Managing virtual teams is all about connections

Paul Nolan

More than four in 10 American employees report working remotely at least some of the time, according to a Gallup survey. A remote work force is agile and cost-effective. However, many supervisors continue to struggle with the fundamentals of managing and motivating a remote work team.

“Too frequently, they focus their efforts exclusively on the technology that enables connectivity and fail to address what’s actually most important to attaining the desired results: the human connection,” states Julie Winkle Giulioni, author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want.”

Connection in a remote environment doesn’t happen by chance. Giulioni offers these managerial tips for transforming remote groups into collective communities.

  • Cultivate effective communication practices. Effective virtual leaders tend to overcommunicate and overdocument to keep people on the same page. But this must be balanced with not overwhelming people and further contributing to information overload and communication fatigue. And, of course, the importance of active listening cannot be overstated.
  • Invest in shared vision. Shared vision and values contribute to trust, leaving members feeling like “these people are my tribe.” However, developing that vision is not enough. Leaders can’t cross that off the list and hide it away; they must refer to it frequently and treat it as a living document, updating as necessary.
  • Nurture norms and agreements. When everyone understands the terms of engagement or rules of the road, they can go about their work confident in the behaviors and performance they can expect from others. Allowing teams to play a role in creating norms and agreements goes a long way toward creating trust. As with shared vision, these can’t be tucked away, either. They must find their way into meetings, conversations and interactions with others to build a culture and connection.
  • Mine (and mind) your meetings. While important in any setting, meetings take on greater significance for virtual teams. Regularly scheduled meetings create a cadence and predictable opportunities for people to connect. Impromptu meetings address evolving business needs and approximate the more casual way people might come together in co-located settings.