Remote Control: How to Manage a Virtual Team

In the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19), there’s been much talk of late about the benefits of having a remote team available to keep operations running smoothly when an in-house staff is unable to perform their duties. That’s nothing new to us; ModSquad was built on the idea that a remote model can better serve clients and their customers, as well as our own workers. After 12 years as a successful outsourcer of digital engagement serving some of the world’s top brands, we have remote working down to a science. Having seen its benefits, we’d like to share some tips to help managers better oversee a remote workforce.

Maintain clear communications. Unless you’re regularly videoconferencing with your team, you won’t pick up on non-verbal cues from your workers. (Even on video those gestures could be easy to miss.) You might also misconstrue written messages, which may have intentions that don’t come across effectively. Don’t be afraid to embrace the use of emojis and gifs. While you may think they’re too cutesy for the workplace, they can definitely help convey the emotions behind a message.

Make time for your remote team. Treat workers who may be a thousand miles away as you would your next-door office neighbor. Allow them to virtually pop their heads in to discuss projects, pick your brain, or chat about developments. Strive to keep your one-on-one meetings; if you have to reschedule it, do so, but don’t cancel the meeting. What message does that send?

Create an inclusive environment. If you’re using a popular messaging system like Skype or Slack, it’s easy to stick with existing chat channels that have already been populated with specific individuals. Don’t hesitate to think of people who might benefit from being part of the conversation, and pull them into relevant conversations. On a lighter note, be sure to include your remote workers on any team-building or celebratory events you may hold. Workers want to feel like they have as much visibility as a traditional team member, so afford them every opportunity to be front and center.

Keep workers engaged. Maintain regular communication with team members beyond your scheduled one-on-ones. Check in with them periodically to let them know you’re available for them and interested in how things are going. Don’t limit your communications to task distribution discussions and progress reports, however. Show your support by touching base even if it’s just to see if there’s anything you can do for them. Demonstrate this commitment via different communications channels to keep discussions fresh.

Offer orientation and coaching. Bring your remote workers up to speed via established orientation sessions that are coordinated with your human resources department. Beyond that, show your commitment to your team by investing in their future. Providing coaching sessions and offering them enrichment training will broaden their skills, make them stronger workers, and will demonstrate that they’re a valued member of the team.

Give them the tools to succeed. A remote workforce is heavily reliant upon their tools and software. Remove roadblocks like unreliable communications tools and time zone-blind meeting invitations. Give them the same advantages that they’d have with in-person access to you and your IT staff.

Be mindful of goals. Think of both your team member’s goals and that of the organization. Those need not be separate discussions. Don’t just manage your direct reports; mentor them. Get to know each worker’s strengths and passions, and utilize those skills as best you can in the day-to-day. Ensure those you work with move forward as they work to attain their career goals, and do your best to help them find a way to align those goals with the needs of your company.

Many of the skills you bring to the table as a manager can be put to good use with your remote team. But there are unique challenges and advantages to collaborating from a distance. By putting these tips to use, you’re not only investing time and energy into your team, you’re making yourself a stronger lead and helping your entire group better meet the needs of your company.

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