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Leading Virtual Teams - 29 June 2016

It’s estimated that 80 per cent of large organisations make use of virtual teams.  Which means it’s almost certain you can expect to eventually be responsible for recruiting and managing employees you’ve never met and probably never will.

Providing guidance on how to navigate this terrain is a new study published in Human Performance, an academic journal.  The researchers analysed 175 virtual employees as well as 204 who worked in traditional face-to-face environments.  The two groups were then compared to each other to identify the characteristics that were unique to those employed virtually.  The findings generated important lessons about recruitment and management.

In relation to recruitment, the researchers discovered two factors that were especially prominent among successful virtual teams:

  1. ‘Leading and Deciding’:  Since virtual teams work in ambiguous conditions, they need to be able to source information and to proactively generate solutions, both of which are actions that require an aptitude for self-leadership and decision-making.
  2. ‘Analysing and Interpreting’:  Since virtual teams usually work online, they need to be able to make sense out of complex and uncertain data in ways that may not be as pressing for face-to-face colleagues.
That’s why, when hiring virtual employees, it’s wise to include questions during the interview that give you an indication of the candidates’ self-leadership skills, decision-making abilities,analytical competence, and digital communication nous.  If they score well on those attributes, you can be relatively confident they’ll adapt well to a virtual workplace.

But that’s just about recruitment.  What about management?  Well, the researchers have identified the following six critical areas for leaders to focus on and nurture:
  • Initiative:  Create a safe environment that gives employees courage to be proactive.
  • Autonomy:  Teach the self-management techniques that make autonomy possible.
  • Goal setting:  Reward employees who set and pursue ambitious work-related goals.
  • Written communication:  Coach specifically on how to convey clear information.
  • Analysing:  Run regular sessions on how to utilise data to solve problems.
  • Digital media:  Pair up employees to foster collaboration and a sense of belonging.
All in all, it’s a way of operating in a digital world without an analogue mindset.


To download complimentary e-books on employee engagement, retention, and recruitment (valued at over $100), please click here.

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