Managing virtual teams

More and more staff are working remotely – far from the office – the management challenge is how to keep them engaged and productive.
(c) Can Stock Photo / master1305

Virtual teams have become common in recent years. Remote work allows businesses and startups to compete in an increasingly globalized society, and provides new freedoms for employees, freelancers and consultants to work with clients and teams – less constrained by geographic boundaries. Now, with travel restrictions growing in the face of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many more companies are encouraging staff to work from home – potentially fast-tracking the remote working trend. This calls for managers to identify and address remote workplace issues in order to maintain/build a high-performing team, that can actually improve productivity and team engagement.

An introduction to improving online collaboration can be found from our recent LfS post – Managing virtual teams and (increasingly) staff that work from home.

The following articles provide more detail on how to manage virtual and distributed project teams. [Note: see related information and links around the closely related Managing virtual meetings page.]

Challenges to managing virtual teams and how to overcome them. As Julie Wilson points out, “Managing a virtual team requires managers to double down on the fundamentals of good management, including establishing clear goals, running great meetings, communicating clearly, and leveraging team members’ individual and collective strengths,”. This 2020 Harvard Blog provides pointers to solutions that help with communication, trust and productivity.

Coronavirus Could Force Teams to Work Remotely. This 2020 HBR post from Heidi Gardner and Ivan Matviak provides some clear strategies that leaders can employ to ensure that teams – that move from co-located to distributed – continue to collaborate effectively and maintain their business momentum.

Team working at home because Of coronavirus? Here’s how to lead them effectively. This recent post from Jason Wingard outlines three key areas to heading a newly virtual workforce — what he calls the “3 Cs of remote leadership” — that leaders can implement today, whether their organization’s shift is temporary or long lasting – clarity, communication and connection.

An emergency guide to work remotely. This practical guide from Officeless aims to get you started to learn the best practices for working as a team in a distributed manner in an emergency situation. They realise that adopting remote work in normal conditions is challenging enough – doing it overnight in an emergency can become stressful. So they help you to develop a plan that not only contemplates the technical operation of the operation, but takes into account the human side.

The distributed collaboration manual. This manual documents the knowledge about distributed collaboration (“remote work”, “telework”) that the Edgeryders OÜ team have developed in their work over recent years. Its extremely useful, the lessons are based in practice – and this version is maintained as up-to-date via a wiki. All chapters past the introduction present their knowledge as a collection of recipes/best practices/patterns. They try to be specific enough to be easily understandable and quickly applicable, but general enough to be relevant for most organizations that have to deal with information management.

Managing a dispersed team. This is a well-developed guide from the Victorian Public Sector Commission in Australia. It highlights the issues managers need to think about when managing a dispersed team. It also provides some practical tips on how to apply good people management techniques when staff are physically distant. Available as a PDF and summary document.

Remote working links. This trello board page from Jamie Kriegel brings together a lot of information sources that are popping up to address this new remote reality many of us find ourselves in. Covers topics sch as community resources, remote working, liberating structures, agile/scrum specific, and links to teams – also links to fun stuff included!

How to create belonging for remote workers This 2019 MIT SLR blog by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West-Duffy points to the practical steps managers and colleagues can take to make their remote employees feel valuable and ingrained in company culture. Moreover, the steps required aren’t daunting – they just require carving out small moments for employees to connect digitally on a personal level.

Leading remotely: Make the most of your distributed workforce. This 2019 MIT SMR blog by Whitney Johnson highlights the challenges – and benefits – of leading remote teams. It provides pointers to the needs of putting in place structures/processes to address a number of challenging areas – communication, project management, talen development, and IT support and services.

Remote work and distributed teams. This page from Agile Alliance (which is a virtual organization) has assembled these event sessions, experience reports, blog posts, and more from material that their members have already written and spoken about this topic. The page will be updated as new resources become available.

Five ways to improve communication in virtual teams This 2018 blog highlights recent research by Sharon Hill and Kathryn Bartol reveals simple strategies that boost performance. The five key areas are: i) match the technology to the task; ii) make intentions clear; iii) stay in sync; iv) be responsive and supportive; and v) be open and inclusive.

It’s time for next-generation remote collaboration.   Here’s a fresh guide to “next-generation” online collaboration tools and practices by Matt Stempeck of Civic Tech.  As he says, “We know that digital participation can feel lacking compared to the real life alternative. But for at least the next few months, if not longer, many people and organizations are going to shift to virtual meetings for a range of activities, including staff huddles, workshops, trainings, and larger events like conferences. So, here’s an annotated guide to some digital participation tools and platforms that can help.”

“Bursty” communication can help remote teams thrive. This 2018 blog by Christoph Riedl and Anita Woolley highlights their research indicating that remote teams who communicate in bursts—exchanging messages quickly during periods of high activity—perform much better than remote teams whose conversations involve long lag time between responses and are spread across multiple topic threads.

Virtual teams in organizations. James Dulebohna and Julia Hoch notes that organizations continue to widely adopt virtual teams as a primary way to structure work and the recent growth in utilization has outstripped theory and research on virtual teams. In this 2017 paper they provide a brief overview of virtual teams and introduce a special issue of Human Resource Management Review to (a) advance theory and research on virtual teams, (b) offer new directions for research on the topic, and (c) contribute to efforts to enhance the effectiveness of virtual teams in organizations.

 

If anyone wants help getting started with virtual teams or online meeting management feel free to get in touch with us  [Will Allen (willallennz@gmail.com) or Margaret Kilvington (margaret.kilvington@gmail.com)]


This resource should be used in conjunction with the related pages – Managing virtual meetings and Facilitation tools and techniques. Other closely related sections in the site include: the Team building, communities of practice (COPs) and learning groups and Cross-sector partnerships and collaborations. The risk communication and engagement page has links to a number of resources which are also aligned to responding to coronavirus.

 

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