By Michele Don Durbin, Evernote‘s SVP of Marketing, looks at how managers can succeed at managing remote teams.
The impact of Covid-19 has driven the recent explosion in home working and the physical separation of workforces. Remote teams have become a crucial part of many organisations to help them cope with the pandemic and the increasingly globalised nature of the business environment. This means that managers are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory when it comes to managing teams remotely – it requires a different approach from managing a traditional team face-to-face.
But research shows that two out of every three experienced managers fail at their first attempt to run a remote team and the failure rate is even higher for new managers. Remote team management failure almost always occurs due to managers applying the same practices as they do for face-to-face management. They don’t consider what’s different and that is a major mistake.
Here are some of the big challenges that managers need to overcome and practical tips to help them successfully adapt their style for managing teams remotely.
Overcome a lack of understanding
Virtual teams aren’t just separated by geography, teammates are also separated by other factors including time zone, language, culture and religion.
Managers need to consider the specific situation of each team member and appreciate that not one size fits all, because no two teams are the same as virtual teams are diverse teams.
They need to stop and think about the unique situation of each team member and understand that each person’s situation is completely different to everyone else’s. If a manager can learn how to accommodate the differences they will be much better positioned to take advantage of the unique perspectives and fresh ideas that come from a team made up of lots of different team members.
It is also important for managers to familiarise themselves with the business etiquette for working in that country to better connect and understand how their teammates work day-to-day.
Avoid Poor communication
Misunderstandings are more likely to happen when we move away from face-to-face conversations because a lot of human communication is nonverbal.
When we talk face-to-face, we can pick up meaning from visual cues like facial expression or body language. Without these nonverbal cues we lose the context that can help us understand what a person means.
Take extra care in your communications, especially if your teammates can’t see your face and body language.
Emails are the most prone to error. We often put lots of information into long, detailed emails. But because both parts of the conversation aren’t happening at the same time, we may have no chance to clarify what we mean or correct ourselves.
In an email, get straight to the point and keep it short, plus after three e-mail interactions, switch the communication channel to phone or videoconference.
And when it comes to actions, every communication should be crystal-clear about the three W’s: WHO, does WHAT, by WHEN.
Use the right communication channels
Trust within a team comes from cooperative behaviour, keeping commitments and deadlines, and delivering quality work. This is easier to achieve when teams choose the right ways to communicate.
Managers need to encourage their teams to pick the right communication channel for the right situation. But virtual teams don’t always pick the best channel for the type of communication and this can harm confidence.
To be successful you need to agree as a team how you want to work together and set clear expectations that can be used to build trust. So managers should work with their teammates to decide as a team which communications should happen, via which channel.
When your team has agreed, create a resource so everyone on the team can reference (and not cause confusion). This also helps as new people join along the way.
This can help to build cooperation, meet deadlines, and create the vital trust every organisation needs to succeed.
Hire the right people
Most organisations go through the same process for recruiting a virtual team member as they do when they recruit locally. They don’t check to see if the candidate will be a good virtual team member, which is why there’s often high staff turnover in virtual teams.
Virtual teams can only succeed when all members are working together, which means it’s vital to recruit the right people – those who are good listeners, good communicators, and good collaborators.
To help managers recruit the right people it’s worth testing how applicants work in virtual teams at the interview stage.
For instance, include an interview stage where applicants are asked some simple questions by phone, then ask the applicant to reply by email. All they have to do is repeat the questions and answer each one with two or three sentences.
Many people fail this test because they don’t listen carefully to the instructions. And if they don’t listen in this situation, it is less likely that they will succeed in a virtual team .
Ultimately, virtual teams have now become the norm for many organisations and this trend is set to continue. Managers can help their remote teams to succeed by investing the time to adopt their management approach to help the team flourish.
Michele Don Durbin is SVP of Marketing at Evernote. Evernote is on a mission to help you remember everything and accomplish anything. Our products and services allow you to capture and organize everything that matters to keep you productive, all day and in every context. Serving more than 250 million customers around the world in 25+ languages, Evernote is an independent, privately held global company headquartered in Redwood City, California.