Shifting Demands of Virtual Team Management

According to Pew Research, 62% of the workers they polled who hold bachelor’s degrees say they can do their work from home. The COVID-19 pandemic forced workers and employers to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of having jobs at a traditional workplace. About half of Pew’s respondents who began working from home during the pandemic reported that they have more flexibility when working from home. According to a Gallup poll, nearly half of the people who worked from home during the pandemic would prefer to keep that arrangement.
Clearly, businesses and their employees are thinking about the workplace differently than they did before the pandemic began. This indicates that businesses offering work-from-home flexibility are more likely to be attractive to the top talent. This is an important piece of the human resources pie in a job market with more job openings than job seekers.

When the pandemic began, businesses scrambled to facilitate working from home as a necessity. Today, businesses around the world are looking for ways to manage a labor pool that resists working in a traditional setting. Luckily, as the demand for more work-from-home opportunities continues, businesses can now take a deeper look at the realities of having a workforce that rarely or never meets face to face. Putting into practice what they’ve learned during the pandemic, businesses can now adapt to the shifting needs of their workforce, and the concerns of the teams who work for them virtually.

This initially may place some strain on managers who saw working from home as a temporary situation. Wrapping heads and plans around a more permanent geographically diverse workforce can be challenging. There are some responses to the new normal that can make adjusting to the shifting demands of virtual team management easier. In the end, these arrangements can have positive outcomes for companies, managers, and workers, alike.

The Technology

So much of what makes managing a virtual team possible—and so much of what it takes to do it well—comes down to the technology.

It would seem to go without saying that if we’re going virtual, of course we worry about the technology. But, the key to successful virtual team management is having the right technology in place.

For example, consider the list of tips compiled by the human resources company HRCloud. Their article, “8 Tips to Help You Manage a High-Performance Virtual Team,” outlines their ideas of what’s important to a virtual manager. Four of their eight tips involve technology:

  • Give your employees the right equipment
  • Use multiple communication channels
  • Organize online meetings regularly
  • Take advantage of project-management tools
Looking at these tips, it’s also obvious that much of what goes into successful virtual team management occurs before the team begins its work. Perhaps, in fact, most of these tips require planning before the team is assembled.

Hardware

It’s dangerous to assume that virtual team members have all the equipment necessary to perform their jobs at a high level. Successful companies will take steps to ensure that team members have hardware—most likely matching hardware—and have the necessary training to get it up and running.

Hardware assets a manager might need to put into place include computers, headsets, desks, and chairs. Some managers might bristle at the idea of providing such expensive items to a worker who is staying at home. But, it’s best to make sure team members have the same hardware to ensure that other items necessary for virtual team success—like software and conferencing technology—easily sync with one another.

Software

In terms of software, virtual team managers and their supervisors need to make some decisions about what to use. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers have gotten used to meeting with their coworkers on Zoom. And Google Meet. And Big Blue Button. And Skype. And WebEx. And so on. The point is, it can be a challenge to juggle all the different virtual ways teams can meet. Pick one, pay for it, and stick to it.

The same holds true for project-management software. We’re fortunate to be working at a time when so many companies are making new technologies for us to use, but the amount of choices can be overwhelming. As with the meeting applications, pick a project-management tool and stick with it.

The unspoken aspect of all this technology is that you need to provide training on how to put it to use. Consider developing a Best Practices manual for each tool your virtual team accesses. These manuals should be fluid and revised as new complications arise. Develop the manual initially during one of your first meetings as a way to encourage buy-in from every member of your team. Consider best practices for meetings, posting messages, sending email, appearing in videos, and whatever else your team thinks is important.

We can all use a refresher on proper tech-use etiquette.

Ideas For Virtual Team Management Now That Virtual Teams Aren’t New

Work-from-home situations at first seemed temporary but now appear that they are here to stay and have lost some of their “new car smell.” Managers may be finding their teams slipping back into old bad habits, or maybe even developing new ones. Managers themselves may be finding it’s easier to cut some corners now that there are no buildings with corners to cut.

There are some simple steps managers can take for keeping their virtual teams functioning at a high level.

1. Choose to use video calls instead of emails

Nobody loves meetings, and nobody wants endless video calls to replace the pointless gatherings that many people understand work meetings to be.

On the other hand, putting a face to ideas can be valuable, not just for productivity, but for the social connection many high-functioning teams exhibit.

Make it a policy to reach out via video, even for just a quick chat, instead of over-relying on email. A 10-minute conversation can replace countless emails that form a chain of questions, confusion, and replies that always seem to end in conversations, anyway.

2. Continue to make expectations crystal clear

Leave no room for misunderstanding. Let team members know when they are expected to be online and what the measurable deliverables they are expected to produce.

As Entrepreneur reminds us, nobody likes—or wants to be—a micromanager, but workers perform better when they receive robust information about what’s expected from them.

3. Embrace flexibility

According to Sigma Assessment Systems,“Flexible leaders are those who can modify their style or approach to leadership in response to uncertain or unpredictable circumstances.” Successful managers of virtual teams understand how their behavior influences their team. When managers get too attached to “what we’ve always done,” productivity plummets. It doesn’t mean managers need to skimp on their expectations, but they should be looking for ways to adapt their behavior—communication, especially—to best take advantage of their team’s skills.

Additionally, you can encourage your team members to be flexible, too. That includes giving them opportunities to upskill, solve problems in new ways, tackle new problems, and take on new responsibilities.

These are good management strategies regardless of where people work, but really sparkle when put into action with virtual teams.

Virtual Doesn’t Mean Less Real

What we’ve learned since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is that good work can be done from home. The workforce—and their employers—demonstrated the ability to innovate and adjust in the scariest of circumstances. It’s no exaggeration to believe that new ways to work have been invented over the past couple of years.

Successful virtual teams embrace this ability to innovate. Smart managers understand and encourage these innovations. Working virtually doesn’t mean the work is any easier or less important, or any less real.

Opportunities For Learning

Virtual team managers can continue to learn and develop their skills with a series of lessons from KnowledgeCity that are devoted to virtual teams.

For a free preview, visit this link. To learn more about the lessons available for managers of virtual teams, visit KnowledgeCity’s Train My Team page.

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