Managing a team, regardless of size, can be difficult for even the most experienced professional. Every day there are thousands of books purchased and millions of Google searches made on this very topic. Degrees are earned and studies performed solely focused on the question of how to effectively manage groups of people. Yet the fact remains, 71% of all employees are not fully engaged in their jobs.
No matter how successful you have been as a leader, managing a virtual team presents a different set of challenges than managing in a traditional office environment. With staff dispersed in different locations across different time zones, you will have to spend some time and energy devising communication strategies to keep the team in sync and on track. Also, you might have to put in a bit of additional effort up front to ensure you have the right organizational and tracking systems in place. The good news is that once you’ve figured out the keys to collaborating virtually, you’ll find your team’s output increasing and productivity soaring.
While many of the same rules apply to managing teams in-person and virtually, take note of these additional tips for keeping your remote employees happy and motivated. It could mean the difference between a smooth virtual operation and one that has failed.
First things first – find the right people
Because your virtual team members are not in your direct line of sight as they would in an office, it’s important that you do your due diligence before hiring new employees in the first place. Tap your personal network to look for professionals with whom you’ve worked before, or look for first or second-degree connections. Positive recommendations from folks that you personally know will speak volumes about a person’s trustworthiness and dedication and save you valuable time in the hiring process.
If you look outside of your network, make sure your hiring process is designed to find employees that have the specific skillset necessary to thrive in a remote environment. Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, recommends asking “candidates do small a test or a trial project, to see how well—or not—they follow instructions, ask questions, and generally perform in a remote environment.” This way you have the opportunity to see the candidate’s communication style in action.
Once you have assembled your team of reliable, self-motivated rockstars, your next task is keeping them just as productive and engaged as they were on their very first day.
Tips for keeping remote employees motivated and engaged
Why are engaged employees so important anyway?
According to The Engagement Institute, disengaged employees cost organizations between $450 and $550 billion annually. Conversely, Gallup’s employee engagement assessment found that “businesses with a critical mass of engaged employees outperformed their competition” and saw improved customer ratings, profitability, and productivity.
In order for your company to meet or exceed its business goals, your team must be operating at the highest levels of engagement. As a virtual manager, your job becomes even more critical – when you’re not on-site, it’s easy to miss little cracks and divisions forming amongst your team. But with a little added effort and determination, managing a virtual team can be a rewarding, and promising, experience.
- Show them that you care. As we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, a friendly and collegial atmosphere – despite the fact that you’re not physically in the same space – is key in building a productive, more efficient remote team. As the manager, it’s important that you “model the way,” to borrow a phrase from The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model. Rather than start every call or meeting by getting right down to business, build in a few extra minutes to ask the team if they have weekend plans or use some of your one-on-one time to find out what makes an employee tick outside of work. According to Gallup’s State of the American Manager report, “employees who feel as though their manager is invested in them as people are more likely to be engaged.”
- Brainstorm together. Isolation is a common side effect of working virtually. Not only can remote employees start to feel disconnected from other team members, it’s easy for them to lose their way when it comes to “big picture” concepts like corporate values, company mission, and revenue goals. Involve the rest of the team in brainstorming sessions and early project development for this very reason. One bonus: getting good ideas that would have otherwise gone unheard if you were doing all the work on your own.
- Share responsibility. Show them that you trust them by delegating responsibility when possible. An employee who might be feeling otherwise disengaged or distracted will kick into gear when faced with a new challenge. And even if you feel like additional oversight or involvement is necessary due to the physical distance between you, resist. Micromanaging will not just make you a bad boss, it actually “dents your team’s morale by establishing a tone of mistrust—and it limits your team’s capacity to grow,” according to Muriel Maignan Wilkins, coauthor of Own the Room.
- Track your progress as a group. Maybe you decide to do daily 10-minute standup meetings – virtually, of course – or use agile or project management software like Trello or Leankit so everyone can check a project’s status at any point. Regardless of the system you choose, keeping everyone in the loop is your best bet for encouraging team participation.
- Remind them why you hired them. Positive feedback is essential in retaining good employees. Offer appreciation and public recognition for jobs done well (in a remote setting this might mean sending out a congratulatory email or making it a point to announce a “win” during a team meeting). Let your best contributors know that their continued happiness is important to the overall company success. Once you’ve assembled your trustworthy and hardworking virtual team, make sure they feel valuable and empowered – and less likely to leave your company for a competitor’s.
These are just a few ideas for how to keep your remote team inspired. If you currently work on a virtual team, we’d love to know – what keeps you motivated to do your best work? If you’re a manager, what tactics do you use for engaging remote employees that might be different from those you’d use in a traditional workplace?