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In response to the Coronavirus/COVID-19, millions of employees will be thrust into working from home. And their managers will get a crash course in managing virtual teams while having to sustain productivity, quality of service, and engagement.

65 million Americans already work from home at least one day a week. 85% of job seekers indicated that they would consider a lower salary if they could work remotely. Telecommuting has become a competitive advantage in attracting top talent.

How can we harness this information to empower those who are new to managing a virtual team?

Well, a positive relationship between employee and manager can contribute to motivation, loyalty, and job satisfaction- all of which can improve retention rates and increase bottom line profits. 86% of employees leave their jobs because of their relationship with their manager.

Opportunities for connection are of concern for managers who want to build virtual teams that last. One of the key characteristics of successful remote team management is a strong sense of shared trust between managers and employees.

Managers of virtual teams must trust that team members will:
• Prioritize action items effectively
• Follow through on daily activities required to meet long-term goals
• Share information with one another
• Remain motivated
• Raise concerns as they develop in a remote work environment

Typically, trust is built through:
• Past experience with that person (“Is this person reliable and dependable?”)
• Shared goals with that person (“Are our actions aligned?”)
• Confidence in that person’s skills and abilities (“Can this person get the job done?”)

Managers can build trust by establishing a shared sense of purpose. Team members must align around strategy, communicate effectively, and collaborate openly. Top of mind is how to build successful working relationships among team members, and how to establish and increase productivity as the team achieves its collective goals.

Some managers establish a mission statement with shared values and guidelines for interaction. Clarity in communication helps define the team with a unified purpose and will help avoid any common misperceptions that could erode trust.

Managers of virtual teams need to pay special attention to communicating how decisions will be made, how and when team members should be in contact (either individually or as a group), and how goals will be measured.

Virtual teams need a manager who provides clearly defined direction and removes ambiguity from the process. Each team member should have clarity around the definition of their role, especially when working remotely.

These three elements help build trust amongst virtual teams:

1. Timeliness. What constitutes a timely reply to an email? Do emails with certain subject lines take priority? What is the “end of the business day” for teams across different time zones? Establishing expectations can help the team benchmark communication performance. The goal is to get teams to trust that teammates will reply in a timely manner to emails, voicemails, and deadlines.

2. Completeness. Are responses to requests sufficient? This includes deadlines, next steps, or specific instructions for follow-up. Managers can provide templates for instances where they feel responses are inadequate.

3. Consistency. Consistent quality, timing, and interaction build trust with virtual teams. Teams work best when they can count on one another to regularly deliver superior levels of performance.

Awareness and data can help. Behavioral assessments help managers of virtual teams understand each team member’s motivational needs and behavioral drives to assign roles and responsibilities, manage expectations, and drive the team’s performance over time. Ultimately, the assessment can help managers identify if an individual is a good fit for the job, the virtual team, and the organization.

Behavioral assessments help managers uncover natural drives of team members, make strategic decisions about how to assign work, identify preferred modes of communication, and gain insight into how to support, coach, and motivate the team.

Assessment data can help demystify high performance for both individuals and teams. In addition to understanding the individual, behavioral assessments can also inform group dynamics and help ascertain the behavioral culture of the team. Group analytics enable managers to clearly see behavioral trends to help define high performance, facilitate productivity, reduce conflict, and improve group synergy.

Tim Ferriss discusses performance over presence in The 4 Hour Workweek. Employees who work remotely tend to work longer hours, are more productive, take less vacation and sick time, and report that they are happier, healthier, and have better work-life balance. And 88% of professionals say that the most important aspect to the ideal job is work-life balance.

We have the technology to work from almost anywhere. If you can do your job remotely on a snow-day, you can do it any day. The average commuting time for Americans is over an hour. That’s 2 hours a day, 10 hours a week, (assuming an 8 hour work day) that’s 65 days a year, which is 13 work-weeks a year. That’s a full quarter of a year spent commuting.

In addition to the lost productivity, there is wear and tear on employees, their means of transportation, and the environment. Commuting is stressful. Stress is the #1 cause of illness. Increased insurance claims are costly to employers. Travel expenses and reimbursement for contract employees isn’t cheap, either.

I find it clever that Apple created an App called FaceTime to essentially replace face-time. I know there are some professionals out there that proclaim they’re old school and offer a premium service that can only be delivered effectively in person. I respectfully suggest that their position is more about preference than presence because it’s rooted in their perception.

There comes a point in every business when something happens that radically changes how the business operates—a new process, like being forced to manage people remotely for the first time ever…

For employees who are used to routines and doing things the same way, this shift can be difficult. Implementing a new process can begin an internal struggle.

What about this new process is important? In the beginning, implementing a new process can inhibit growth. However, as your company adapts, you will always need to create new processes. It’s the only way to continue to scale. In order to serve your customers, maintain growth, and perform at a high level, you need to systematize.

Not only does business process increase efficiency, but it also helps with business continuity while preserving quality, productivity, and engagement during this change.

It’s clear creating and implementing new processes is important to drive business growth, so what obstacles keep companies from effective implementation? The same thing that typically gets in the way of change…

All business problems are people problems. Process implementation is no different.

What usually gets in the way of implementing process is people. People who:

• Don’t understand why this process is necessary
• Don’t like other people telling them what to do or how to do it
• Are hesitant to change
• Are overwhelmed with the amount of change already happening in the organization

The key to successful implementation of new processes is the same key to any successful business strategy: getting the people part right.

Hiring the right people and inspiring them to their best performance are the keys to talent optimization. The right people in the right seats on the bus can help you not only survive but thrive during times of change.

Stay safe out there…

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