Over the past few weeks, many organisations have now found themselves operating virtually for the first time. Some are also discovering issues that were actually already present within their businesses.
Misunderstandings arise related to workflows, roles and responsibilities. You can’t ‘shoulder-tap’ your colleague to find out and this can lead to a lack of commitment and accountability, resulting in low performance as teams gather and get to grips with their ‘new normal.’
Once the tools and rituals have been decided and executed, what then? Well, the area of focus you should be working towards is improving remote performance.
With that in mind, what can you do to increase performance in the distributed work environment? This article will give you the most important tips.
1. Set clear goals and expectations for your team, explain both the why and the what
A virtual team needs a strong purpose and a shared understanding. Without common ground, there will be a lack of focus. A purpose and shared expectations are the most valuable tool for driving ambiguity out of the virtual team and getting team members to think of team goals ahead of personal goals.
Don’t assume that your people understand the big picture.
Leaders need to explain both the Why and the What, so that members stay focused on their team’s goals and the connection to the larger business objectives.
A shared understanding means that all team members are aware of the team’s capacities and objectives, the expertise offered by each person, and how they will interact to achieve the ultimate goal.
In a virtual team, everybody is more working in their own context, but a shared context is important to understand each other.
2. Define clear roles, up-level the work: grant authority to work autonomously
After you have defined clear goals and business results, everybody in the team should have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities. That is important for delegating tasks in the distributed environment properly because you will be able to up-level and critique the work completed.
Distributed teams are more efficient if they manage their work by the completion of deliverables, not by tasks. Your employees will take over more responsibility and you will move out of the poor performing management style of micromanagement.
Each team member can work when they are the most productive and that alone will increase performance tremendously. Focus on outcome and results and don’t track the time schedule. Communicate the desired result and success criteria of the work: to take a task over, the employee must have a clear understanding of what is expected. Further, recognise the right person for the work. Who has the right skills to do the work? How might this task help them develop?
Granting authority means to work autonomously: Employees must be given the authority to plan their work, solve problems and make relevant decisions
3. Identify the critical measurements and make transparent how performance is measured, always focusing on the outcome, not the presence
Identify focus time for deep work and overlap time to discuss problems, ideas and share knowledge. You should be clear which documentation processes you will need. The less overlap time and the more asynchronous work you have, the more effort and internal costs for documentation and for coordination can arise regarding the handover of projects, milestones and results.
People are most productive when they can work asynchronously and focus in on their work without distractions. That’s why you need to have a good balance of asynchronous and synchronous communication, balancing out reducing internal workflow costs and increasing productivity.
4. Communicate with a clear intention verbally and in writing
Good communication consists of 5 C’s:
- clear of your message
- concise to the point
- correct and readable
- coherent with a focus to the main topic
- courteous with respect and honesty.
Virtual collaboration consists of more asynchronous communication. Written communication thus forms the basis for the exchange of information among each other. With text messages, it is much more difficult to express emotions and a clear intention. It often happens that the expectations in a message get interpreted wrongly or negatively. Then misunderstandings arise. Requirements are unclear, information is not or incorrectly passed on or conflicts arise. Furthermore, the “free rider” problem regularly occurs in virtual teams — “someone else does it, nobody feels addressed”.
Also know the concept of media richness about “poor” and “rich” media. For tasks of low complexity use “poor” media (e.g. e-mail), for complex tasks use “rich” media (e.g. video conferencing). Integrate the right media into the communication strategy.
5. Adopt and use collaboration tools properly
Have an organised and planned adoption process for collaboration tools where your team understands the usage. Don’t just introduce tools. People won’t accept and use them. Support your team even if the tools are intuitive and also have guidelines on how to use which tool for which collaboration scenario.
People often think the more tools they have, the more productive they get. That’s rarely the case because remote performance isn’t about the tools. It’s always about processes and workflows. Improve by matching and using the right tools, not more tools. You should also have one single point of truth and one access to your company knowledge and digital workplace.
6. Recognise people and good work and reward
Employees should always know what rewards are based on and that the rewards are connected to the task they should accomplish. Follow the formula: effort → performance → reward. Therefore clear goals and an understanding of what needs to be accomplished are vitally important.
In most organisations, recognition and financial reward go one for the other. This approach misses the point of recognition though. People are motivated by more than money. Know how to reward people properly and find opportunities to recognise good work, to praise people in daily business activities and don’t always wait for the task to be accomplished first. Also, ensure a constant feedback mechanism is employed that works in the virtual environment.
7. Build a strong team spirit, know trust builders and avoid trust destroyers
Trust is everything for best performance. You can have great processes and operations in place, but without trust people won’t be motivated and committed.
First, people need the feeling that they remain connected. This requires more effort from the leadership side. As a leader, put the concept of “managing by walking around” in the virtual context by regular drop-ins and check-ins. Take time to call and connect with everybody on the team.
Second, be aware of trust builders and trust destroyer. As a virtual team leader, you should start recognising them. The most important trust builder is increasing the level of reliability and likeability: Reliability regarding tasks and communication patterns.
Allow informal communication besides operational information sharing. People build trusted work relationships and are motivated to share knowledge when they get to know each other personally and find common ground. Your team should have the time to connect with each other and be encouraged to find possibilities for informal communication.
A rapidly performing team is a winning team
People in distributed teams are more flexible. However, this new flexibility will only work when you have more structure, strict processes and guidelines in place.
In this article, we showed you why and what you can do to improve your distributed operations. Teams need very concrete definitions: Who they are, what they need to do, what responsibility everyone has, and what support they will have to do it. Therefore, you need the right framework to increase performance in your distributed environment.