Managing Virtual Teams: Six Ways to Keep Them Engaged?

Over the last 25 years more and more people have are working remotely. An article in Forbes Magazine from January 2014 showed estimates ranging from 30 – 45 percent. I think it depends a lot on the industry. Although, I know of several virtual call centers, where people are working from home versus those old cubicle farms.

When I started in business, if I wanted a promotion I moved to a new territory and I worked with an office sometimes event 2 – 4 people in the office. Today many are saying, “No thank you I will travel when necessary.” This is great for work life balance – particularly the life part. But how do we help our remote team members feel like they are connected to our team?

Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last points out the social nature of work and how important it is to “know” everyone on your team and feel connected. This is difficult without the water cooler (or the coffee/vending machine) of the office, where people gather and connect.

There is a cost to having employees that are not completely engaged. One report from Calibrain states it can cost more than their salary! So how do we help our virtual teams form connections and get more engaged.

Let me suggest six ways

  1. Invest the time – We are all busy and sometimes out of site is out of mind. As leaders we want to take time to connect with our remote team members from time to time; sometimes just to check in.
  2. Listen – When you have group calls and some of your team is on-site and some are remote, make sure you solicit input from the remote team members. It will be harder for them to insert themselves into the conversation.
  3. Examine the opportunities for video conferencing – Seeing the person you are talking to (as long as they are not in their bath robesJ) can be a good way to form deeper connections.
  4. Trust your team – Just because they are remote does not mean they can skip out of work. I have met very few employees in my career who don’t want to do the very best that they can. Trust begets trust.
  5. Orient them to the culture and the team – One of the most effective experiences I had was when I was hired and then spend two weeks at HQ working in various departments that would support my role. I got 2 things from this a) I got to know how the system worked so that I could better serve my customer and b) I got “connected” to the people that would support me. I was not an abstraction.
  6. Keep them in the loop – If there is news at HQ you can bet it won’t remain there long. Keep your virtual teams informed.

As the business environment continues to evolve, organizations are continually looking for ways to reduce costs. Shifting the brick and mortar of an office to the employee can be a way to help. And, it can give the employee benefits as well.  BUT we also still need to function as a team.  By taking the time to think about how to engage and build the remote team into the rest of the team you can have a more productive and engaged workforce—which will better serve your customers.

Happy New Year


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