Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the idea of teams working virtually was being discussed but only as a fancy futuristic endeavour along with long-term vision of most companies. This, however, is the reality across most organisations today.
Leading virtual teams presents new challenge especially for organisations that have never managed staff working remotely. Research on virtual teams shows there are two levels of challenges; those that are relatively easy to recognise and address and those which are deeper and more complex, therefore requiring greater attention.
Martine Haas, professor of management at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, says virtual teams require greater and different care and attention. Failure to meet these needs, he adds, often leads to less-than-desirable results.
Therefore, for institutions to lead highly effective virtual teams, they should overcome both the surface level and deep-level challenges. Surface level challenges include finding the right technology, balancing time zones, flattening hierarchy and counteracting language barriers especially during multicultural virtual engagements.
Deep level challenges include shared identity and understanding. The concept of virtual teams has eliminated the benefits of management by wandering around and close physical supervision. It is therefore upon organisations to ensure everyone is heard without feeling marginalised owing to language barrier and other limitations coming with communication technology.
In attempting to adjust to the times, organisations should never assume that every new technology will automatically be adopted easily by everyone and in the same way apply to all functions at work. It is therefore paramount for them to find out what technology is available for their needs, take care of any tech-related issues.
It is paramount that organisations build shared identity, especially when team members do not consider themselves as part of the team. This issue, when left unresolved can interfere with smooth operations of the company.
Organisations should consider increasing focus on fundamentals of good management which include establishing clear goals, running great meetings, communicating clearly, building trust, encouraging transparency, and leveraging team members’ individual and collective strengths.
Secondly, it is important for managers to ensure their staff have the support they need. In remote environments, managers have limited visibility into challenges facing their employees, and consequently need to establish regular conversations with each employee.
Thirdly, it is necessary to create a high level of transparency among team members. Managers must set an example of transparency by sharing openly with employees and encouraging them to also share their thoughts or ask questions.
Finally, building trust with employees is another important aspect that institutions must never forget when managing virtual teams. In an in-person environment, there are more opportunities to naturally build trust during informal interactions but with remote teams, these opportunities hardly exist and so managers need to be more intentional about building team trust.
Mr Serem is the Human Resource and Administration Director at KenGen
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