But then, what is the correct way to manage your virtual team? We asked Jeroen Camps, HRM researcher and lecturer at Thomas More University of Applied Sciences in Antwerp, for his advice. He gave us 8 tips that will also be useful once the lockdown has ended.
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When your team works from home, you need to rethink your routine as a manager. Do not try to imitate the situation in the office, because that does not work. Instead, set out what you find important as a manager, and work out how you can best achieve these objectives remotely. Following on from our earlier tips on working at home efficiently, we asked HRM expert Jeroen Camps from Thomas More University of Applied Sciences for specific advice on managing virtual teams. He provided us with these eight useful tips.
Camps: Now you do not see your team members every day, there is a risk that you – perhaps unconsciously – could disappear from their radar. This would be a mistake. The current situation is causing your team a lot of anxiety, and at the same time they need to exercise a great deal of autonomy. As a manager it is therefore important to do the following five things:
- set clear objectives
- clarify expectations and communication channels
- regularly check in to see how your team is doing
- ask what your team members need from you specifically in order to function optimally
- provide supervision where necessary
Camps: Do not go overboard about being present. Although your team needs extra support in this uncertain period, be careful to ensure that your well-intentioned actions do not come over like you are trying to control them. It is perfectly possible – and indeed recommended – to set clear objectives and at the same time to give your team members freedom. Allow them to work as autonomously as possible within the agreed boundaries. Avoid trying to over-control what they do, and trust them to deliver what is expected of them.
Camps: Researchers advise managers of virtual teams to have digital contact with their team members on at least a weekly basis, such as by email. Note: this guideline is based on managing a virtual team in ‘normal times’, when your team members have contact with their friends and family, as well as their colleagues. At the moment, in these exceptional circumstances, I advise you plan a video meeting with your team at least once a week. This allows you to put tip 1 into action, and ensures that you and your team have the social interaction we are all pining for right now.
Camps: It is important to offer praise to your team members to keep them motivated. When working with people face to face, you often show your appreciation without even realising it, through your words, intonation, body language and so on. In a virtual environment, these small gestures and spontaneous interactions do not happen. The limited communication that you do have is likely to be about work in very concrete terms, meaning that your team no longer gets the praise that they need. Did you know that written communication is more likely to be interpreted in a negative manner than oral communication? That is why you must make extra effort to recognise your staff’s hard work. You can do this via email or during the team’s video meetings, or you can organise something more informal to celebrate what you have achieved.
Camps: Communication is key to working well together as a team. In the current situation, this means that you must organise online team meetings without technical hitches, and for which everyone has easy access to relevant information. Ask your IT department to prioritise this, and play an active role in resolving any possible issues.
Camps: As everyone hates uncertainty, keeping your team well informed has to be one of your priorities. In normal circumstances, your team members have regular personal contact with each other and thus share information informally, but when they are all working from home their interactions are less frequent. This means that as the manager, you need to communicate with your team more often and as clearly as possible, and discuss things to which you do not usually devote much attention. Remember that it is better to communicate too much than too little. Video communication is invaluable, especially when you need to discuss something difficult or sensitive.
Camps: Some of your team members will be able to keep performing as if nothing has changed, but the majority will probably need some time to adjust to this unusual situation. Try to see this period as a marathon and not a sprint. Your goal is to ensure that your team members perform well and look after their own wellbeing over the long term. A large proportion of employees feel under a great deal of psychological pressure because of the lack of social contact, worries about their loved ones or other responsibilities. Rather than enforcing a strict regime, in which everyone has to work as many hours and deliver as much output as they usually do, give them some time to adjust to the circumstances. Your team members will be grateful for this approach, and you will reap the rewards over the long term.
Camps: This principle always applies, regardless of whether you are managing virtually or face to face: you can only deliver optimum leadership when you look after your own wellbeing. Eat healthily, do regular exercise, get enough sleep, keep connected (remotely) with others, and take enough proper breaks from work. Your team – and anyone you live with – will be grateful to you for doing this.