Manage a Virtual Team


We all thought it was hard to keep track of on-site staff—until we started managing teams remotely. Here are some tips to help you communicate with telecommuters as effectively as if they were sitting in your office.
Set expectations about behavior and performance and document them. Define each member’s responsibilities, such as e-mail response time, and share the information with all team members.

Encourage and provide feedback on all team activities to e-staffers the same as you would with workers in the office.

Use tried and true project management disciplines to ensure the clarity of your messages to both off- and on-site staff:

Make sure all communications define expected actions, responsibilities and time lines.

Track to-do items with tickler files and follow up as necessary.

Provide more formal communications than in traditional same-time/same-place teams.

Circulate agendas and minutes for all meetings.

Because informal information doesn’t usually make the rounds on virtual teams, allow time for light conversation and personal tidbits that aren’t included on the formal teleconference agendas.

Put someone in charge of documenting explicit and tacit knowledge when communicating among team members and make it easily accessible. Explicit knowledge includes facts, policies and procedures. Tacit knowledge is information understood without being openly expressed, such as behaviors (“Is it OK to wait until 10 a.m. to read my e-mails?”) and logistics (“When I visit your office, where should I park?”).

Match activities with performance evaluation factors, so what gets done gets measured. Reward good performance with a bonus, day off, dinner on the company, promotion or raise.

Capture information on all projects and office happenings from e-mails, in-house memos and press releases and share them with remote team members, and archive e-communications in a shared database for new hires.

Encourage team members to build face-to-face relationships whenever they are physically in the office.

Consider training teleworkers as potential team leaders to communicate with and coordinate the group in your absence.

As a team, determine how to address and resolve conflict, whether it involves a face-to-face confrontation or one that occurs electronically.

Source: Adapted from Effective Communication and Information Sharing in Virtual Teams by Kevin L. McMahan, www.squarewheels.com/content2/virtual.html .

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