With the invention of tools like GoToMeeting, Skype, Cloud Based Servers, and Office 365, companies have been given the opportunity to allow more flexible work environments for their employees. Virtual teams can be a great asset to an organization. This new “team-based and technology-enabled” (Northouse, 2016) structure allows an organization to hire the most qualified individuals, increase employee satisfaction, support customers all over the globe, and take advantage of overhead savings. However, with these innovations come new difficulties. How does one successfully lead a geographically disperse team?
Lead, Don’t Manage
First, one must understand that a virtual team cannot be managed they must be lead. This means you cannot control your team; you must “influence, motivate, and enable” (Harvard Business Review, 2013). The lack of direct contact greatly reduces the amount of control a manager has over their team, as such the manager must learn encourage self-control.
Select the Right Team
A good leader understands that for a virtual team to be successful, it must be comprised of motivated and capable individuals. A leader needs to recognize their strengths and weaknesses to enable effective collaboration. The best candidates for remote employees are people that are highly experienced in their positions, have suitable technological expertise, are thick skinned, and have excellent communication skills.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communication is essential to leading a virtual team effectively. In person communication will always be the most efficient and effective way of communicating, because only 10% of communication is made up of what is said. “30-35% is tone and 55-60% is body language” (Forbes, 2015). Because of this, a remote worker needs to accept ambiguity easier than others do. They need to be able to distinguish between what is being written and what is being implied. They also need to understand that most likely, what is being said is not personal. It is all about perception. In addition to being more accepting of others communications, they themselves need to be able to communicate effectively. I suggest using a technique called BLUF or Bottom Line Up Front. Get to the point quickly and reduce the amount of ambiguity in lengthy stories. If the person needs supplemental information, they will ask for it.
Promote collaboration and relationships
Next, a leader needs to encourage relationships outside of the work environment. The more time spent with an individual the easier it is to communicate effectively. This is more difficult because subordinates will be in geographically dispersed areas. A great way to overcome this obstacle is to use tools like Skype, or some kind of instant messaging tool. This allows for instant communication that does not clog up inboxes and encourages employee engagement. While we do not want subordinates to get too far off topic, it is still integral to get some kind of social bonding. According to Huhman, (Entrepreneur, 2014) “Employers should encourage workplace friendships because they will boost employee morale. Supportive and trusting relationships help employees stay engaged and maintain a sense of belonging at a company.”
Bradt, G. (2015). Team Geographically Dispersed? Leverage All Senses To Keep Connected. Forbes.com. Web. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/georgebradt/2015/01/21/team-geographically-dispersed-leverage-all-senses-to-keep-connected/#2cfe597e4ffb
Huhman, H. (2014). The Hidden Benefits of Happy Co-Workers (Infographic). Entreapenuer.com. Web. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/238122
Northouse, P. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.
Vineet, N. (2013). Three Differences Between Managers and Leaders. HBR.com. Harvard Business Review. Web. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/08/tests-of-a-leadership-transiti