If you’re operating under the assumption that telecommuting is at an all-time high, you’re right. In fact, “in the U.S., 60 percent of companies offer remote-work arrangements, up from just 20 percent in 1996,” according to Bloomberg, and it’s also a popular trend in India, Indonesia and Mexico. Which means that you probably already work with a remote team or are on the cusp of hiring your first remote staffer. Managing a virtual team (and being part of one) comes with its own set of quirks – and requires a lot of trust on everyone’s part.
Of course, trust is probably the most difficult part of leading virtual teams – and it's something that you just have to "feel." However, there are leadership tools and a wide range of technologies that can help you cultivate relationships with your co-workers and your direct reports, which can, ultimately, help you develop easy, seamless working relationships, deep respect, and mutual trust. Four effective tools for managing remote teams include:
- Video Calling: Email is great for communicating information about projects that your group will need to reference later, sending a quick note about an upcoming meeting or PTO, etc., but for brainstorming sessions, employee performance reviews, or any time you have to be a bit more persuasive, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting – which is where video calling comes in. After all, video calling makes it possible for people to see each other, get a feel for personality and mood, and pick up on nuances and intonations – which makes it easier to share ideas, have tough conversations, and make your case.
- Chat/Instant Message: When you're leading virtual teams, it's impossible to experience the same level of spontaneity that you would in a traditional office setting. However, with a chat client you can still have those quick, snappy conversations – they just won't take place in the communal kitchen. Best of all, if you want to run an idea by more than one person at a time, most chat clients give you that option – making it easier to work through ideas and issues on the fly.
- Shared Workspaces: Whether you're managing global teams or just working with a few people across town, odds are good that at some point you're going to need to collaborate on a presentation, client deliverable, or your own internal documents and processes. You can, of course, do everything over email, but version control can quickly become a nightmare – which is where shared workspaces come in. By giving you one central location where everyone in your group can work on the same files in real time – and see what the others have done – you can maintain version control and simplify the creation process.
- Shared Virtual Task Lists: When you're working with virtual teams across multiple time zones, keeping everyone up to date on shared projects is more than a little challenging. But with virtual task lists, your team (or selected members of it) can see lists of all your tasks and their status, which makes sharing work and/or keeping everyone "in the know" simple. And to streamline things even more, some of the apps featuring virtual task lists also give you the option to attach files to tasks, work together on those files, and even share notes and have conversations about them without having to use a separate app – which makes it easy to work together even when your schedules don't sync up.
Anyone overseeing global teams and/or a virtual workforce has experienced first-hand the challenges that come with remote management. But the popularity of teleworking is only rising – so investing in the technology you need to create collaborative experiences, develop personal relationships, and deliver standout projects only makes sense. Fortunately, that technology already exists – it's just a matter of finding the right solution for your people and your organization.