Five Tips For Leading A Virtual Team


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It’s no secret: The self-employed movement is taking our country by storm.

An Intuit 2020 report estimates that by 2020, more than 40% of the American workforce will be independently employed as freelancers, contractors and temporary workers. This rapidly growing trend can be characterized as a good thing, particularly for those who work remotely, as well as for their employers. Appealing personal benefits include hand-selecting clients, ensuring projects are tailored to the individual’s unique skill set and interests, and having the flexibility to set one’s own schedule.

But the research behind virtual workers is most compelling in that they tend to put in longer hours and are often more productiveaccording to a New York Times article.

One of the greatest challenges of managing a group of employees who don't sit under the same roof, however, is providing the structure and support they need to do their best work. Here are five strategies to engage a remote team and set them up for success from day one.

1. Select Individuals Who Can Thrive

Consider bringing on potential hires first as freelancers before extending an offer for contracted and/or longer-term employment. This approach helps ensure they fit the company culture, develop rapport with colleagues, and can adjust to and succeed in a non-traditional work environment. In fact, providing short-term opportunities during a trial period gives both parties the chance to determine whether or not the relationship is a match.

2. Provide Meaningful Professional Development

High-performing and motivated workers — even those who are based in remote locations — are constantly seeking new and better ways to do their job. From challenging the status quo to improving their skills to mastering a new technology, they deliberately seek out a company that provides opportunities for continued growth. Begin by surveying employees to establish what types of continuing education they are most interested in and then build this professional learning into your budget and calendar (be it monthly, quarterly or standing). The possibilities are seemingly endless, from bringing in a subject matter expert for a workshop to enrolling in an industry-specific webinar to watching and discussing a TED Talk.

3. Make Connecting Easy

The richness of face-to-face communication cannot always be replicated virtually. Additionally, when remote team members work on small teams, it can be easy to feel isolated over time. Provide opportunities to collaborate in-person, through such methods as team meetings at your company headquarters, annual planning and team-building retreats at an inspiring location, client presentations, networking events, and conferences or other professional learning events.

When these planned interactions aren’t possible, offer the next best thing: video conferencing and screen sharing through a program like Zoom.

4. Build A Social Network

Using the groups forum on Facebook allows team members to post articles of interest, announcements, questions, ideas and reminders. It is also an effective way to connect teammates for instant messaging and to celebrate client wins, birthdays and develop camaraderie with one another outside of work. Consider Slack or Yammer for team communication platforms with more robust features.

5. Give Back

A strong company culture extends well beyond policies and practices. A Forbes article points out that more than eight in 10 millennials (81%) expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship, per a study conducted by Horizon Media. Create a sense of goodwill among employees and foster relationships with the communities you serve by partnering with non-profit organizations and offering support in the following ways: volunteer opportunities at various locations near employees or as a team event, financial assistance through a monetary gift-matching program or in-kind donations that deliver desired goods and services.

Embracing the remote business model and developing tangible ways to build up your virtual workforce will likely result in a well-adjusted and happier team — which directly translates to increased loyalty, higher-quality output and, ultimately, more satisfied clients. The encouraging news is that myriad companies have demonstrated that it is possible to extend a dynamic, established company culture beyond office walls and provide the resources that non-office staff need to succeed.