Managing a team of people who work remotely may seem easier—it’s the same as managing a team in person, but with less need for interaction, right? Not so fast.
Virtual leaders actually need to make more of an effort in almost every sense. They need to be more proactive about building trust, managing accountability and, perhaps most importantly, keeping employees motivated.
Although research shows remote employees tend to be happier and more productive compared to their peers with less workplace flexibility, it can be more difficult for them to stay motivated if they don’t feel connected to the rest of their team.
Here are six ways leaders can keep remote employees engaged and motivated to reach their full potential.
Make Time For Building Relationships
Strong virtual teams are based on strong interpersonal relationships where there is mutual trust. Of course, it takes more time to develop this from a distance.
If at all possible, make time to periodically meet with your team in person. Our own research shows the most successful virtual teams meet in person within the first 90 days. Meeting at regular intervals, such as once a quarter or every six months, will also help keep the momentum going. In the absence of face-to-face contact, meet with team members regularly via video. We also recommend making time for more casual non-work conversation in between formal meetings.
Use Technology To Stay Connected
Virtual leaders shouldn’t micromanage, but they should check in with employees regularly. Technology tools like Google Hangouts, Slack and 15Five enable leaders to connect with team members quickly and easily to check in on progress. 15Five is a performance management system where employees submit regular reports to their managers about their progress, next steps and how they’re feeling during any given week. This allows managers to take the pulse of their teams within minutes and ask follow-up questions or offer help and support as needed.
Offer Training and Development Opportunities
Employees who participate in training and development that helps them develop new skills or take the next step in their career are more likely to stay motivated. Remote employees already have flexibility in their jobs, so they expect the same flexibility when it comes to training. Make training available online and in a variety of formats (such as instructor-led online learning, simulations and self-assessments) to make it easier for employees to participate
It’s also far more cost-effective and easier to scale across global organizations.
Set Clear Goals And Measure Performance
Every employee should be well aware of your high-level company objectives, but they also need to understand how their efforts fit into the bigger picture. Work with each individual to set goals for themselves that align with company goals.
For instance, if one of your company goals is to grow revenue by 15 percent over the next year, it may be obvious what your sales reps need to do, but not so obvious to your web developers. Ask them to consider what they can do to support the sales process, such as building a site with innovative functionality and offering talking points your sales reps can share with prospective clients.
Find Ways to Recognize And Reward Employees
Coaching and giving feedback is important, but it’s also important to acknowledge employees’ achievements. You can do this in both formal ways, such as formal weekly “shout outs” via email or social media, and “in the moment” as you notice employees going above and beyond.
Cut Out Useless Meetings
Nothing hinders productivity and motivation more than sitting through a virtual meeting and feeling like nothing was accomplished. Be selective about meetings and ensure each one is absolutely necessary. Don’t call a meeting just to update team members or share information. In general, if you don’t need the team to help make a decision of solve a problem you should find a different way to share the information or provide an update such as email or posting on a shared site. When you do have a virtual meeting, create an agenda that outlines who will cover each topic and approximately how much time it will take. That way team members will understand why they’ve been invited and how they are expected to contribute. In addition, a timed agenda allows people to join for the topics they are needed or that are relevant to them rather than sit through the parts of the meeting that are not relevant to them.
With solid leadership, virtual teams can be just as productive as teams that are under one roof, if not more productive. However, virtual leaders need to be proactive about motivating remote employees. Leading virtual teams effectively is a discipline, and, like any other leadership skill, it can be developed with training.