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Cassie Smith

Working at a Distance


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Five mistakes leaders make when managing virtual teams


As a manager and leader of virtual teams, who would you consider the elite group ensuring that your virtual team projects are successful? Would your answer be stakeholders, perhaps consumers of your product or service indicated by revenue, employees, or assigned team leaders?

A good answer would be everyone above who are benefactors of the final product. A better answer would be the virtual team employees (members) doing the actual distance work. The best answer would be you as the manager or leader of virtual teams. Managers are the elite group of a company that distinguishes virtual team success.  

Here’s why this answer might rank as the best answer. Managers should be, albeit some are not aware, the actual tactile individuals who guarantee that the product, project, service, deliverable – the distance work is accomplished. Virtual team success originates at top level management and then should disseminate to virtual team members.  Virtual team members need efficacious support from management to ensure that the good and better of the virtual project becomes the best for all involved.

Working at a distance is becoming practical, popular, and competitive. Remote work is no stranger to corporate endeavors. Mistakes that managers make when trying to oversee virtual work and distance projects can be summarised into six key points rooted in one major mistake. These key categories can be corrected with concerted and consistent effort from management leaders.

#1 Managers being inactive with their teams 

Culpability is a prudent approach for managers handling virtual team work. Managers of virtual teams must be responsible on all levels and throughout the virtual work. They must not assume that goals and objectives are understood by virtual team members and avoid actively participating with employees. Managers must be available and answer the call when assisting their virtual team leaders and virtual team employees applying commitment hours towards virtual projects. 

#2 Managers allowing stagnation among virtual team members

If managers do not require accountability from virtual team members and deliverable deadlines, stagnation could occur. The team project should not be fragile in the sense that if a few members do not participate, the project is halted; that is not a good business strategy. Remote work should not be compromised or secondary. A good manager supports the use of proxies, is persistent with employee deadlines, and tracks employees’ daily work progress towards completion of the distance project.

#3 Managers being technology-driven as opposed to people-driven

A good concept that management should bear in mind is that employees are executing the distance work even with good technologies. At some point(s), there must be voice contact with employees working remotely to express concerns and deliverable status. Only relying on asynchronous applications would not be a good practice. Using synchronous ways to connect, such as the telephone, could help personalise communication and boost human contact.

#4 Managers trust in their favorite employees and lack of assessments

Suppose a manager selects a team leader who he trusts and is confident that this person will do an exceptional job leading the team. Overall, this team leader does a great job. However, the issue is that the team leader does not respect a few of his virtual team members. In spite of their efforts, the team leader finds issues with their work and presentspersonal character attacks. As a manager, trusting only in the favorite employee(s) could result in losing other valuable employees and stagnation. If managers do not engage with virtual team members, they cannot judge for themselves the true value and skill of virtual team workers.

Each virtual team leader should be assessed and evaluation components should be applied to avoid mistake #4. Apply critical thinking to your virtual team projects. Managers should be fair-minded engaging with all virtual team leaders and members.  Defined tasks for each group should be initiated systemically from management.

#5 Managers not communicating with virtual team members

Mistake #5 is akin to mistake #4. If the project resulted in a good, quality, product or production, why would a manager assume that this will be duplicated for the next project? Avoiding interaction and communicating with virtual team members could fester unresolved concerns, given another task. Overly communicating as opposed to underestimating communication among members is a good practice when managing virtual teams. A good way to set communication in place is to devise a communication plan. A communication plan is not ethereal but concrete, well thought out, and meticulously composed. This strategic plan includes but is not limited to conflict management tools, a master calendar, and delegation in the event that team leaders or virtual workers are ineffective or have issues with deliverables. This strategic communication plan consists of accountability for all employees who are not returning emails, not submitting work, or when stagnation is occurring.  A communication plan also consists of management accountability.

The number one faux paus is poor communication

All of these mistakes materialise from one major barrier, poor communication. Think about conflict and scenarios that you have experienced. The foundation of any conflict is arguably poor communication. Management must ensure that there are evaluation components, voice check-ins with virtual team members, and testing times for product and project quality that are recurrent before due dates to ameliorate some virtual communication challenges.

Throughout the duration of the virtual project, employees should feel secure in their distance work. Management availability is crucial in the event that issues cannot be resolved at grassroots level.  If managers and top level individuals are concerned with company products, employee satisfaction, and reputation sustainability then time should be invested. A hierarchy of accountability for managing virtual teams, including the elite group of workers, could help avoid mistakes and foster better virtual communication. 

2 Responses

  1. I’m glad that you mentioned
    I’m glad that you mentioned #3 Jamie.

    Being dependent on technology can be dangerous as it can compromise trust between remote workers and managers. Unfortunately, some managers are becoming technology-driven without knowing it.

    Aside from chat and email, face-to-face communications via phone or Skype should be scheduled so that your remote workers will feel empowered.

    1. Thanks Chris, it is an
      Thanks Chris, it is an important balance for managers to bear in mind, as it can be easier to rely on email rather than face-to-face communication, whether it be in person or online, and so much more can be achieved with the latter, as well as it improving personal relations among teams too.

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Cassie Smith


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