Many of us have moved into the virtual workspace. Challenging? No doubt about it.
But, the move online presents unique obstacles for managers, including how to manage remote teams.
Those teams need to be directed, projects need to be guided, members need to be supported, productivity needs to be maintained, and so on.
Management Professor Joseph Weintraub, founder and faculty director of Babson’s Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program, has tips for leaders learning how to manage remote teams. They come from experiences of virtual project advisors in Babson’s student consulting programs. These insights can be found in Weintraub’s forthcoming book, How to Manage Student Consulting Projects, co-authored by Executive in Residence George Lee and Babson Associate Director of Experiential Programs Arline MacCormack P’16, and published by Edward Elgar Publishing.
Here are few suggestions—taken from a case study of the project advisor experience of Carrie Lerner MBA’19—on how to manage remote teams.
Be conscientious of your facial expressions. Says Weintraub, “Remember that all eyes are on you as a speaker. Smiling, nodding, laughing, and genuinely expressing interest go a long way to inspiring your team to follow suit.”
On a remote team, the online meeting room is where you and your team will interact most often. Work on relationships each time you virtually meet. Allocate time in the agenda to talk about personal news or project insights. Utilize positive words to promote active participation and offer constructive feedback. Spread the talking around—the team leader does not need to carry the meeting. “You should constantly communicate with your team because remote team members can easily feel left out and isolated,” he says.
The manager should talk less and observe more. Encourage everyone to participate and provide feedback on a regular basis. Discourage multitasking. Watch for the ‘Gone To Tahiti’ syndrome—when a team member’s pleasant expression masks detachment from the meeting. Observing carefully will help you understand your team on a deeper level.
Show the team you care about them and their success. Take time to empathize when a task is difficult, show support for their efforts, and ask how you can help solve problems. Remember that human energy doesn’t flow digitally. You need to create feelings by using words and expressions.
Your remote team will hunger for individual time. One-on-one meetings offer the best forums for constructive feedback and evaluation. Allocating 30 minutes to each team member on a weekly or biweekly basis using one of the many digital platforms is well worth it.
Weintraub understands that these suggestions take a lot of time—time that project advisors managing multiple teams may not always feel they have. But, the experience with managing a remote team illustrates how technology and process can be used to successfully complete a client project while supporting team members professionally and emotionally.
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