Making a long-distance relationship work: When feds go remote
Leading virtual teams is similar to a long-distance relationship--it can be difficult, but entirely possible if you're committed to making things work.
Shortly after my wife and I began dating, she moved to Germany for a year. She promised that her move had nothing to do with me, and we kept the relationship alive through constant communication--phone calls, letters (yes, this was before the widespread use of email) and the occasional visit.
Frankly, the same rules apply to leading your employees who work remotely--whether they're located in the same city as you or across the country. And with last week's passage of the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act, you will need to be prepared to lead your virtual teams effectively.
Making a successful long-distance relationship work begins with collaboration and communication between you and your employees. However, there are many additional elements needed to make it a success.
Here are my four key ingredients for leading a virtual workforce, based on my own experience:
• Establish clear expectations. Because we were in two different time zones, we set aside regular days twice a week when we would talk on the phone. While flexibility is part of the advantage of telecommuting, I suggest that you set a consistent schedule for check-ins. This way you and your employees can have regular discussions about their work and performance standards.
• Communicate constantly. Technology has come a long way since my wife and dated long-distance. Today, federal agencies have leveraged technology that enables their staff to stay in touch as effectively as if they were in the office. From chat rooms and instant messaging to document-sharing email and video teleconferences or even Skype, these communication tools can help keep your communication flowing with your virtual employees. They can also help develop the bonds between you and your team that you would naturally develop with those sitting down the hall from you.
• Don't forget the small talk.When separated by distance, it's even more important to make small talk about the little things in life to build rapport. Don't forget to establish a sort of virtual water cooler for your folks by talking with them about their lives, the big game or whatever you can find to make a personal connection. Consider having your team virtually share their favorite recipes or books each week to help them stay connected while telecommuting.
• Find time for getting together in person. During the year my wife was in Germany, I planned a trip to visit during a break in her schedule. For many federal employees, the lack of face-to-face contact with their managers when teleworking can make them uneasy. So as a federal manager, it's important that you look for opportunities to make face-to-face connections. These can include regional meetings, professional conferences or quarterly in-person check-ins.
Federal managers, what are your key ingredients to managing a virtual workforce? And federal employees, how do you think federal managers can most effectively lead virtual teams?
Please send me your ideas by posting your comments online or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And please check back on Wednesday, when I speak with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco.
November 22, 2010; 12:01 AM ET |
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