More companies are beginning to see the benefits of letting employees work from remote locations, noting the increased employee satisfaction, reduced turnover and improved productivity from such an arrangement.
But telecommuting workers aren’t always a bed of roses for the manager who has to bring them together as a team, often dealing with their spats over who was told what, and when. They argue about who isn’t doing the job, who is obviously watching “Jersey Shore” instead of completing a project and who keeps missing deadlines.
If you think you may never be confronted with such a dilemma, think again. Gartner Inc., an information technology research and advisory company, says the number of worldwide remote workers will pass 46 million this year. Further, a recent World at Work survey found that the most common teleworkers are male, college graduates, age 40 and are knowledge workers.
So, the chances are pretty good you’re going to be called upon to manage a virtual team with critical missions. Unfortunately, the chances also are good that you’re going to face some tough challenges.
Among them will be the chronic problem of poor communication between team members. Because despite email, Skype, instant messaging and even Facebook, communicating effectively and accurately with teams who may be thousands of miles apart can pose problems.
Then, before you know it, one team member is upset because she says she wasn’t told a key piece of information, while another whines about the work ethic of someone else. A third jumps in with a complaint about what he believes to be a snippy e-mail from a colleague.
While these are all issues that might be easily and quickly resolved – or never even occur at all – if team members work face-to-face on a daily basis, they are issues that can easily get blown out of proportion with virtual teams. You may not even be aware, for example, that some team members are stewing in their own juices about some real or imagined slight. You have no clue that co-workers thousands of miles apart believe one another to be guilty of some dastardly deeds.
But you find out when the team implodes, missing deadlines, snarling innovative ideas and spending more time hurling blame than working.
The critical issue for you as a manager is that this team is now unable to work effectively and productively – and that would hurt the bottom line. And your career.
In his book, “A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams,” Yael Zofi suggests that one way to resolve conflict among remote team members is with a conference phone call. He suggests a manager using this method should: