The Economist Career Advice | , , , ,| By
This blog originally appeared on the Economist’s Executive Career blog. The author, John Rampton, is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is founder of online payments company Due.
Working from home is no longer a pipe dream. As evidenced by the 54 million freelancers in the U.S. alone and 103% increase in regular work-at-home jobs since 2005, working remotely has become a reality for an increasing number of people.
While this is certainly promising news for those who want to enjoy a greater work/life balance and the flexibility and the comforts of working from home, not to mention getting out of the daily rat race known as the morning commute, there remain a number of hurdles to overcome. Mainly, how can leaders manage and inspire their teams, especially when they are not in the same proximity to each other?
This situation may sound daunting, but it can be easily managed by implementing these six tactics.
1. Communicate Frequently
Whether you’re working remotely or with an individual physically sitting next to you, communication is a vital component in the workplace since it improves productivity, increases employee job satisfaction, and reduces turnover rates. With a virtual team, however, communication can be a little more challenging since you can’t physically run into them and discuss any issues that may be looming on the horizon.
But, with so many wonderful tools, communication has never been easier. It’s just a matter of having a process in place that is understandable and accessible.
For me personally, this communication process starts by building a rapport and maintaining a relationship with each team member. Before starting a project, I get to know the team member by having a Skype call. From there, we can have constant contact through their direct messaging, emails, and texts so that we’re always on the same page and are working toward the same goals.
I’ve also been a part of weekly conference calls with team members. Not only does hearing each other’s voices build a rapport, it also ensures that we’re all working towards the organization’s goals and address any questions or concerns that anyone may be facing.
2. Practice the Three Rs
By the three Rs I mean Reward, Recognition, and Respect.
Like any other person, receiving a reward or recognition for a job well done is one of the best motivators around. A simple email or phone call thanking your team member for going above and beyond what is expected is a simple, fast, and effective way to show that you recognize and appreciate all of the hard work they’ve done for you. I’ve also issued cash payments to team member when it’s been deserved that they have done something noteworthy for our team.
Treating your virtual teams with respect is a must. Just because they’re outsourced doesn’t mean that you have the right to treat them like “work dogs.” Already keep in mind that these are valued team members and you wouldn’t be as successful without them. Let them know this is exactly what you – and the rest of the team – feel about them.
Bonus tip: Want to show your virtual teams how much you trust and respect them and their work? Hold them accountable by having them take complete ownership of their work. I have writers that I know can handle and deliver the project on-time and stay on a topic just by providing them with a title. That’s it. They have the freedom to write the article as they see fit.
3. Focus On the Strengths of Each Team Member
Whether you have team working directly beside you or remotely, always focus on their strengths, and not their weaknesses. Whether you are trying to, or not, developing weaknesses in your employees is costly – both in time and money. Besides, how do you think that an employee will handle the pressure of learning a skill that they’re not good at? For me, I know that I would get extremely frustrated if I was not proficient at a needed skill, and would not be inspired to complete a project.
Keep your team members productive and happier by playing up to their strengths through encouragement and by providing additional training when needed – without shame.
4. Be Flexible
I get the importance of deadlines. In way, it’s a contract. However, you have to realize that your virtual team members are in different time zones and have different life situations. For example, I can’t be upset if send an email to a team member when it’s 9pm Pacific. While that’s not late, my team member may be living on the East Coast and it’s midnight. There’s a good chance that this person is either in-bed or done with work for the day.
Be aware of where your team members reside, when they are most productive, and any life circumstances that may be preventing them from completing a task, such as a power outage or broken laptop. Having this knowledge allows you to be a little more flexible so that both parties can reach a compromise and are satisfied.
5. Keep the Lines of Communication Open
As someone who has worked from home, I can tell you that sometimes I need a little human contact. Having colleagues that I can turn to, whether it’s with an email or Skype call, has definitely provided me with some much-needed socialization. However, it’s also been great to exchange ideas and to iron-out any details regarding a project.
When I work with a virtual team I provide them with all of my contact information immediately and let them know that I’m available for them whenever they need me. This keeps the lines of communication open, as well as gives me the chance to check-in on my team and see where their head is at – both professionally and personally.
6. Equip Yourself with the Right Tools
I’ve mentioned a couple of tools already, but having the right tools in place keeps everyone informed, productive, and happy. Personally, I would prefer to be a part of an organization where every operation runs smoothly. It just makes life, and work, more enjoyable and less stressful.
While there are hundreds of possible tools that you could use with your virtual team, here are some of my personal favorites:
- Google Docs is free and allows you and your team members to collaborate on documents or spreadsheets. Also included are Gmail and Hangouts for communication.
- Skype is great for making phone calls and direct messaging. There’s a good possibility that you and your team have the app on your phones, so everyone can and should be in constant communication no matter where you are.
- Wrike is a unique project management where you can share and collaborate on files, along with tracking the progress of a project and assigning tasks.
- Click Meeting offers video conferencing and has screen sharing capabilities.
- Due is—full disclosure—my payments and online invoicing tool. I built it out of a need to get paid faster.
- Slack is an internal messaging service that I’m currently obsessed with. It’s an incredible communication tool that also has a mobile app so everyone on your team can stay in the loop.
- PandaDoc gives you the power to sign documents electronically. It’s an essential tool when contracts have to be signed remotely.
- Get Response is the easiest way I’ve ever known to email all my customers. I simply connect it and they manage all the emailing for me. It’s easy.