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Virtual teams: supervising and surviving.

* As a manager, how can I supervise employees at remote locations-particularly when I never see them?

* If I work remotely, how do I make sure I stay on my supervisor's radar for promotional opportunities?

* Which managers can handle and which employees can thrive in virtual team situations?

Managers in many Alaska companies oversee subsidiary operations in the Lower 48, managing employees they rarely or never meet face-to-face. Managers and employees in other organizations coordinate--sight unseen--with employees and co-workers from Barrow to Ketchikan and Unalaska to Glennallen. What does it take to effectively handle this challenge?

Managing Virtual Teams

If you manage employees you never meet face-to-face, you may feel disconnected from them and they from you. In the same way radio can't replace television, email and phone conversations offer a weak substitute for the understanding and connection created when two individuals interact in person. Whenever you can, arrange video interactions through Skype or other cloud computing video conferencing.

Because you can't wander down the hallway or onto the site and see your employees working, learn to manage by results. Set specific, easily understood, challenging and attainable goals for each employee--and follow up with regular communication. Ask your employees to give you streamlined but regular work updates. Provide constructive and motivating feedback early and often so your employees don't feel they're playing handball without a wall.

Because virtual employees lack a company home base, keep these remote workers in the loop on the latest departmental and company news via newsletters and frequent emails.

To avoid work derailment, make sure your employees have the tools they need to work remotely, such as personal digital devices, high-speed Internet connections and laptop computers with virtual private network connectivity. Virtual private networks also give you effective ways to assess your employee's contributions so you can accurately recognize and reward positive individual performance.

If you supervise both virtual and office-based employees, be careful not to use two sets of performance standards as that can lead to allegations of unequal treatment and legal headaches. Standards that measure job performance such as call volume, customer satisfaction ratings, work orders completed and projects completed on deadline can help managers fairly assess employees, whether they are based in the office or the cloud.

Tips for the Team

Virtual team members risk out-of-sight, out-of-mind stature, impacting them during performance and salary reviews. If you want to stay a positive face on your manager's radar, provide frequent status updates on key projects and look for opportunities to interact with your manager and co-workers. Furthermore, because virtual team members might misinterpret ambiguously worded assignments and waste considerable time, early proactive communication with managers is essential when tasks need clarification.

Assessing which managers can handle virtual supervision and which employees thrive in virtual work requires a certain skill-set. Clearly, not every manager can effectively manage virtual employees. Successful managers possess strong written and oral communication skills and realize managing virtual teams requires concentrated effort.

Employees who like regimented schedules or need detailed instruction before moving forward tend to flounder in virtual work settings. While independent employees who enjoy showing initiative and who possess self-reliance, self-motivation and good communication skills thrive in virtual situations, Lone Wolves generally fail. Those known as Lone Wolves tend to keep concerns to themselves and prefer struggling for days when a simple phone call might give them the answer.

With all these challenges, why do Alaska employers so often choose virtual work options? It's our reality, whether we're supervising employees across Alaska or subsidiaries in the Lower 48. Furthermore, organizations that allow employees to "go virtual" due to their personal needs retain valuable employees.

Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR and owner of the Alaska-based management consulting firm, The Growth Company Inc. consults with companies, individuals and boards of directors to create real solutions to real workplace challenges.
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Title Annotation:HR Matters
Author:Curry, Lynne
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Nov 1, 2012
Words:637
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