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How to Overcome the 4 Biggest Hurdles to Leading Virtual Teams

by Richard Lepsinger

posted in Business

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While there are many benefits to working remotely, including more flexibility and lower overhead costs, managing a virtual team doesn't come without challenges. Concerns about productivity and performance could potentially outweigh those benefits, but they don't have to.
Here are four of the most common challenges plaguing virtual teams and how leaders can use the RAMP model to overcome them.
Challenge: Developing Trust
Building relationships takes time. Earning trust takes even more time, particularly when you don't interact with your team face-to-face.
Solution: Leverage Technology to Build Relationships With Your Team
There are many ways to connect with your team even when you can't meet in person. Schedule short "coffee breaks" with video chatting tools like FaceTime or Google Hangouts, where you can casually chat with your team about non-work related issues. Services such as GotoMeeting, Live Meeting, and WebEx offer further video and desk top sharing features that can enable you to hold virtual celebrations, such as birthday parties and baby showers, so you can share life events with coworkers.
Creating an office culture without the office may seem odd, but will go a long way when it comes to getting to know the people who work with you.
Challenge: Social Loafing
Within a virtual setting, there is greater temptation for a leader to assume others are not doing the work or to let certain things slide.
Not being in the same physical location as your employees requires more than just trusting that they will get the work done. It means holding them accountable for what they are supposed to do within the scope of their job responsibilities.
Solution: Set People Up for Success
Fortunately, there are ways to document tasks, accountabilities, and due dates and monitor work activity from a distance. Using project management software such as Basecamp or Wrike enables the entire team to view a project and each person's involvement. You can also delegate tasks within the software, discuss the tasks and share files easily. In addition, team members are more likely to maintain high levels of accountability and avoid "social loafing" when they believe others are aware of their performance and can connect their actions to the achievement of team goals.
Challenge: Maintaining Team Morale
Working remotely can cause employees to feel isolated. Without human interaction, that "team" feeling is often not present since employees are not physically with others who are working toward a common goal.
Solution: Keep Your Team Motivated
Employees are more motivated when they know you will invest in their development even when you're not located under the same roof. During your day-to-day interactions, and in more formal periodic and annual performance reviews, identify and discuss opportunities for on-the-job assignments that will help prepare team members to learn new skills and gain new knowledge. Also, look for opportunities for employees to better themselves through formal education and training.
Challenge: Collaborating Despite The Distance
The operations of a virtual company will certainly be different than that of a brick-and-mortar company. There are many issues that must be handled differently and more opportunities for misunderstandings and miscommunications.
Solution: Establish and Document Your Processes
Because of the remote nature of a virtual team, it is important to establish and document the processes used in everyday operations so all employees know what to expect. Otherwise, issues like employees in different time zones, from different cultures and with different levels of expertise with technology can hinder the team's productivity. Make sure you provide adequate training for each employee and are certain they understand how your team handles such issues.
In a virtual team, there is also a need to facilitate collaboration and communication. That includes clarifying how your team will stay in contact (via email, meetings and video chats) and maintaining transparency through shared documents.
Establish preferred channels for communicating, and make yourself available to your team for questions. Restate team members' questions and concerns in your own words to check for understanding.
Post process documents in shared location such as a Google Drive folder. Enable all employees to access these documents and set expectations for how they should be used to maintain consistency within your team, whether they are hosting meetings or sending emails.
Virtual companies are here to stay, but their success hinges on effective leadership. Virtual leaders must help their teams overcome barriers to building trust, managing accountability, staying motivated, and facilitating effective collaboration.
When virtual leaders can address these issues early on, they can reap the benefits of a remote workplace and even gain a competitive advantage over their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
About the Author: For more tips on building a successful virtual team, download 5 Trends Impacting Virtual teams http://www.onpointconsultingllc.com/work-smarter-virtually
To read the Ivey Business Journal article, How to Lead an Effective Virtual Team click here http://www.onpointconsultingllc.com/work-smarter-virtually
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