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Barbara Larson, Executive Professor of Management at Northeastern’s D’Amore-Mckim School of Business, is an expert in remote work. We spoke with the researcher on how managers can best lead solid collaboration in virtual or remote teams.
Research shows that when there is training given around virtual work, it tends to focus on technology and security policies around technology, and very little attention is given to the social, psychological and collaborative aspects of virtual work.
It is therefore important that when we talk about remote work, we consider the pain points that emerge consistently. Here are some to be aware of:
The sharing of information in an office setting is often unspoken or implicit. When someone is working remote, a lot of that is not visible at all. There are two approaches to this: One is to actually bring remote workers into the office for a period of time so they can get a feel for the dynamics and the culture of the workplace. Another approach is documenting absolutely everything, including social norms, in a manual for flexible employees. This outlines the nuances of the company that would otherwise be missed by remote workers.
If this goes well, a lot of the other things tend to fall in place. In terms of coordination and collaboration, this is the one place where it’s not only important to have the appropriate technology but to effectively mandate the use of that technology. Make sure rich video communication, as well as a quick, easy-access chat, is made accessible and mobile-enabled, and users are trained in the software.
Having a range of communication technology options is important, but it’s also important for management to set very clear norms about which technology should be used when. This is particularly important if you have a virtual or distributed team. If you don’t set rules and standards in terms of communication, remote workers can end up feeling very isolated. If you as a manager mandate how your team communicates, then everybody is on equal footing, receiving the same information in the same way.
If you don’t set rules and standards in terms of communication, remote workers can end up feeling very isolated
People who are remote, whether they’re working from home or whether they’re part of a global virtual team, have a tendency to feel isolated socially. This can manifest itself initially as loneliness, but it can go further to have more destructive effects, such as a loss of a sense of identification with the organization. It’s important managers initiate social activities for dispersed teams. Finding ways to establish social interaction among people who are geographically distributed is something that is often under-invested in.