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"Inconvenience Everybody Equally" and Other Management Tips

Global meetingsMuch has been written on how best to manage virtual teams, but my favorite tidbit is one I recently picked up from Harvard ManageMentor that suggests managers “inconvenience everybody equally.” What I love about this philosophy is that it's as effective as it is simple.

The issue plaguing June Delano, Partner, ClearLake Group (a management consulting firm), was that her team of 17 was spread out across 10 different countries and time zones. They had to meet at least every other week, but scheduling was tough. After a bit of trial and error, June implemented her “inconvenience everybody equally” rule. By rotating the time of the meeting, somebody was always up in the middle of the night and somebody was always in the middle of their workday. Everyone else fell at another point on that spectrum. “It meant that everybody got a chance to be drowsy and falling asleep and everybody got a chance to be wide awake and full of energy,” she said.

Virtual teams are ubiquitous and, because of their familiarity, we can easily forget how challenging it is to work with geographically diverse colleagues. A survey by the Remote Leadership Institute showed that 70 percent of managers at Fortune 100 companies have at least one remote team member. What’s more, virtual teams are increasingly far-flung, with team members in more countries than ever. It takes special skills to manage these global virtual interactions successfully. Here are three more tips to do just that:

Tip 1 – Take Conference Calls Solo

According to a CultureWizard survey of more than 1,300 workers in 80 countries, corporate teams are now almost entirely virtual, and 41 percent never meet in person. Fittingly, one of the biggest obstacles faced by remote teams is the inability to read non-verbal cues. This issue was cited by a whopping 94 percent of multinational employees in a recent Kenan-Flagler Business School survey.

While it’s impossible to bring all employees together for all meetings, it is possible to even the playing field. Delano came up with an unconventional and, as she put it, “hard to implement” concept. It goes like this: even if several workers are together in one location, everyone must be on the phone or video conference in separate workspaces. That might mean five employees sitting side-by-side in cubicles on the same conference call. The effect: eliminating offline conversations, gestures and body language that exclude remote workers. “Everybody needs to put their expression into their voice and the way they talk, rather than rely on facial expressions,” she said.

Tip 2 – Keep Everyone in the Loop

"There may be times when remote employees are not included in office meetings where decisions are made which impact them,” said Felicia Kohlenberger, Senior HR Director, North America, Glanbia Performance Nutrition. “An effective manager will recognize the need to communicate that information to every member of the team.”

In the absence of one-on-one interactions that occur in a traditional workplace, teams should look for ways to replicate that experience virtually. For example, virtual hangouts, “pen” pals and instant messaging services can help bridge the geographical divide.

Tip 3 – Take the Journey with your Team

Managing virtual teams is not innate. It’s learned. And what’s more, it’s practiced. Experts recommend assessing team progress over time and reviewing virtual team processes regularly to assess what things are working well and what might be improved. Perhaps most importantly, take the journey with your team. Everyone learns better together.

Designed to build skills with content that combines the latest in thinking and proven practices from Harvard Business Publishing’s world-class experts, Harvard ManageMentor meets the demands of today’s high-performing organizations and leaders with a rich variety of relevant, practical content including videos, articles, tips and tools on 44 topics. Available free to CGMA designation holders, this online learning and performance support resource serves up critical management skills on demand and is suitable for management accountants at all levels. Learn more.

Chrissy Jones, MBA, Manager--Communications and Member Engagement , Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

Virtual meetings courtesy of Shutterstock.

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