More and more people are working somewhere besides the traditional workplace. There are tremendous benefits to having a virtual team, but there are challenges too. Here’s how to properly manage your virtual team.
Radio-silence always seems like cause for panic. Did the person get the message? Is there trouble brewing? Or is everything fine?
Extinguish doubts and fears by communicating consistently. Respond to every message, even if your response is, “Thank you, I’ll get back to you on this next week.”
No one would abruptly leave a face-to-face conversation midway. Don’t let your written communication be like that.
Standardize Communication Preferences
Some people don’t mind getting work messages over Facebook. Others prefer to keep their work life out of their social networks. Some people can work exclusively over text. Others would just prefer a call. And then there are all the messaging apps out there to consider.
The point is: there are many ways of communicating and many preferences. However, to maintain a virtual team, it’s best to standardize how you communicate. Remembering that Paula likes Google Hangouts, Mahmoud is always on Skype, and Steven is a texting fiend isn’t terribly practical. With your team, agree on a way to communicate. It’s easier than remembering everyone’s preferences.
Don’t Ignore the Phone
With so much messaging technology and so many apps available, there’s a great temptation to ignore the phone. However, phone calls have many benefits.
First of all, you communicate more than just words with your voice. Tone, rhythm, and pitch will tell a person all kinds things about what you’re saying.
Secondly, it’s easy to misinterpret text. In fact, here’s a study that says ending texts with a period can make you look like a jerk.
Finally, phone calls can help you sort out messy issues that would take too long over email. So don’t ignore the phone—pick it up and make a call.
Set Up a Communication Rhythm
Your team should know when to expect messages, when to expect calls, and when to expect face-to-face time. For example, maybe you could set it up such that your team will message each other regularly over Slack, you’ll call each of them at the end of the week for a short chat, and you’ll meet in person or over Skype at the end of the month for an all-hands meeting. And maybe you only call at odd times when it’s an emergency.
In this example, communicating regularly helps the team feel like an actual team. Defining expectations helps your team do their jobs. And when they know that the only reason you might be calling in the middle of the week is for something truly important, they’ll make a priority of returning your call.
Establish Off Hours
24/7 availability doesn’t do the mind wonders. Being ‘always on’ is causing healthcare problems related to stress. Everyone needs time away from work. Lay out a policy that defines when it’s okay to communicate and when people are done for the day. Consider an after-hours communication ban. After all, a virtual worker doesn’t want to feel like they’re at work for all hours, every day.