April 2, 2018

Virtual Team Management: An Essential Skill Today

Virtual Team Management: An Essential Skill Today featured image

Managing a virtual team requires slight twists on the classic leadership formulas.

Silhouettes of people emerge from a laptop.

Teams don’t have to be close to work together closely.

On the surface, team leadership may seem like a skill that doesn’t change much over time. People are people, and leading them takes the same psychological makeup it always has – up to a point. The fact is, the office environment is evolving, and some of the twists that have come in recent years have shifted the way colleagues connect and deal with one another. Having up-to-date leadership and management training can deliver distinct benefits when it comes to ensuring productivity.
Virtual meetings are an example of a new practice that could affect leadership style. When team leaders can’t speak to their group members in person, they have to work extra hard to ensure everyone stays motivated and productive.

Becoming a Remote Leader

Remote team management is especially important at companies that use models where individuals are permanently located in different places. Rather than touching base between in-person meetings, virtual gatherings are the default method of communication for these organizations. An International Project Management Association post by Reinhard Wagner recently focused on the positives and negatives of such teams: In the win column, the groups have the ability to bring in diverse opinions, and maintaining the team is affordable. On the other hand, members could begin to feel isolated and lose focus.
To prevent the latter issue from becoming a major problem, team leaders should become experts at finding ideas that will link the individuals to one another, despite the potentially vast distance between them. Wagner suggested that virtual bosses will have to show great knowledge and empathy when recognizing the contributions of others. Such a personal tone can help make the distance feel less isolating and remind associates they’re part of a united group.

Adjusting Priorities

When video and audio links are the only way to speak to team members, adequate preparation is essential to keeping meetings on track. Forbes Coaches Council contributor Kathleen Woodhouse recently suggested that managers tasked with organizing remote gatherings spend time and effort focusing on the necessary technology. If the IT elements of the meeting are treated as mere formalities, problems could arise, making it impossible to stay on schedule.
Woodhouse also urged managers to deal with the basic elements of management. Clear lines of communication become especially important in virtual environments, and there are simple practices that make connecting more effective. For instance, if every member of the team is clear on the agenda of the meeting before it begins, there’s less room for the sort of time-wasting and ambiguity that could become a factor for team members separated by physical distance.
Simple, clear speaking and routine breaks to take comments from group members may also help leaders get their messages across. When managers understand the limitations of technology, they can have more effective meetings in spaces that lack the clarity gained from face-to-face communication.

A manager is surrounded by images of his virtual team.What does leadership look like for a remote manager?

Bonding Beyond Borders

As Brandeis professor Andy Molinsky explained in an article for Inc., a few simple and early team management decisions may set the tone for ongoing interactions – and help determine whether a group is productive. For example, leaders who set up ground rules and baselines for interaction may accomplish more during meetings than if they hadn’t taken the time. This is especially important when teams are international and made up of members from different backgrounds and work environments.
Molinsky also suggested dealing with harmful conflicts quickly and decisively. Assuming that teams won’t encounter friction because they don’t meet in person, or that such issues will not negatively affect progress, could be a costly decision for a remote manager. The arts of mediation and group problem resolution remain relevant and important for leaders, even when they never meet their associates face-to-face. Molinsky warned that arguments may actually be more common in virtual environments, with the distance created by technology causing people to be less diplomatic.

Becoming an Expert

When leaders step into roles with new responsibilities, they have to learn new priorities and skills. Considering today’s technologically influenced workplace, it’s natural for those abilities to include a specialization in tech-enabled management styles. The following are a few examples of courses designed with this in mind:

  • Virtual Meetings: The Invisible Meeting: This training module is designed to be a one-stop course in the best practices of remote meetings. Everything from scheduling gatherings that make sense across times zones to making sure teams feel a unity of purpose is covered in the course.
  • The New Workplace: Making the Change: Increasing use of remote work styles is one of many changes enabled by technology. This course places these developments into the context of change management and helps people adapt.

There are numerous ways to tune up management skills for present-day environments. With so many options available, there’s no excuse for being unprepared.

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