Thanks to technology, flexibility is becoming more and more popular in the workplace. Employees can complete their responsibilities from the comfort of their own homes, a coffee shop, park, or virtually anywhere. While working remotely can be convenient, it can also open the door to a variety of challenges. Employees can slack off, supervisors can micro-manage and tasks can easily get lost in the shuffle.
New managers can learn to lead teams effectively by prioritizing communication. There are several strategies you can use to keep everyone on track and stay in touch.
Trust Your Team
As we discussed in Effective Delegation, finding the right person for the job is essential. Not everyone is cut out to work remotely. Make sure that your virtual employees are motivated, self-starters who tend to work independently. Your remote team should be able to succeed with only minimal direction from you. If a member of your team constantly stops by your office asking questions, that person probably wouldn't be productive at home. Take time to discuss the remote situation with each person.
Environment: Verify that virtual employees have a suitable atmosphere to work in. Chances are they already have a dedicated work space outside of the office.
Organization: Verify that your remote team members have an existing workflow. They need to have a consistent system in place to manage their own responsibilities. They can use a personal calendar, phone reminders, or lists.
Support: Verify that your remote staff has other opportunities to socialize. Encourage dedicated employees to maintain a work/life balance and value personal relationships.
Get Comfortable with the Cloud
One of the keys to efficient virtual communication is utilizing "the cloud." Cloud-computing allows you to send and receive information without storing it locally. Emailing spreadsheets back and forth will take up storage space on your local hard-drive. Manually editing documents can be cumbersome when multiple employees are accessing it at once. However, if you store files in the cloud, there's no concern for file size nor accessibility.
In addition to efficiency, cloud computing also provides the value of offsite back-up. If one employee accidentally deletes a file locally, the file can still exist in the cloud. There's no need to worry about losing hundreds of hours of work or valuable company resources. Here are some of the top file sharing and backup solutions.
Google Drive: Share and edit documents from one central location. Add permissions and integrate with Gmail, Google Calendar etc.
DropBox: Easily automate file sharing and syncing between computers.
SpiderOak: Backup and share secure files with sensitive data.
Utilize Project Management Tools
In order to manage work flow, it's vital to establish an official means of communication. Sending emails back and forth is nearly impossible to keep up with. Everyone needs to be able to stay in the loop with deadlines, expectations, assignments and feedback.
There are a variety of virtual tools that can simplify project management. Take a few moments to determine what your exact needs are and then find the best solution.
Slack: Instant chat for consistent messaging and file sharing.
Asana: Create projects, assign deadlines, use collaborative calendar and manage work flow.
Trello: Create lists, organize data and prioritize responsibilities.
Enforce Weekly Phone Calls
Even with all of the bells and whistles of online tools, there's always a need to hear someone's voice. Check in with your staff at least once per week either as a team or individually. Project management tools don't always address concerns beyond daily tasks. Some issues need to be dealt with verbally and in real time. Discuss human resources issues, work/life balance or strategies in times of crisis over the phone. There are a couple of online options that can improve the call experience.
Skype: Free calls and file sharing for small groups.
GoToMeeting: Conference call hosting and file sharing for large teams.
Meet In Person
People change and so does the nature of the work. It's important to meet in person every so often to remind your staff that you are a real person who values them on a human-level. If your team is scattered across the globe, try to come together at least once per year. Meeting in person will refresh your team, show your relatable and give everyone a chance to catch up.
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