Managing Virtual Teams

by Michael Haberman on May 2, 2011 · 15 comments

I attended the “unconference” of HREvolution 2011 that was held in Atlanta this past weekend. I attended a very interactive discussion on managing virtual teams (aka telecommuting) that was conducted by Eric Winegardner of Monster.Com. He and his team are “road warriors” so he spoke about his personal experience in managing his team. The message I got is that effective management of a virtual team is about three things: Expectations, Enabling, and Expenses. Let me explain.

  • You have to have high expectations for your virtual team. You need to expect high productivity. You have to expect high work ethic. You have to expect people to manage time and resources well. With these expectations you have to set goals and expect them to meet them.
  • To help your virtual team to accomplish those goals and meet those expectations you have to enable them. Tools are important for effective work. People have to have the computers, phones, cards, and devices that enable them to work at their home office, customer sites, coffee shops, airports, airplanes, or wherever else they can connect and work. If you do not enable them then you cannot demand the level of productivity you would want.
  • The third E in my list was expenses. Eric operates by the not allowing the thoughts of “pennywise, pound foolish” to get in the way of his employees’ work. Losing hours of productivity for want of a connection device that costs $70 per month is being pennywise and pound foolish. Allowing an Internet connection to go unpaid because the employee happens to be out on maternity leave is being pennywise and pound foolish. Not having a wireless device because others in the company don’t have it or it is not appropriate for their “level” is being pennywise and pound foolish.

One other thing emphasized by Eric is the concept of TEAM.  Just because people work remote and seldom see each other does not mean that they don’t want to have a connection to the people they work with. So Eric’s team has virtual meetings on a frequent basis. Additionally Eric insures that they get together face-to-face occassionally as well. He also does other things to promote “team”. One example was that everyone submitted a picture of their home “office” and then everyone had to guess who belonged to which office. Eric also found that it was a good way to see if everyone had the tools they needed sitting there and if not he took care of it. Creative!

So if you are a “road warrior” manager of a virtual team remember the three E’s listed above:

  • Expectations. Set them high and expect achievement.
  • Enable. Give people the tools necessary for them to reach that level of achievement.
  • Expenses. Go to the mat to keep your people from being nickel and dimes to death. Spending money will make you money.

My thanks to Eric Winegardner for his excellent presentation. He  brings a fourth E to his virtual team and that is ENTHUSIASM.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Winegardner May 2, 2011 at 9:59 am

Fifth E: Excellent. Recap that is!
Thanks for taking the time to attend the session.
Appreciate your insight and the wrap up.
EW

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Ben Eubanks May 2, 2011 at 11:54 am

Great recap, Mike! I wasn’t able to make it to Eric’s session, but this is an excellent set of takeaways to help those of us who were soaking up some of the other speakers. :-) Keep up the great work!

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Corinne Miller May 3, 2011 at 11:23 am

Please also keep in mind that “virtual” includes telecommuters as well as those in offices remote to the manager and field workers. “Virtual” is really becoming a general catch-all term for “any worker that a manager does not see regularly”…since most of the principles of virtual management apply to all of these flavors.

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Michael Haberman May 3, 2011 at 11:33 am

Corinne:
You are correct. I did put an aka telecommuter in there to help make that point. But you made it clear. Thanks.

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Geof Wilkens May 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Thanks for the summary, some really good points there.

I especially agree with the importance of the team. I worked for several years as an outside contractor; we used to have regular online meetings and ocassional face to face time. Most of it was for initial training and then weekly check-ins as time went on. But, when everyone got up to speed the meetings were deemed no longer necessary for our work and phased out.

Wasn’t quite the same afterwards; I’m all for autonomy… but I think you get a little too detached without any face to face time with your colleagues.

Geof

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Michael Haberman May 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Geof:
That is so true, you can become isolated. Good managers will realize that and make sure that it doesn’t happen. Thanks for you input.

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Sally Lee Vickers May 14, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Wish I could have been at the presentation, but thank you for your great take-away. Some great points that often get over looked.

I would add the need that each team member knows how they are accountable to the team. Not just their individual work assignment, but their assignment to the team. Developing a devotion to the team and responsibility to the team is one of the things that can make a huge difference in the performance of the team.

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