There are three must-do essentials for managing people virtually, especially during a crisis: 1) communicate effectively, 2) build trust between managers and employees, and 3) establish clear rules of the road.
Hire talented people with good communication skills and foster a communicative culture that supports and rewards collaboration.
Meet at least once in person and create a standard on-boarding process.
Make sure work hours overlap to some degree. Schedule regular meetings so that team members do not have to negotiate multiple time zones or reorganize their workdays to accommodate others’ schedules.
When in doubt, err on the side of over-communicating. Even face-to-face communication can be easily misunderstood – due to a variety of factors – so the chances of misunderstandings or mixed signals increase exponentially with remote communication. To avoid this, consider creating opportunities for team members to just chat, both formally and informally, with you.
It’s especially important for you to be fully present during conversations and to read between the lines, to listen for what’s not being said as well as what’s being said. Be alert to moody behavior, emails sent at odd times, or a decline in work quality – any or all of which can be signs that a remote worker might be struggling. Working remotely is different than working in the same physical location with others, so you need to accommodate the differences.
Build Trust Between Managers and Employees
Develop a shared mission with your team. Instill a collaborative spirit that leverages team members’ individual and collective strengths and skills.
Create a professional work environment. Establish clear and detailed goals and deliverables. Estimate how long certain tasks should take and what the real deadlines are. Encourage professional attire and a distraction-free environment. Establish a meritocracy – implement incentives and rewards to keep employees motivated.
Find creative ways for team members to get to know one another. Trust and collaboration often suffer in organizations with rigid functional silos – even more so when people are working remotely. Getting the whole team together once a year is good but it’s not enough. It’s helpful for people to get to know each other beyond job roles, so fostering social interaction can increase team cohesion, informal communication, and problem solving. Interpersonal bonds will help everyone resolve conflicts if and when they occur.
Establish Clear Rules of the Road
In order to build high-performing teams that are working toward clearly defined goals, everyone needs to understand how progress and achievement will be measured.
Set up processes and work systems that standardize the way of working, then continually tweak and refine them.
In the virtual world there are always unanswered questions about how things should “feel.” Questions need to be answered: “How long should a project take?” “What are everyone’s expectations?” and “What are the boundaries or sensitivities I should be concerned about?”
Good rules of the road help but communication and trust create the glue that make things “feel” better when working virtually.
Years ago, when I worked for Citicorp, people working overseas would often say, “It’s a long way to way to the head office.” Today, your job is to make that distance shorter using all the virtual tools available.