Achieving Real Results through Effective Leadership of Virtual Teams

Thu, 2013-04-18 13:32 -- nitrous

As Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric said, “the economy today is going through a fundamental ‘reset.’ The old rules just don’t apply anymore. We are seeing a genuine explosion of distributed/mobile/flexible work across all market segments, including large organizations, small businesses, and free agents/entrepreneurs. In fact, our research suggests that fully 15% of the U.S. workforce now spends one or more days a week working outside a corporate facility, and we project that number to grow beyond 25% within the next five years.”

Mobile workers are increasingly becoming dispatched to different locations away from the traditional office. Teams might be working at home, out in the field at a satellite office, or constantly on the go within a corporate campus environment. While the benefits of virtual leadership are plentiful and provide the advantage of obtaining talent anywhere in the world with around the clock work progression, there are still many challenges that managers face.

Whether employees are referred to as remote workers or as being a part of a mobile workforce, they have become the rule and not the exception, and companies face new terrain in managing these virtual employees. Engaging mobile workers can be a difficult challenge, as they must stay focused and connected with each other and the larger organization while working asynchronously at great distances. Virtual workers can often feel a sense of isolation, and building bonded teams becomes more difficult when there are few opportunities to meet face-to-face.

How can you keep your team connected – internally and externally – in a world where almost everyone you want to be connected to is mobile a majority of the time? Effective leadership means motivating your followers to want what you want. When their goals are consistent with the organization’s objectives, they spend more time and put forth more effort focusing on doing work they see as contributing to those goals. Connecting and leading virtual teams is not impossible, but does require some new policies and updated management practices that reflect the realities of the “new economy.”

To be successful, there are four specific measures that managers of distributed teams must do to ensure success:

- Use highly participative approaches in establishing distributed work environments
- Define and publish formal policies and procedures for distributed work
- Establish explicit, tangible performance measures
- Develop formal agreements about regular interaction

Once a virtual team has been established, a manager must first assess the team’s working patterns and determine which tools are needed to get the core job completed, while simultaneously maximizing the amount of meaningful communication among team members. By understanding such work patterns, a manager can effectively match both technology support and personal management practices to the employees’ particular needs. Through continued communication, the manager must be proactive in reaching out and paying attention to both the personal and social side of employees.

Here are some ways leaders are using social technologies to promote collaboration amongst virtual teams:

- Live videoconferencing to make virtual interactions feel more realistic
- Frequent contact to keep connections to virtual workers fresh
- Viewing a job as being both the creator and the hub of a distributed team network
- Mixing media, such as the use of forums, vlogs, blogs, and discussion groups to allow people to interact in a style most comfortable to them
- Focusing equally on formal tasks and personal relationships
- Meeting face-to-face at least once to create a bond that can be connected virtually
- Using simple technologies, such as a personal phone call or instant message to help motivate a virtual worker and letting them know they are not out of sight, out of mind
- Providing staff with the technology they need to connect easily with each other and with the information they need to be productive

Collaborative technologies are critical tools that cost very little to deploy, while at the same time demonstrate the organization’s commitment to facilitating teamwork amongst distributed employees. Through the use of online collaboration tools, virtual teams can effectively communicate with each other and instantly share relevant information. Files, applications, websites and more can be made visible to teammates and on-screen annotations can be made to highlight points of interest.  As the mobile workforce continues to grow, companies need a cost-effective solution for enabling efficient communication and collaboration amongst scattered team members. Unified Communications and Collaboration technologies give everyone on a distributed team the ability to make informed, collaborative decisions and complete projects at a faster turnover rate.

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