Monday morning, somewhere in the frozen tundras of Norway.
“How was everybody’s weekend? Boring? Exciting?”
“Really..? That’s beautiful.”
Our weekly team meeting always opens the same way, 9am Monday sharp, with a quick round up the weeknd’s extracurricular activities. It usually takes no more than five minutes out of a meeting that’s scheduled to last one hour (we very rarely use up the full allotted time). It never fails to raise a laugh before we get down to the serious stuff. And instantly, it means the meeting is about us, the team, from the start, getting us all involved and connecting with each other.
It’s worth noting that as we go “around the room”, half the participants aren’t actually in the room, but are calling in on video. It’s only a handful of times a year that we’re in the same room as a whole team, since we have teams spread across the globe.
The concept of the remote worker has up until recently, only really operated in niche parts of the global workspace. But improvements in cloud technology and changing attitudes to the traditional office setup, especially as Millennials have entered the workplace with more flexible attitudes to what a workplace should “look” like, means many of us are having to adjust to teaming up with virtual co-workers in some form.
Whether you’re referring to full-time remote working, part-time telecommuting, or just a flexible work from home policy, it’s a trend that doesn’t look like slowing down. As a picture of the changing office landscape, according to research from Global Workplace Analytics, the average worker at a Fortune 1000 company in the US is away from their desk roughly 50 - 60% of the time.
Understanding how to control a mobile or distributed workforce is pretty much a necessity in today's workplace. But while running a remote team has some inherent differences from running a team located in a shared office, the usual rules of management still apply. As a leader, you’re still responsible for creating a team capable of reaching it’s goals. Trust, communication, and team spirit should form the core of your virtual team.
1. Remember you don't manage spaces or machines. You manage people.
Remote workers are “remote” only in the physical sense. It doesn’t mean they’re not part of a team, capable of forming a collective mindset and psychological traits. When you’re leading a team in an office you’re not trying to manage the space spaces they operate in, you’re performing a delicate balancing act of interaction between personalities, skills and knowledge, and your objectives. A remote worker is still a human being with a regular personality, interacting and searching for their place into the group dynamic.
2. So treat them in the same way as any other team.
You get your other teams together on a regular basis, right? Do the same with your remote team and schedule regular virtual meetings together. And we don’t mean group chats, group emails or conference calls, we mean get on video and talk to one another. Even if members of your team don’t need someone else for a particular task, overall gathering your team together so they can see one another will improve group dynamics more than any number of emails or phone calls ever will. And if you’re worried about collaboration, there’s no better way to encourage this between your remote workers than in a live video meeting.
3. Be honest and ask for honesty right back.
Now, we’re not saying that teams who share the same office are more inclined to be honest with one another in their communications and feedback. But, it is easier to spot unspoken resentments and negative office politics when you can see your team interacting with one another. So when running a virtual team it is wise to remember and emphasize some basics: give extra attention to why you value honest communication and híghlighting that it’s what you expect from each team member.
As a member of a virtual team, it can be difficult to work out just where you stand with other members and the group as whole, since you don’t have the usual visual data of daily human behavior and interaction of an office to go on. If you sense there is an issue, then address it early on, professionally, during one of your regular video meetings. Having a group that can come together often, with a leader who takes the lead in open discussions face-to-face will go a long way to dispel uncertainty or tension within the team.