Monday, February 7, 2011
During the last decade we have seen incredible growth in the adoption of “virtual” in the workplace. The virtual trend is destined to continue for the next decade and beyond. In the United States, companies that have not incorporated any telecommuting into the workplace are in the minority. The virtual growth trend is a global phenomenon that includes, but it is not limited to, offshore outsourcing.
This growth in remote workers means that managers need to be confident and competent managing from a distance. Unfortunately, virtual management skill-sets have not been increasing at the same rate as virtual management responsibilities. Many organizations do not recognize the need for specialized training in the virtual environment. There seems to be a misconception that the only real difference between managing locally and managing virtually is the use of a few additional tools. It is important for managers to understand how to use virtual tools but managing people goes far beyond knowing how to use software programs and phone conferencing systems.
The managers themselves often do not realize that it is their own action, or inaction, that can cause problems with virtual projects or teamwork. It is not the virtual environment that creates the problems but rather the manager’s lack of knowledge and training in virtual management.
It is unfortunate that the lack of expertise in virtual management is leading to under performance, and sometimes failure, of virtual and outsourced projects. The managers are often struggling to deal with the day-to-day challenges of managing a virtual team and can’t see the early warning signs that things are not progressing to plan. The managers are managing people and issues the way they always have. Unfortunately, the strategies that work well in a colocated environment often do not work as well virtually. Excellent managers are being transformed into underachieving managers.
If companies want to succeed in the virtual business world they must give their managers the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. It is very disheartening when a high performing manager takes responsibility for a remote workforce and comes to the realization that he lacks the knowledge and skills he needs. If he is managing a combination of co-located and virtual team members, and is managing all team members in the same way, problems are bound to arise.
Managers may not have asked for management responsibility of remote workers and may feel that those workers should adapt to how he or she manages. Perhaps the manager believes that his management “style” has worked well in the past so there is no reason to change it. You can try this approach to virtual management, but I guarantee it is not going to work very well. It is a manager’s responsibility to manage individual team members in a way that gives them the highest opportunity for success. It is important to be open to adapting and changing to new business models and new ways of working. If managers are too rigid and set in their ways, what kind of example are they setting to their team members? The world will continue to progress and change during and beyond our lifetimes. Resistance or uncertainty will not prevent it. In another 20 years, we will be using new tools and techniques, and managing in an environment different from what we have now. New managers today will be the seasoned managers of tomorrow. They will be required to adapt and change in years to come; just as today’s seasoned managers are right now.
Many of today’s managers are not resisting change, they are just unsure of what they need to do to embrace it. They are expending a lot of effort trying to be successful in the virtual environment but they lack the knowledge required to get the desired results.
Successful virtual management requires learning a few new skills and learning how to utilize existing skills in a different way. Some of the changes in ”how” things should be done are very subtle and some are less so. A lot of small adjustments can make a huge difference but managers need to know what adjustments to make.
Virtual managers need to learn how to communicate effectively with remote workers and how to manage and measure team member performance. When managing internationally, managers should have some understanding of cultural differences. Trying to manage employees in India the same way you manage team members in the USA will have disappointing results for all involved. Expecting team members in the United Kingdom to respond well to the same management style and techniques used for your US team members are likely to result in less than desirable results.
Just a small amount of training in virtual management can go a long way towards making virtual managers more effective. A comprehensive training program could transform your virtual management team from “good” to “exceptional”. Why settle for less when your employees have the potential to deliver so much more?
Colleen Garton is a world renowned expert in virtual management. Her company, Garton Consulting Group specializes in training for virtual, global and cross-cultural teams.