ITMPI InsightsProject Management

Managing Virtual Team Members: Not Your Parents’ Management Style

I have always prided myself on my ability to manage and motivate my team, as well as to get many of my employees promoted. I took the time to get to know their business and personal goals, to clear roadblocks, and to coach and develop them. However, it is a little different story when your team is completely virtual.

When I moved to the role of managing virtual team members, some aspects of my old management approach still worked well while others fell woefully short. Even the aspects that worked had to be modified though. For example, I couldn’t walk around and casually talk to everyone to see what they were working on, see where they were concerned, and understand the daily nuances of the work at hand. This made a difference when communicating with my new virtual team. I found that much as I tried, I couldn’t relate to everyone as well as I used to. I started to be taken by surprise by things that happened (or more often, what didn’t happen), to hear of obstacles that I didn’t know were presenting themselves, etc.

What did I learn from this?

1. Extra touch. My general management style was still good but needed to be modified to include good use of technology and more conscious effort to keep in touch with everyone. It takes extra time to talk to people and get to know them. It also requires an effort to schedule a few more focused meetings. When working remotely, the team default is to stay separate and not schedule any meetings. Additionally, it is not enough for me to talk to each person individually; I also have to make sure they are talking to each other. Surprisingly, often they aren’t.

2. Increase feedback provided. In an office it was easy for me to provide ongoing, informal feedback to individuals to let them know how they were doing and to help develop them. Remotely, that is more difficult. I have to make an effort to let people know what has been done well or what was not done as I expected and encourage interaction with that person. I have to create a feeling of trust and openness so the dialogue can occur even when I do not initiate the conversation.

3. Additional planning. I have to perform additional planning when communicating work to be done. This may include putting instructions in writing or creating more checklists than before. It may also mean creating processes for task management and completion, problem solving, or conflict management. Sometimes, processes need to be created for things taken for granted in a co-located office. Processes for version control, hand-offs, and checklists of the common errors in completing work may have to be created to produce a consistent, quality product among scattered team members.

4. Use technology, but don’t let team members hide behind it. I had to adapt to relying a little more on lack of touch, such as using email, but not too much, because so much of the message is lost with this method of communicating. In today’s society, the bigger problem is getting people away fromemail and IM and getting them to actually call and talk to another team member. Yes, more communications are conducted using email and IM, and much of it is fine and has served us well. However, more misunderstandings occur when using this medium, and I have to be ready to step in when necessary to coordinate a call or a meeting to ensure people actually talk to each other to work things out. Other tools such as shared sites or collaborative software are essential.

5. Meet in person. Make an effort to bring people together in person when possible. Have you ever noticed that you can build a pretty good working relationship with someone over the phone or over email, but once you meet, that relationship has moved to a whole new level? It’s different. That’s the power of face-to-face. Try to get everyone to meet each other at least once. Then the interactions are a little more personal and (hopefully) even better.

Learn more about working or training effectively in a virtual environment by attending Vicki Wrona’s free webinar with ITMPI on June 22! Sign up here: Virtual Presentation Power!

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