If there’s one positive that’s emerged from the pandemic it’s the wider acceptance of flexible working. Businesses have embraced remote workforces like never before. Geography is no longer a barrier to sourcing skills. Staff have greater control over when and how they work.
But managing a remote workforce and, perhaps more importantly, ensuring global virtual teams are engaged, presents a whole new challenge for HR teams.
So, what are the best ways to engage a global virtual team?
Keep a focus on employee well-being
When you have a workforce that is operating from home, you miss the opportunity to see staff on a daily basis and ask how they are. It’s a small gesture, but having that in-person conversation makes it easier to spot any red flags that someone may be struggling, stressed or feeling over-worked.
While virtual meetings provide an opportunity for team building and some element of personal connection with remote team members, it’s often hard to gauge how employees are really coping. It’s crucial that you spread the message that employee well-being is important to the business – no matter how someone is employed by the company.
Nurturing a company culture that encourages everyone to strike the right balance between their professional and personal lives and highlights that it’s ok to seek support will help engage a global virtual team on a long-term basis. Perhaps more importantly, though, it builds trust across the workforce that is crucial in the new, better, working environment we’re operating in today.
Get the ‘rhythm’ working
When you have virtual workers engaged across different time zones and operating in varying circumstances (particularly as country lockdowns continue to change), you have to find a ‘virtual’ rhythm.
A team working together in a physical location will gel and find a routine that works for them. Replicating this in a remote world will need some discipline and an element of regularity. Having a set schedule of meetings that are reoccurring can help develop a rhythm.
Where you have teams located in wide-ranging geographies, consider a rotation of meeting times to accommodate time zones and prevent impacting employees’ personal lives.
Make communicating easy
As we mentioned in our report on the global remote working transition earlier this year, communicating with teams doesn’t need to be difficult. In fact, it needs to be as simple as possible to keep global virtual teams engaged. Technology can be a hugely valuable tool to achieving this. At Guidant Global, for example, we used OpenBlend – a performance management software that connects the workforce, drives productivity and enables managers to engage with virtual employees – before the pandemic. And it’s certainly proven valuable as our global teams moved to complete remote working this year.
The key to making communicating easy, though, is to focus on what works best in each circumstance and for every individual. For some, visual communication works best, so opt for video calls. Others may prefer to rely more on virtual chat rooms and instant messaging. It’s also important to strike a balance of face-to-face communication and text discussions. Many virtual workers are already feeling ‘Zoom fatigue’ as conversations that could be handled over email are carried out via an unnecessary video call.
Replicate social environments online
Arguably one of the biggest benefits of having employees together physically in an office is that the environment is conducive to building relationships. Passing conversations in the hallway, while in the kitchen or over the desk helps to keep everyone engaged. And let’s not forget that sometimes the most valuable discussions and brainstorms are unplanned.
In an online environment, this can be replicated by virtual social events or teambuilding exercises. Having a dedicated platform for social interactions – a WhatsApp or private social network group, for example – can help bring remote workers together across the globe.
Invest in the right technology
Having the right technology in place to equip remote employees with the tools they need to collaborate is certainly an important part of the move to continued virtual working.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns led to more businesses investing in the tech tools needed for a virtual workforce. But as we face extended and even permanent remote working, ensuring any software is really working for your virtual workers is crucial. And with increasingly sophisticated technology being developed, regular reviews of the tools you’re using to keep virtual workers connected and engaged will help ensure the business is investing in the right tech.
Speaking to the team and engaging with any vendors or suppliers can often be a great starting point to discover which tools will work best for you – especially if they have experience engaging a global virtual team themselves.
Honesty and transparency is key
Honesty and transparency is something we’ve mentioned before, and when it comes to engaging global remote teams it is highly important. Complete visibility of your remote workers, where they’re engaged and how will help you ensure every member of the team is managed efficiently and interacts with the wider team.
Where you’re using suppliers to source contingent workers, ensuring they are correctly onboarded and have access to the same platforms to communicate with wider global teams will better support the transition into the business. But it requires complete oversight of what resources are being used and where.
Managing a remote global team certainly presents a challenge, but when done well, the benefits to a business can be significant. By following the above steps, HR teams can drive engagement across the workforce, whether individuals are working remotely or not.