Modern work groups often span far-flung offices, shared workspaces, private homes and hotel rooms. Controlling these dispersed teams has become a progressively convoluted task with ‘virtual managers’ having to juggle a myriad of elements to keep members productive and motivated. Ensuring cohesiveness means selecting communication methods strategically to toe the line between micromanaging and merely expressing expectations. While the merits of remote teams can be debated, more and more companies are electing to operate in such environments as they boast a huge potential upside if handled correctly.
Geographically dispersed teams can offer compelling benefits in the areas of cost savings and efficiency.
The ability to handpick from a larger pool of outstanding candidates can further add value to a business. These employees are attracted by the appeal of a more flexible work schedule, which can only increase motivation. Moreover, the single greatest advantage of a remote environment is that those who thrive within it will ultimately require less management than those who rely on the trappings of a regular office setting.
Nevertheless, there is significantly less margin for error from a communication perspective as misunderstanding distributed across both time and geography magnifies. The absence of vital visual cues can lead to confusion if not addressed appropriately. To remedy this imbalance, the correct contact tools should be selected and optimised according to the business model.
There must be a consistent procedure regarding the use of various mediums of communication available depending on context. For example, virtual chat should be adopted for quick-fire conversation, email for more detailed correspondence and video-conferencing for serious group meetings. Such types of collaborative software can remove the barriers presented by physical distance but, crucially, they must be reliable.
Set clear, deliberate expectations in advance and establish ground rules for how interactions will take place. It is also necessary to advocate for candor and set an appropriate cadence for communication. In that regard, VoIP services offer a host of features that can drastically reduce costs, improve productivity and eliminate the frustration of dealing with third-party providers.
Managers parlay strengths, styles and preferences to achieve results, but not being in the same location as their workers mean having to operate slightly differently. Successful virtual leaders need to help team members stay focused on both the forest and the trees, often at the same time. Otherwise, they face disillusionment as it is easy to feel isolated in remote environments – managers will know how each person’s work is building towards a long-term goal, but employees do not have the benefit of this bird’s eye view.
Poor communication from workers is often symptomatic of an underlying attitude issue stemming from disengagement. To successfully galvanize people, transparency is essential. Tracking progress and output uniformly under a coherent structure will make employees feel they are being treated fairly and are a valued member of a collective effort.
As far back as 2011, CBI data from the UK showed that over 59% of firms had remote workers.
That figure is creeping up exponentially by the year as every type of firm from major multinationals such as Amazon, Dell and IBM to SMEs reap the benefits of operating in a such an environment. It will soon become a staple of modern work life, powered directly by technology. However, that also means the intricacies of virtual management are becoming increasingly relevant. Remote managers have to unite their workers around charter and only by adopting the finest communications tactics will they achieve tangible results.
Author: Dylan Fahy
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