The Manager’s Role in Remote Team Communication

In any workplace, managers are responsible for making sure employees have what they need to succeed. As teams become more dispersed and more employees work in virtual groups, one of the biggest needs employees have is a sense of team.

The days of “managing by walking around” are nearly gone. In the new virtual workplace, it’s not so much about getting you (the boss) to talk the employees, it’s about getting the employees to talk to each other.

If Sally in San Francisco doesn’t really know Bob in Boise, she won’t pick up the phone and call him. Suddenly the manager becomes the conduit through which all questions get answered and work grinds to a halt through this inevitable bottleneck.

That’s why today’s new manager must be a connector. Figuring out how to build team when employees don’t see each other every day (or ever) is perhaps the most important nut for any manager to crack.

A well-connected team will overcome a lot of challenges—unwieldy technology, loose expectations, poor project tracking—that would knock other virtual work groups flat on their faces.  Why? Because a well-connected team will communicate.

A lucky few among us are natural connectors and inherently know how to get Sally and Bob chatting like old friends. The rest of us have to be more deliberate about fostering remote team communication. A few quick tips:

1.     Make time for small talk.

Meetings are long enough as it is without burning through the first 15 minutes on personal chit-chat, right? Not in a virtual environment. Spending time on personal conversation will be the new cost-of-business for dispersed teams.

2.     Adapt everyday celebrations.

No, Sally in San Francisco can’t join you for lunch. But you can send her a gift card to Starbucks or put her on speaker phone for a short group call before everyone starts eating. Remember to include your remote team members with a call or a thank you gift whenever the rest of the team is celebrating a “we did it!” moment.

3.     Model social media.
Provide an easy way for remote team members to stay up-to-date on the project—and each other’s lives. Encourage collaboration tools through your corporate intranet, project management software, a private team blog, or a purpose-built tool like Slack.

Leaders who can’t foster communication and camaraderie are bound to struggle.  According to a report from Right Management, poor team skills were the number one reason leaders fail.

In the survey of CEOs and HR leaders, 40% said that failure to build a team or develop relationships was a primary cause for leadership failure.  The second most-cited cause was a mismatch with corporate culture at a distant 26%.

Think back. Have you ever been part of a dysfunctional team that worked together in the same office? Remember the pain and frustration? Now imagine those challenges exacerbated by distance – both physical and emotional.

Your remote employees aren’t meeting around the water cooler or leaning over each other’s cubicles for a quick chat. They need a little help getting to know each other. Nowadays, leadership success is increasingly dependent on how well you help your team members communicate and connect. The stronger the personal bonds, the more efficient and effective everyone will be.

Improve communication skills on your remote team. 15Be offers manager and team training, including how to Manage Remote and Flex Teams. Book now.