Good Management: The Key to Success in a Virtual World

Apr 29, 2021

I think we can all agree that remote work is here to stay. Not only do employees love it—87% of workers responding to a 2020 Gartner survey said they prefer to work remotely either full or part time—but employers are embracing it, too, as the pandemic-fueled work-from-home boom has seen productivity increase, employee satisfaction improve, talent pools widen, and overhead costs plummet.

It’s no surprise that in February, JPMorgan’s co-president and chief operating officer, Daniel Pinto, told CNBC: “Going back to the office with 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time, I think there is zero chance of that.”

But while our new virtual (office) reality is an exciting and welcome development, especially to those of us at WAHVE, who have always championed the benefits of remote work, it doesn’t come without its challenges. Tsedal Neeley, the Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and an expert in virtual work, pointed out that in a virtual workplace, “people can easily get into an out-of-sight, out-of-mind, out-of-sync, and out-of-touch mode.”

Now, more than ever, it is imperative that businesses have excellent organization and management systems in place. But what do those look like?

Based on our experience and the advice of experts, we’ve found that the following strategies are a great place to start:

  • Relaunch your team. Neeley suggests “relaunching” virtual teams every six to eight weeks. What does this mean? Essentially, she says teams should discuss what their shared norms are and explicitly address how they will communicate, collaborate and preserve everyone’s psychological well being. “It’s not as scary as it sounds,” Neeley said. “It’s usually a 90-minute or two-hour meeting where you are trying to get alignment about those shared norms, shared goals, and resources.” Doing so can increases a team’s likelihood of success by 30% or more, she notes.
  • Build trust. One of the most important factors for remote-team success is for team members to trust each other—and their organization as a whole. There have been countless articles, seminars, webinars, books and more about how to instill trust within a company. But there are some simple ways managers can do this on a granular level. For example, Forbes offers a few tips that include:
    • Assume goodwill. Adopt and encourage the mindset that everyone’s on the same team and is approaching each situation from a positive place. Positivity breeds positivity.
    • Make an effort to share bits about your life—the way you would if you were regularly seeing these colleagues in person. The more you open up, the more others will, too, and a bond can form. Pay attention to when colleagues open up to you, too, as reciprocation is key.
    • Be predictable. Show your coworkers that you are reliable. Nothing builds trust more than competency and people knowing they can take you at your word.
    • Check in regularly. Since you can’t run into coworkers at the water cooler or in the conference room, make an effort to “see” them when possible. Check in through video conferencing, instant-messaging, texting or whatever other means your team uses and likes. As Forbes notes, “unplanned connections are powerful.
  • Beat tech burnout. With everyone sitting on Zoom, Skype, conference calls, email, and instant-messaging programs all day, they can start to feel pretty overloaded with technology. In fact, Neeley notes that one of her concerns has always been that with 24/7 tech allowing people to connect at all hours, employees might be overworking and need better boundaries and more help knowing when to shut off. She suggests that managers help teams overcome tech burnout by first figuring out the right breakdown between synchronous, asynchronous, one-on-one and group or forum-style meetings—based on the type of information that needs to be conveyed and who needs to participate—and then keeping these online gatherings brief and on point.

I firmly believe that with some dedicated attention and forethought, we can be on the leading edge of this new virtual work world. I look forward to seeing where it takes us.

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