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Flexible & Sensible: How Can Managers Overcome the Challenges of Virtual Team Management?

Technological innovation has changed the way we do business, and has altered our organizational cultures. Over the last decade, employee management has been utterly revolutionized, as many senior managers oversee teams located in remote locations, both nationally and internationally.

In the past, in the pre-Internet era, remote management was conducted solely by large enterprises – and even then, with the help of local managers. Today, remote management is practiced by many medium sized businesses and small start-ups. The advantages are clearly evident: from increased business exposure to access to the best professional employees regardless of geographic location.

Remote management is conducted virtually, via digital tools such as emails, video calls and various applications. Team members working remotely do not arrive at the office on a regular basis, and do not come in physical contact with their managers or with one another. As a result, virtual team management can be quite challenging.

These are the main challenges that virtual team managers face:

  • Commitment: managers must instill in their virtual teams the same level of commitment that characterizes in-house team members.
  • Communication and Teamwork: when virtual team members work from all corners of the country or world, it can be hard to instill values of comradery and collaboration. Time differences and cultural diversity further enhance this challenge.
  • Workforce productivity: without direct contact, can teams generate high productivity?  How can they share a commitment to results?

Soft Skills, Advanced Technologies

Before delving into how these challenges can be met, we must look back again on how management has changed.

The changes in work and employment models have altered widespread management methods. In the past, strict, hierarchal management was the accepted norm. Everyone thought that severity yields results. Not anymore.

Today, work culture has changed. Employees and team members seek satisfaction and self-fulfillment before money and professional prestige. As a result, today’s successful managers trust their team members, recognize their aspirations and allow them to express themselves.

Smart management is no longer measured by strict supervision and rock-solid hierarchies; rather, it is measured by positive work cultures that bring results. This is especially true for virtual team management. But how can this be accomplished?

Here are some tips for effective virtual team management:

  • Define clear guidelines: when managers don’t meet with their teams on a regular basis, they need to create clear guidelines: measurable goals and objectives, reporting, updates, rules of conduct and work norms. This way, ineffective behavior is minimized and a transparent work environment is created, for the benefit of all parties involved. Most objectives, processes and regulations can be formulated via visual graphics and shared via email, web meeting solutions or video conference calls.
  • Communication matters: when teams don’t physically meet, interpersonal communication matters even more. Open communication is key to fulfilling business objectives – especially for virtual teams. The quality of communication matters, too. Emails are nice, but regularly scheduled video conferencing is better. Meeting face-to-face at annual or semi-annual events is also important.
  • Create a unifying culture: virtual team managers must enhance their team members’ commitment to the company that employs them. Therefore, it is recommended to emphasize company values and achievements, so that team members understand the added value of their work. It is also recommended to establish a clear identity for each virtual team, based on professional ambition, collaboration and tolerance.
  • Employee engagement: this concept relates to team members’ levels of satisfaction, self-expression, interpersonal communication, transparency and self-fulfillment. Creating meaningful employee engagement for remote teams can be challenging. To succeed, managers can rely on their soft management skills. Managers must make their team members feel like opinion leaders. They must provide a stage for their ideas to be expressed, so that they feel they can influence work processes and professional outputs.

Up-Close and Personal Remote Management

After addressing the main challenges and discussing relevant tips, the question still remains: what are the most effective tools in the virtual team manager toolbox? There are lots of tools, but we’d like to discuss one that is especially important: video conferencing.

Video conferencing is usually more productive that email communication, simply because verbal conversation is more effective than written correspondence. Also, many managers prefer video calls to phone conversations because of the trust factor. When managing remote personnel, face-to-face communication is extremely important – even if it occurs via screen. Body language and tone of voice help build intimacy, familiarity and trust, while facilitating professional collaboration. 

Video conferencing is also an effective tool for transferring organizational data. Sharing files and documents on large screens keeps team members informed and allows them to voice their opinions in real time. This is much more effective than sending files via email.

In addition, video conferencing features help create a robust and unique work culture. Team members that can view one another feel like they’re in the same room together. As a result, interpersonal connections are deepened. This is a great way to strengthen an environment based on diversity and tolerance, especially when working with people from difference countries and cultures.

Virtual team management is challenging. An investment in management skills – with a little help from advanced online meeting solutions – can help create borderless collaboration and success.
Good luck!

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