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Ten tips to make a virtual workforce a successful team

Author: Nigel Purse, Published: 09 May 2019

Remote working is now an established fact of working life for many of us, whether that is basing ourselves away from the office for part of the week or being part of large geographically-dispersed global teams.

The benefits and opportunities that a virtual workforce bring to both businesses and employees are well known – higher productivity, cost savings, improved work-life balance for employees. I could go on. However, there can also be disadvantages for teams such as a lack of community, communication problems or encouraging accountability but none of these needs to be an issue with a bit of effort. 

Here are ten tips to help you manage and build relationships with remote team members:

  1. Commit to regular calls. Having a schedule of calls set up ahead of time means you both know when you will be in contact and can prepare in advance. This is precious time – nothing breaks trust like constantly cancelling meetings – so safeguard it in your diary and have a quiet space ready so you can be fully present.
  2. Be patient – trust takes time. In a virtual environment it takes longer to build trust. Don’t rush to get straight down to business – discuss the background to the project you are working on and take time to talk generally about what everyone is doing work-wise.
  3. Use a webcam. Whenever possible use video conferencing apps like Facetime or Skype for meetings so that you can see each other’s faces. This helps you to read each other’s non-verbal cues and build trust through eye contact.
  4. Make time for small talk. Just as you would with colleagues working in the same office, be sure to share personal insights and issues from your non-work lives when you are in virtual meetings. These conversations build trust by showing we care about each other and are a part of what makes us human.
  5. Keep the conversation flowing both ways. Make sure your virtual meetings and calls are two-way and not just a brain-dumping or briefing session. Ask for feedback and ideas, and really listen to your colleague’s views and opinions. 
  6. Get clarity with active listening. Remember that in virtual meetings it is even more important to check the assumptions you are making about what your colleague meant, said or did. Paraphrase information and ask questions starting with “Can I check that you mean….”
  7. Check-in emotionally. Honest, open conversations are a pillar of trust. In a virtual meeting, make the time to check that you and your colleague are in tune with each other, and understand what each other is feeling and thinking. 
  8. Put yourself in their (distant) shoes. If you are based in the office and your colleague works remotely, remember how much they miss out on which you take for granted. In the hub-bub of an office, you’ll naturally hear and talk about things as you get coffee or walk past colleague’s desks. Share as much information as you can with your remote colleagues and ask them if they need background before you launch into a complex conversation.
  9. Write it all down. Keep short notes of each virtual meeting so you can quickly pick up where you left off last time, check the progress you’ve made and stay accountable to each other. Of course, this is after you have covered off any personal topics!
  10. Reply to requests quickly. If a remote colleague asks to talk with you, respond immediately and positively. Remember, they can’t just walk into your office for a chat the way their other colleagues can, so knowing they can reach you quickly when they need your advice or assistance is very important.

For more practical suggestions then look no further than our Amazon bestseller 5 Conversations - How to transform trust, engagement and performance at work. It covers five key conversations that managers should have with their teams, whether or not they are remote. The book and accompanying programme provide a simple and powerful framework for constructive conversations that build relationships and trust. 

Download the first two chapters