It’s not unusual for people to reach roles of increasing seniority without going through strategic training or formal preparation for advancement. This, alone, is not necessarily a cause for undue caution, as examples abound of managers who honed their skills through on-the-job exposure, unofficial mentorship or just a personal commitment to hard work and self-directed learning.
But this also means that a number of supervisors and managers achieved roles of influence without the benefit of formal leadership development programs, absent incremental steps in the vetting process and without true procedural accountability. The good news is that many leadership skills can be taught – or leaders in development have a natural affinity for them. Skills like good communication, positive interpersonal rapport, time management, customer service and adherence to policy are par for the course when it comes to inspiring teams, supervising people and being accountable for processes.
But what about the strengths needed to manage a virtual team as a remote employee? Experience and anecdotes show that those who oversee remote teams need to maintain age-old managerial best practices, but there are some particulars that set such leaders apart. For example, in Training Industry, BELAY’s Tricia Sciortino talks about the importance of three factors in managing virtual teams effectively – being technologically aware, focusing on employee culture and being mindful of employment laws.
On the other side of the coin, however, there may be clues that a remote manager just isn’t up to the task. So what are some signs that a manager of virtual teams is failing or would benefit from additional development? These signal a potentially slippery slope in the efficacy of your virtual team’s manager.
They’re out of sight – and seem to be out of mind.
It’s one thing for a remote employee to report to someone they rarely see or may never meet in person. That can be negotiated through technology and purposeful, consistent outreach. But it’s another to work for an individual who routinely “ghosts” the team or seems to be operating almost entirely in the shadows. Perhaps they never learned by example how to manage remotely or maybe they’re conflicted over what leadership looks like in a virtual structure. Either way, when leaders of virtual teams seem inaccessible or are unresponsive, and when they are not proactive about communicating, they are abdicating core responsibilities.
Their communication leaves much to be desired.
Not everyone has the gift of gab (in fact, introverts can be good leaders), but managers who do their jobs virtually must showcase a strong competency for communication, and that doesn’t just mean talking. This pertains to all forms of outreach and correspondence such as email, voicemail, instant messaging, collaborative documents and text messages. Content that is ambiguous, instructions that are unclear, next steps that are left incomplete and feedback that unintentionally sets the wrong tone are signs that a managerial communications tune-up is in order.
They measure time spent online, not results.
Some organizations use time-tracking software and other tools intended to monitor virtual employees’ presence and productivity. Such tools can provide valuable metrics that affect time management and overall efficiency. But some managers still appraise performance according to indicators such as these, which monitor things like keystrokes, mouse clicks or even webcam activity. This is the virtual equivalent of micromanaging according to how long a remote worker sits at his or her desk – a shortsighted and incomplete way to assess distributed workforces. On a related note, according to Gallup, adopting a strengths-based model for assessing performance is more informative and enlightening than the annual review (which, in some organizations, does focus on tasks and time rather than outcomes).
When people work from home, it takes more effort, avenues and resources to stay connected. It also takes a deliberate approach to create and sustain workplace relationships. With a virtual team, there is no watercooler. There’s no breakroom, and there are no rides in the elevator for casual chats or quick catch-ups. Virtual managers have no lesser reason to know the basics about the people on their team, from birthdays and hobbies to personal factors that could be influencing work-life flow. In this Atlantic piece about “The Fear of Feelings at Work,” psychologist Susan David details the benefits of managers viewing their employees more holistically. And this includes some degree of emotional connectivity.
They blame technology.
Just because people work remotely doesn’t demand that they become IT wizards overnight – if ever. But those who serve on a virtual basis must develop some level of familiarity and comfort with technology. So much of the work done away from a physical office depends on technology. From cloud-based document collaboration and storage applications to online meeting and presentation software, work-from-homers rely on technology to do their jobs. Managers, if even they use only a few programs on a consistent basis, must work to stay technologically open and informed.
Have you ever encountered these warning signs of ineffective virtual management? If so, what impact did they have on your team or the organization at large? What other sore spots have you experienced with leaders of remote teams? Tell us on Facebook.