located teams and are considerably more dependent on the characteristics and interpersonal skills of team members
- Due to the general lack of understanding of how to work virtually, studies have found that 82% of virtual teams fail
- Greater team diversity means that team members need to be acutely aware both of themselves and of each other to a far greater extent than co-located teams
- A manager’s understanding of the impacts of personality traits on behavior is a key performance constraints
These challenges extend even to the hiring process. When composing their team, virtual team managers must work closely with Human Resources to look for specific characteristics, such as:
- Great self-manager
- Good communicator, both written and verbally
- Confident enough to ask for assistance when required
- Thrives in a low-touch, flexible environment
- Enjoys working individually, with minimal social interaction
Tips for Virtual Team Managers
There are a number of effective strategies managers can employ to support their virtual staff, drive high levels of performance, and consistently achieve their desired business objectives:
1. Institute a Virtual Open-Door Policy
In co-located teams, managers will often leave their door open to communicate that staff can come in to discuss their work. This is especially useful for matters that team members don’t see as “important enough” to warrant a phone call, email or meeting. But there’s no equivalent tool for virtual teams, right?
Schedule regular office hours in your office’s conference software, where your team can approach you informally to discuss matters that may not fit into more structured touch points such as team meetings. Creating time for informal chats sends a strong signal you are a welcoming trusted manager who values your team’s needs and input.
2. Schedule Regular One-On-One Touch Points
This is one scenario where the same strategy that works in a physical office also works in the virtual environment – in fact, it may be even more valuable! By making time for regular conversations with your employees (such as on a weekly basis), you create many opportunities to directly interact and build trusted relationships may never develop if you rely solely on email and team meetings.
Recent research with 40 global teams showed that when the leader-team member relationship was strong and the leader communicated frequently, the virtual team member was more likely to contribute to team decision making, which increased innovation.
3. Run Better Team Meetings
Meetings in the virtual environment provide organizations with a great deal of flexibility – while at the same time increasing the risk of miscommunication, inefficiency, and even feelings of isolation among virtual participants.
One effective strategy is to share a map with every participant’s location in advance of the meeting. This ensures that everyone on the call is mindful of each other’s presence, combating the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and ensuring you remember to seek input from everyone.
Want to learn more? Read our next post in this series, on the challenges facing virtual employees: