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Virtual Teams - 24 June 2014

When it comes to virtual teams, there seems to be a rare consensus among scholars and workplace leaders:  leading virtual teams is far more difficult than leading face-to-face ones.  

The geographical distance and communication difficulties inherent in virtual teams means leaders need to invest more time and effort, often working harder than their peers, to generate the same results.

A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology provides some insight on what remote leaders can do to better engage their teams.  The study identified three elements proven to lead to higher performance:

   (i)   Information management
   (ii)  Shared leadership
   (iii) Material rewards

Information management:  The key with information is that it isn’t just about sharing data and providing company updates.  It’s also about facilitating connectivity in a way that removes perceptions of distance.  The more distant employees feel, the more likely they are to be disengaged.  That means you should use communication as a way of getting virtual employees to know and understand each other, even though they’re in different locations.

Shared leadership:  Traditional face-to-face teams are usually suited to what’s known as ‘hierarchical leadership’, which means the leader often directs the responsibilities and tasks.  That style, however, isn’t effective in virtual teams.  Infinitely more successful is shared leadership, which means you relinquish control by getting employees to lead projects, coach each other, run meetings, and instigate change.

Material rewards:  The remoteness of virtual teams diminishes their motivation because, when they can’t see each other, they’re less inclined to exert high levels of energy.  When that’s combined with their physical anonymity, it becomes more difficult to monitor their performance.  That’s why material rewards, such as regular outcomes-based incentives, are essential, more so than for face-to-face teams.

Ultimately, the real measure of success for a remote leader is that the team no longer feels so remote.


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