Employees working remotely need training, and so do their managers. Try these techniques to build your virtual team's identity.
The seemingly instantaneous rise of the mobile workforce - employees who can work from anywhere, sometimes on nontraditional schedules - has been nothing short of revolutionary. According to a recent study by IT consultants IDC, the world's mobile worker population will pass one billion by the end of this year, and will include more than three-quarters of U.S. workers before the end of next year. Overseeing these remote employees requires managers, whether they're based at corporate headquarters or their own home office, to develop a new skill set in which accountability, communication and creative uses of technology are key.
Managers must be able to identify and support independent and self-motivated workers who can meet project goals and deadlines without constant supervision. At the same time, these employees must be able to work effectively in a virtual team environment. These are recruiting, evaluation and cultural challenges. Supervisors must be comfortable delegating responsibility, and they should focus on achieving results rather than assigning tasks. Micromanagers need not apply.
Managers of mobile workers must become master communicators, able to forge strong relationships with people they don't see in person on a daily basis - if ever. Assignments, responsibilities and expectations must be crystal-clear. Mission-critical communications should be delivered in a cohesive manner, not in fragmented messages. Managers should also be skilled in the "softer," relationship-building style of communication, such as listening well, making time for informal conversations not directly related to the task at hand and respecting a mobile worker's preferred time and type of communication as much as possible.
Building a cohesive team is another challenge. Managers may establish regular group meetings or conference calls. They should also encourage team members to communicate with one another rather than the manager serving as the single point of contact for everyone. In addition, on remote teams, it's particularly important to develop written guidelines that outline workflow and communication flow, define each team member's responsibilities and provide methods for resolving conflicts.
Technology makes telecommuting possible, and it's constantly evolving. Social media enables teams to go beyond phone calls, teleconferences and email. A number of vendors offer private networks that allow groups to share common resources and create a forum for open discussion. Collaborative work environments such as Google Docs allow users to work on, for example, a single document simultaneously, and see each other's changes in real time.
Just because a team is dispersed geographically doesn't mean it can't operate efficiently and collaboratively. The key is a leader with the skills to keep the group focused and unified.
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