Leading a virtual team can be a challenge for those who are more accustomed to a traditional, colocated team. Rather than walking into the office and being able to call the team together quickly or interact with everyone spontaneously, a virtual boss may often find themselves staring at a computer screen while the rest of the team (which could be located on the other side of the world) is nowhere to be found.Sometimes, these challenges can undermine the team’s effectiveness. According to MIT Sloan Management Review, about 80 percent of virtual teams fail to achieve their goals. Fortunately, there are a number of simple strategies remote managers can implement to get the most out of their teams.

How to Be a Better Remote Manager

Focus on Communication

Communication skills are important for all leaders, but especially so in the case of virtual leaders. Managing workflow and accountability while leading remote teams requires effective, ongoing communication between team members. Leaders must make sure everyone has the appropriate information and resources they need to carry out their responsibilities, which can often be a challenge in a virtual environment. Team members are often geographically dispersed and may keep to very different schedules, making ongoing communication difficult.

Remote managers can set the tone for their teams by checking in frequently with other members and by leveraging technology to ensure that they can be contacted easily. By making themselves available, effective virtual leaders can keep well informed about everything that’s going on with the team. Hosting virtual meetings is a great way of encouraging clear and direct communication while also reminding everyone that they’re all part of a cohesive team.

Facilitate Collaboration

Remote teams allow organizations to bring together talented people to collaborate on a specified project even if those people are separated by distance. One of the most challenging tasks for a virtual boss is to facilitate that collaboration. Whether they’re managing workflow or working directly with team members to produce a specific deliverable, there are many ways that remote leaders can help their teams work together more effectively.

Team leaders can make it easier for team members to collaborate by embracing any number of technology tools. Project management software and virtual chat programs are particularly useful for leading remote teams since they allow all members to access the same shared resources and communicate quickly and effectively. Rather than relying upon less structured channels like email, these solutions provide both visibility and accountability for team members. A good virtual boss can further enhance collaboration by holding regular check-in or brainstorming meetings that allow everyone to update the team on what they’re working on or seek feedback that might help them overcome a challenge.

Cultivate Trust

Building strong relationships based on trust is a key challenge for leaders of all types, but the task is especially difficult in the case of virtual teams. In a remote workplace, trust is often closely connected to tasks. If a team member struggles to complete their tasks in a timely fashion, they will have difficulty earning the trust of people who routinely hold themselves accountable for their work. A good virtual boss must find ways to help team members develop positive views of one another, ensuring that they will make an effort to follow through on the responsibilities.

Fortunately, there are other ways to build trust in a team context. Team leaders can leverage personal relationships within a team to encourage members to trust one another and view the team’s goals as a collective goal they’re all working toward. When team members are more comfortable with one another, there are fewer barriers to collaboration and trust comes more easily. Virtual leaders can promote this by helping their teams to get to know each other better, encouraging social interaction that allows them to view each other as actual people instead of distant, remote workers

Address Conflict

Conflict is almost unavoidable in any collaborative project. Although the term often has a negative connotation, conflict itself is neither good nor bad. It simply represents a difference of opinion or a different evaluation of available information. The way conflict is managed, however, is what determines whether it has a positive or negative impact on a team. Effective leaders understand that conflict can be a valuable and productive opportunity to have a conversation about an important issue. Managed properly, conflict can be brought to a positive and productive resolution that actually strengthens relationships within a team and can enhance collaborative efforts. If conflict is ignored or handled poorly, however, it can undermine trust among team members and make it difficult for the team to pursue its goals effectively. Unfortunately, signs of conflict can be harder to detect when working in virtual context.

A virtual boss has to be comfortable managing conflict rather than viewing it as something to be avoided at all costs. Conflict can serve as a valuable growth opportunity, both for leaders and team members. Throughout the conflict resolution process, new ideas and solutions are often developed. Remote managers have the ability to set the tone for managing conflict in their teams. Rather than creating a confrontational, combative environment, they can use conflict as an opportunity to bolster collaboration and bring new information to light. In a remote context, where it may be harder to recognize when there is a conflict, it’s important to deal with conflict as directly and as quickly as possible because the nature of remote work makes it easier for team members to avoid unpleasant conversations, making it more likely that they’ll fester and grow until they become unmanageable.

Managing a successful remote team can be a major challenge for leaders accustomed to a more traditional office environment, but many of the same principles can be applied in a virtual context. A good virtual boss must work a bit harder to cultivate good communication and build trust, but with today’s collaborative tools, they have extensive resources that can help them to get the most out of their teams.