Maybe when you started your leadership gig you had no plans of managing a virtual team, but the pandemic forced you to adapt quickly. Maybe you were hired specifically to manage a virtual team or a hybrid team, with some employees on site and others working remotely. Or maybe as times have changed, your team has morphed in to all or partially virtual.
Regardless how you got here, managing a virtual team has some challenges, particularly when it comes to boosting collaboration among employees who are scattered across locations (and sometimes across the globe).
Helping virtual teams, and specifically leaders managing virtual teams, is our focus at the Remote Leadership Institute. (FYI: We offer all kinds of resources on the website, such as whitepapers and articles, which you should definitely check out if you need advice for managing your remote team.)
During our work with remote teams, we’ve found that following is your best best for stimulating collaboration on a remote team:
Keep goals at the forefront
For a variety of reasons, when people are working from home they can lose sight of the big picture for both their work and the overall goals of the organization. Continue to connect the dots between people’s individual work and the work of the larger team. The more people see how their daily work connects to something bigger and how it helps others on the team, the more likely they will be to collaborate with their teammates.
Maintain interpersonal relationships
When people know and like each other, remote collaboration is more likely to occur. The longer your team works remotely, (especially as you add new team members who never worked together in-person), the harder it may be to maintain interpersonal relationships. Promote, encourage and find opportunities to allow relationships to grow. Plan activities during meetings and encourage people to make time to visit with one another online during work hours. You can schedule virtual coffee breaks or team lunches just like you might in an office.
Trust can wither in a remote working environment, so offer people more chances to work on things together and trust grow will as the collaboration does. Keeping the team united on one purpose and working toward common goals will also help build trust.
Make collaboration part of employees’ job expectations
When people know that you expect them to engage, work together and collaborate, you improve the chances that they will. Even if people want to collaborate, when they work inside their own four walls and never see the other members of their team, they will naturally become more insular in their focus. Your clear expectations that work success includes collaboration will help overcome that tendency.
Remember that if people aren’t collaborating currently, it doesn’t mean they are resisting collaboration. When you do things like we’ve discussed here you help facilitate the collaboration naturally. While you may have to work at it harder, you can create remote collaboration to rival any in-person team.