Remote work is all the rage amongst modern professionals and has even been coined “the future of the workforce.” While “work from wherever” policies provide a lot of benefits for both employees and businesses, managing virtual teams can certainly present a unique set of challenges for leaders.
That’s why we are here to uncover some of the most common challenges when it comes to how to manage people remotely! Then, we’ll explain our top tips for overcoming them, leading to satisfied and productive remote employees—and more engaged, less frustrated managers! Let’s get started.
Remotely Monitoring Productivity and Work Output
When you can’t physically walk up to your virtual teams and see what they’re working on or check in about the status of a task, it can make you question their productivity levels. Here are two simple ways to ensure their work output is aligned with your expectations.
Set up a Project Management System
Project management systems are an incredibly helpful tool when it comes to managing virtual teams. They can help you not only monitor the status of individual tasks, but quickly see an entire project from a big picture perspective. They also help to organize and store documents, outline workflows, and keep records of any comment made on a task so it can be easily found and referred to later.
These capabilities will help keep every member of your virtual teams on the same page about collaborative tasks, help each individual employee feel more organized, and give you full visibility into the real-time status of a project.
Track Basic Measures of Productivity
With virtual teams, you need to be able to actually quantify productivity. The first step towards doing so is determining indicators of success for each team member’s role and clearly outlining expectations for workload. Without this step, you won’t know what you’re actually trying to quantify. Once you do, it’s time to leverage modern tools to track progress towards these goals and measure productivity.
There are lots of tools out there for specific roles—for example, SalesHandy is useful for streamlining communication and tracking analytics for a virtual sales team. For more generic productivity tracking, employees can use free apps such as Toggl to monitor the time spent on each task, then pass along those reports to you. Many project management systems even feature time tracking within tasks so both of these best practices can be carried out in one convenient place!
Finding Effective Ways to Communicate with Virtual Teams
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to effective remote work policies is communication. It can be incredibly hard to connect and collaborate with your virtual teams when you’re in the office and they’re in another city, state, or even country—so here are a few ways to overcome this major challenge.
Leverage Modern Business Communication Tools
As more and more businesses are implementing remote work policies and relying on virtual teams, new tools and technologies are popping up to meet their needs. Utilizing these modern and mobile tools such as business apps, instant messaging platforms, and video conferencing tools can help you have more interactive and convenient virtual conversations.
However, it’s important to note that the key here is finding a balance between “just checking in” and micromanaging your virtual teams. Limit messages and emails to only what is necessary, and instead opt to chat over the phone or video for bigger, more important conversations. This makes your employees feel like you trust them to be self-sufficient, plus limits the frustration of an overflowing email inbox or the constant pinging of new messages.
Know When to Use Each Tool
There’s a lot of different business communication tools out there. Instead of communicating with your virtual teams through just one, it can help to use different tools depending on the type of conversation you need to have. Here’s a quick cheat sheet that outlines best practices for when to use various communication methods:
- Email. Emails should be used for quick interactions, but be wary that you aren’t sending an email for every little thing. If you have a lot of information to flesh out or discuss with your virtual teams, it’s often more productive to hop on a quick phone call or video chat.
- Instant messaging. Tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams are great for chatting when you need a real-time response or have a simple question or comment. These quick, one-off communications can often replace an entire email.
- Video chat. Sometimes, face to face communication is just necessary. Any kind of emotional issues (such as discussing performance problems) or important conversations about a project should be handled over video. This way, you can pick up on body language cues and have more productive conversations without the risk of miscommunication or things getting lost in translation.
- Phone calls. Often times, hopping on a phone call for 10 minutes to discuss a task is much simpler than sending 15 separate questions and answers back and forth. If you need to have a quick, concise, and efficient conversation, this is frequently your best bet.
- Project management tools. If your organization uses virtual project management tools such as Wrike, Asana, or Jira, you’ll be able to leave comments on tasks. This can be especially helpful on collaborative projects as every team member tagged on the task will get a notification and be able to see the comment.
Managing Virtual Teams across Different Time Zones
Having employees working around the world can be an extremely valuable way to access new markets and give your business a global presence. But, communication is already a challenge for virtual teams—and when none of your working hours match up, it can become an even larger obstacle. Here are a few tips for bridging the time zone gap.
Clearly Outline Task Delivery Expectations
As a manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure your virtual teams are clear about expectations when it comes to task delivery times. For example, let’s say you have a remote employee working on a project in Australia, but your meeting to deliver it to the client is on U.S. Eastern time.
You need to be very transparent with this employee about when the meeting is, factor the time difference into their deadline, and regularly sync up as they work to complete the task to ensure you’re both on the same page. This way, there won’t be any confusion when your employee thinks the project needed to be done by 5:00 pm their time, but really the meeting to present it was 5:00 pm your time.
Set Realistic Communication Boundaries
When managing virtual teams, you could have employees working from the other side of the world—which means their work hours are your sleep hours, and vice versa. Surveys have shown that the biggest struggle for remote employees is unplugging from their work, so you don’t want to amplify this problem by expecting that your virtual teams will always be tethered to their laptop and able to answer you immediately.
To combat this, try to find overlapping periods where everyone is working, even if it's just a few hours each day. Schedule your main team meetings during these times to discuss anything major going on, then send chats or emails for smaller things throughout the day. Remember to be understanding and accept that they may not answer a message for a few hours if it’s 10 am your time but 3 am their time.
Trusting That Your Remote Employees with Flexible Working Hours Are Actually Working
In an office, you can clearly see when your employees are coming and going, but this isn’t the case with virtual teams. It isn’t always easy to see how long each employee worked per day and what they accomplished—which can cause some trust issues. Here are some tips for improving accountability amongst virtual teams so you can have peace of mind that your important tasks will always be completed.
Allow Flexible Work Hours, but Also Keep Some Consistency
Virtual teams will rightly want flexibility with their work hours—that’s likely the reason they took a remote position in the first place. As a manager, it’s important to allow a degree of flexibility, but you don’t want an employee’s working schedule to be so erratic that you never know when they’re working or when you’d be able to get a hold of them.
We recommend having your virtual teams set loose working hours—while they may not always work those exact hours each day, it will give you a better idea of when they’re typically online. Then, they can use a virtual calendar (such as the Google Calendar tool through G-Mail) to post their planned working hours at the beginning of each week, then update as any changes come up so everyone has clear visibility into when they’re actually available.
Hold Regular Check-Ins
Managers of virtual teams aren’t able to just walk up to an employee’s desk to ask them what they’re working on, or bump into them around the office for a quick check-in. To combat this lack of in-person communication, it’s important that you’re leveraging modern business communication tools to connect regularly.
This could include scheduling main briefings at the same time on the same day to create a routine, then video conferences or phone calls as needed for smaller check ins throughout the week. This way, you can receive regular status updates that help you gain confidence and trust in the work your employees are doing.
Managing virtual teams isn’t easy, but it certainly isn’t impossible if you follow these best practices, constantly work to make improvements in your processes and communications, and leverage the right business communication tools.
At Protected Trust, we want to help your virtual teams reach their greatest potential, and we believe a modern workplace built on an ecosystem of Microsoft Teams and the Microsoft 365 platform can help get them there.
Ready to learn how Microsoft devices and software can improve satisfaction and efficiency amongst your remote employees, while also helping you overcome the challenges of managing virtual teams? Reach out to an expert today.