43 percent of Americans reported working remotely last year, according to a study conducted by Forbes. (Up from 39 percent in 2013.) The ability to work anywhere, at anytime, is incredibly desirable in today’s workplace, and can easily be a determining factor when dealing with company culture.
Virtual work is the wave of the future — and the future is here. While there are proven benefits to remote work, obstacles can sometimes arise when a company offers this kind of work environment, especially when managing a team that you may physically see once or twice a year — if that.
To get a better understanding of what it takes to successfully manage a virtual team, I interviewed Justin Fogarty, the Director of Content and Customer Marketing here at Appirio. With virtual teams spread across the United States, Justin provides unique insight into what it takes to get the most from your remote team.
What are some struggles you face having direct reports located in different locations?
JF: Time zones are the most obvious hurdle. I’m on the West Coast, but my whole team is on East Coast Time. Despite working from home where my commute is a short walk to the coffee pot, I’m probably already behind for the day. So as a manager, I find it’s best to adjust my schedule to fit the team. I get up early to catch up on email, attend East Coast time zone meetings, and by 2 p.m. every afternoon, I have some peace and quiet to knock out work that requires more focus, like writing or strategic planning.
To be honest, I expected to have a harder time making personal connections with people on my team and throughout the company. But video conferences go a long way, particularly if everyone in the meeting is alone or remote. Being on camera definitely keeps everyone focused and engaged, perhaps more so than when people are gathered in a conference room (and half the room is face down in their laptops responding to emails or watching cat videos!). I’m also the kind of manager who asks a lot of questions during those meetings, so tuning out would be tough!
How do you manage having so many workers separated from each other?
JF: A majority of my team is based in Indianapolis, where our headquarters are, so they get to see one another pretty regularly (or as regularly as they go into the office). For those of us in other parts of the country, we often travel to the conferences and roadshows Appirio attends or puts on. So we see each other quite a bit in a variety of locations.
We’re pretty good at working remotely on most projects. But there’s definitely something to be said for the time we spend face to face. It’s great for team building, obviously. But for people in creative roles like ours, time spent physically together can be productive for brainstorming and crafting our ideas.
How do you still maintain a “team feel” within your group?
JF: I have weekly one-on-ones with each member of the team, and we also have group meetings for those in the content and customer marketing teams. They give us a good opportunity to catch up, and see not only what’s going well, but also where we need help.
People bond as a team when they share experiences — both the good and the challenging. So the time spent together traveling for events builds really deep relationships among the team. That lasts for quite a while, but as a manager, it’s my job to read the virtual room and facilitate people laughing, venting, and sharing.
What are your general thoughts on G Suite when it comes to managing a team? Do you think it’s efficient?
JF: For the content creators on my team, G Suite is critical. I’d say if you look at the laptops of everyone on the team, you’d see browsers with at least 20 tabs open. Over half of those would be Google Docs, Presentations, and Sheets. I just counted mine up — seventeen open tabs, and a full thirteen of them are G Suite tools!
I’ve lived in Google Docs for years and don’t think I could go back to passing around and reconciling Word Documents. The quality of our work would suffer and it would take longer to get anything done!
Today’s workers expect flexibility in their daily routine. They want to do work when they want, from where is most convenient. Working with a virtual team can create a unique learning curve for even the most experienced manager, but the positives greatly outweigh the risks. If you are considering transferring some of your team’s work to the virtual world, a collaborative platform like G Suite will be a strong starting point. The future of work has arrived, are you ready?
Appirio strives to provide a quality Worker Experience through the implementation of our Virtuous Cycle methodology. Do you want to see what Appirio can do to help increase your worker productivity? Sign up for a Virtuous Cycle Diagnostic today.