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Virtual Teams Part 2: A Workable Approach to Managing Remote Staff

Do you have a strategy for managing virtual teams?

The trends, motivations and statistics behind the rise in remote working in our previous blog highlighted why thinking about remote working is an important business consideration. In addition, we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic.

As a manager, you will therefore be faced with the challenges that come with managing telecommuting workers and teams. Finding a starting point to a workable management strategy in this context can be daunting.

Working from home – even some of the time – is not naturally suited to everyone. It requires discipline and organisation. Employees working remotely have to be happy in their own company, able to use their own initiative, prioritise and be fully aware of their abilities and limitations. Having the right personality is a prerogative to remaining motivated and being successful in those circumstances.

How to hire for remote working

Remote working has vastly expanded the talent pool as geographical considerations can now be bridged more easily with the use of technology. Consequently, you might  have to sift through more applicants than ever to find the right person for the job, and face-to-face interviews might not be possible. A reliable, efficient and robust process for both internal and external recruitment is therefore essential to ensure that what a job candidate can offer matches the required job profile.

Workforce analytics tools can provide objective and reliable insights into whether a candidate’s workplace behaviour and needs will match the requirements of the position that they are applying for. They also give you a better idea on whether this person is likely to struggle with or strive on remote working. Do they really have the right personality to handle the challenges that come with teleworking?

This additional scientifically-based knowledge complements the information gleaned from a traditional CV and the interview process.  It helps you to form a more holistic picture of the person that your are planning to employ and ensures that this person is right for the job. This minimises any performance-related challenges later on.

Trust is key

The relationship between you as a manager and the members of your team has a huge bearing on their motivation and their loyalty to the company. Engagement is a strong contributor to staff retention rates. Some research suggests that 23% of UK employees either disagree or strongly disagree that their management helps to create a positive work environment. That means that nearly one quarter of our workforce might be unhappy with those in charge.

Managing your team successfully at all times can be tricky, but it becomes even more challenging when your team members are spread out geographically. It can feel like you are shouldering a huge responsibility.

So, how do you know whether you can trust your remote team members to prioritise effectively, adhere to long-term goals, to keep you informed of their progress and concerns, and to remain engaged? How can you effectively manage individual remote workers and your team as a whole?

You have to really know your people!

Your team members have to know themselves, their strengths and potential challenges. Above all, you, as their manager, have to know them individually. This is true for all leadership situations, but even more so when there is less opportunity for personal contact.

Again, behavioural assessments can be a good starting point. They provide you with an understanding of your team members’ behavioural characteristics and their motivational needs. This is vital to you being able to support them effectively and to create a well-functioning, connected remote team. Having an objective and solid understanding of the likely workplace behaviours of your remote employees’ removes some of the guesswork.

Where possible, this should be complemented by the trust built on your past experience with that person and their reliability. Are you confident that you have – and follow – common goals, and that your people have the necessary skills and abilities to be successful in their job – wherever they are based.

Equally, teleworkers have to trust that their managers possess the right leadership skills to support them, set achievable goals and create collaborative and high-performing teams. They also have to feel able to rely on their managers to provide constructive and timely back-up if they run into difficulties. Identifying and meeting training and coaching needs also supports building mutual trust.

Data from the State of Remote Work Report suggests that 23% of remote workers are concerned that remote bias could hinder their career progression. 23% also work put in extra hours to meet unrealistic expectation. When assistance for a particular task is needed or a serious issue arises, they need to know that they will receive the necessary support.

Remote workers can quickly feel isolated, and somewhat forgotten. This feeling can negatively impact their attitude towards their work and their employer, and you might risk losing them. Regular check-ins, inclusions in team-meetings and a timely and immediate response for assurance and support is needed. That is if the problem has been communicated to you in the first place of course!

Not surprisingly, effective communication is essential

I have already mentioned the need for a robust recruitment process, trusting and knowing your people to minimise potential problems before enabling employees to telecommute. Once remote working commences, structured communication is essential to prevent your employees from feeling isolated.

As a blog on the Entrepreneur website highlights, targeted investment in technology will help your remote team members feel connected with you and each other. Software and equipment enabling online webcam-based conversations over laptops and mobile phones is a must for all team members. The ability to file share with anyone, anywhere is paramount.

However, it is your responsibility as a manager to facilitate and encourage the effective use of these communication tools. Routine check-ins with you and remote collaboration amongst the rest of the team have to be managed and scheduled. For part-time telecommuters, regular face-to-face updates are equally important to avoid them feeling disconnected and uninformed.

For entirely remote teams, the impact of personal meetings for team-building and to align business goals should not be underestimated. Regular sessions, where all members of the team – remote or office-based – gather in person will help team collaboration and overall engagement.

So, what about a shared strategy?

Both parties, management and team members, have to know exactly what is expected of them and what they expect from each other. Everyone must know what their exact role entails and where the boundaries are.  In order to achieve any goals and to be productive, the team must know which path to follow to get there and be supported appropriately along the way.

It is the managers’ role to provide clearly-defined and unambiguous direction. A clear common strategy including shared values, guidelines for interaction, and some well-communicated ground rules is necessary. Something resembling a team charter which should allow for some input from the team and which should then be adopted by everyone. This might include the following considerations:

  • What are the common goals and how will you get there?
  • How do they fit within the company strategy?
  • Definition of all tasks and roles and how they will be apportioned
  • How to ensure consistency by detailing any processes and procedures that are always to be followed, i.e. a structured workflow
  • Managing deadlines
  • What constitutes acceptable behaviour in relation to
    • Working hours and business days
    • Communication performance such as full and timely replies to emails, voicemails, deadlines and attending team meetings
  • Explanation of channels of communications and their use
  • How decisions are made, how the team can influence them and how consensus is created
  • Contingency planning – what is the process when things go wrong?

With many businesses enabling remote working or moving toward a virtual working environment, attracting and retaining the right talent has become even more complex. Managing remote teams – who can be in different time zones and mainly communicate electronically, but rarely in person – presents unique challenges which require a fresh management strategy.  The above can by no means claim to be an exhaustive list, but it hopefully serves as a useful starting point for your approach to managing your virtual teams.

What are your experiences with managing remote workers? We would love to hear from you.

In Memory of Mike Wood

734561_553052868057961_1683825995_nIt is with great sadness that we share the news that Mike Wood, the Vice-President of Predictive Advantage, has passed away on Wednesday, 30 March 2016, after a long battle with cancer.

 

Mike joined the business in 2004 when the office in Harrogate opened and was key in establishing this. He was instrumental in building the administrative team and in driving the growth of the business throughout Europe.

Mike fought his illness with an amazing spirit, continuing to be involved in the business and remaining strong and positive throughout his treatment. He was a warm, caring and supportive leader and will be truly missed by everybody.

The office will be closed on Friday 8th April 2016 so the team can attend Mike

Positive and Negative: The Power of Mindset in the Workplace

Have you ever considered the incredible effects of mindsets on the ways in which our brains operate? Recent research is quite fascinating; in short, we can apparently change the way our brains work on a physical level, simply by altering the things that we think and talk about! On one level, this is amazing, because simply by practicing gratitude, we can rewire our brains for positivity.

On another, it is quite alarming: We all know how easy it is to slip into a cycle of negative thinking, and according to some researchers complaining could actually be killing you through the stress you generate. Worrying, right?

Even if you think that this sounds a little far-fetched, there are some important things that we can take away from the research. One particular aspect that struck me, and one that psychologists agree on, is that negativity breeds negativity, both in yourself and others. If this is the case, how does it translate to the workplace?

Morale and Engagement

Whilst a whingeing session with colleagues may feel cathartic, it

How Safe Is Your Workforce From The Shadow Of Stress?

Workplace stress isn’t easy to define, but we all know what it feels like when it happens.

Fatigue, anxiety, lack of focus and feelings of hopelessness and despair are all common when suffering from work-related stress.

Not to mention the migraines, stomach problems and physical symptoms which often accompany stress and increased levels of tension at work.

Not only are these effects extremely unpleasant for the individual, but they also have grave consequences for an organisation.

High stress levels amongst a team or workforce can have a direct and negative knock-on effect on how your employees interact with clients, how well they can achieve their goals and the way that they cooperate with their co-workers.

Alongside that, stress is directly associated with higher sickness rates, poor workforce health levels and lower productivity.

Make no mistake; stress seriously damages your workforce, on an individual and organisational level. The truth is, a stressed employee is seldom a productive employee, which is why managing stress is such a key-task for managers and leaders today.

Stress as a by-product of 21st century business culture

If you’re a manager or business owner, then you can be sure that most of your employees have experienced work-related stress or anxiety at some point in their career. Indeed many of us will openly admit to stress and pressure being an accepted part of our daily work.

With increased job uncertainty and lack of financial stability for businesses and companies across the globe, and a constant trend of change in the present business culture, it’s no wonder that job-strain and pressure are a part of the average workplace.

People are working longer hours, giving themselves less leisure time and micromanagement is still rife in many organisations.

A sure-fire recipe for stress!

The subjectivity of job strain

There’s no doubt that external stress factors play a huge role in levels of workplace anxiety and job strain.

Nonetheless, the real challenge in understanding the causes of individual workplace stress lies in the highly subjective and individual nature of the problem. Stress and tension both take very different guises in each one of your employees.

This means that combating stress involves understanding what the “stress buttons” are for each of your people, helping them to foresee possible stressful situations and to manage those situations better, collaboratively.

Some employees become stressed from having insufficient information or clear guidance from their manager. Others get hot under the collar and start to feel the pressure when given little or no opportunity to be creative and try new things at work.

These things may initially seem trivial to you, because you have your own subjective “stress buttons

Are We Witnessing The Death of the CV for Recruiting Top Talent?

As the economy bites harder, and as the job market experiences the full effects right across the UK and Europe, the competition for vacant positions has inevitably increased dramatically.

This also means that your hiring managers have to trawl through many more CVs to find the finest talent in your industry!

With some studies claiming between 25-50 applications per vacancy in the UK, it’s not only applicants who have some serious work to do when it comes to finding the right job-fit.It’s a mammoth task for any organisation to identify the best, most promising talent, especially when theirs is such a wealth to choose from.

cv deathThe number of (often very similar) CVs that an average HR manager or hiring manager has to sift through to create a shortlist for any given position not only takes up a huge chunk of their time, but is a task which also begs the question as to how useful the CV is in predicting performance anyway?

Can we really find the right person in the current sea of talent using only the trusty curriculum vitae to light our way?

Let’s go back a few years, into the not too distant past…

Do you remember the days, when we used to employ people almost solely on the basis of their CVs?

 

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Are You Using Personality Data To Manage Your Virtual Team?

If you’ve ever been responsible for the success (or failure) of a team before, then you’ll know how difficult it can be to get each member firing on all cylinders and working together in harmony and unison – developing seriously effective teams can certainly be a huge hurdle.

The Challenges of Virtual Teams and Remote Workersglobe

Well, imagine if you’d never even met your team before, and had to manage their productivity, motivation and teamwork, from a totally different location on the globe, without ever coming face to face with ANY of them…

…a daunting thought for some, yet a reality for many people managers of today.

The rise of the virtual team and the remote worker has altered the way in which we think about people management, and has thrown up new challenges for us all to overcome.

Whilst many organisations resist the “remote revolution

Are You Making These 5 Major People Management Mistakes?

If there’s one thing that all successful business leaders and entrepreneurs know, it’s that making mistakes can be a hugely positive learning experience.

errorWhy?

Well, a wise man once said that our mistakes guide us towards perfection, as we get opportunities to learn from our mistakes and do things better next time.

The thing is, if you’re a manager or leader responsible for motivating and mobilising a team of employees or executives, you may not actually be able to afford to keep making management mistakes