In today’s global economy, working remotely on a virtual team or as a telecommuter have become the primary way many people connect to the workplace. According to Gallup research, the percentage of time employees spent working remotely at least 80 percent of the time rose from 24 percent in 2012 to 31 percent in 2016. A 2018 study from IWG found that 70 percent of professionals work remotely at least one day per week, with 53 percent working remotely for at least half of the week.

The trend toward virtual work makes it more likely than ever that employees will end up working for a boss they’ve never met in person. This dynamic poses several unique challenges, the biggest of which being that it’s more difficult to hold people accountable to someone they don’t see every day. Distance and varying time zones can add to this disconnect, and because the majority of remote communications take place via email or instant messages of some type, there’s also a greater risk for misunderstanding.

5 Tips for Working With a Virtual Boss

Make Face Time a Priority

No other form of communication can replace the benefits of face-to-face interaction. Despite the infinite reasons to remain remote, it’s important for employees to make time to periodically meet with their boss (and other team members) in person to build a foundation for trust through a personal connection. If they are geographically divided and cannot meet in person, video conferencing provides an easy alternative. These meetings will help strengthen communication and the team dynamic as a whole.

Schedule Regular Check-Ins

Regular catch-up sessions that provide feedback are imperative to the success of remote relationships. Virtual teams should block time in the workforce calendar to make these check-ins a priority. Rather than drafting, proofing, and sending a lengthy email that might never be read, it’s better to schedule a phone call or video chat. In addition to providing an opportunity to raise a variety of issues, exchange information, and promote accountability, phone calls and video chats also galvanize a communication channel that will help to reinforce virtual team relationships.

Paraphrase and Ask Questions

Without help from voice inflection, body language, and eye contact, it’s easy to misunderstand what a virtual boss or teammates are saying and how they are saying it. Just as often, it can be hard to know whether or not concerns are being heard. To reduce the risk of miscommunication or unnecessary conflict, it’s important for both virtual leaders and team members to ask questions. Whenever directions or information seem unclear, people should always be sure to paraphrase what they think they’ve heard to verify that they comprehend exactly what is being relayed to them.

Practice Balanced Responses

For many virtual team members, it’s easy to communicate only as much as is required to show they still have a pulse, but shallow responses don’t help to strengthen bonds or improve the dynamic of a virtual team. In the case of meetings or discussions, it’s always important to find a positive way to begin the conversation, even if the circumstances are dire. If criticism needs to be provided, it should be constructive in focus, specific to something that can be improved upon, and delivered promptly.

Be Accessible

To make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction, virtual team members should make sure their various communication channels, including email, messaging platforms, and phone, are open for business. It’s also helpful for virtual teams to establish guidelines regarding hours of operation and when different members will be unavailable so virtual bosses know when everyone is scheduled to be working and can be easily reached. Maintaining a shared calendar is an excellent way to encourage transparency for both leaders and team members.

Many of the same strategies that help people to be better virtual employees will also help a remote-based leader to become a better virtual boss. Using the right tactics, technology, and processes will take the uncertainty out of working with a virtual boss and within a virtual team.

OnPoint Consulting offers best practices, training, and assessment tools for virtual teams that are rooted in our own extensive research. For more tips on our solutions for collaborating from a distance, have a look at our extensive virtual team solutions.