How Frontline Managers Should Lead Distributed Teams Everywhere

Whether fully remote or hybrid, global workforces have accustomed themselves to this distributed structure. Way back in 2013, SHRM predicted that virtual global teams would become a trend in the next 5 years. 

Fast forward to the end of the Year 2021, well-known companies are implementing — or intend to implement — virtual workforce models. For example, tech giant Apple already had plans on having employees report to the office thrice a week.

Many companies have followed suit after high-profile ones began to execute hybrid virtual workforces, but just because it has become more widespread doesn’t mean it doesn’t require careful strategy. 

Managing dispersed team members is nothing short of complex and can often leave business leaders confused on where to start. Robin, a workplace analytics company, suggests companies start by defining where its workforce is through these categories:

  • Remote teams (permanently working virtually)
  • Virtual-local (working virtually but in close proximity to offices)
  • Virtual-distant (working virtually and only are required to report to the office in special circumstances such as onboarding)
  • Hybrid-flex (mix of onsite and remote work)

Next, companies should determine the type of work a team does, the team’s lifespan, and where team members are to report. The workplace analytics company shares the following terms so businesses can define the aforementioned subjects.

Leadership team. This type of team comprises top-level executives who collaborate in making strategic business decisions. An example of this is the Chief Operations Officers and his direct downline of department heads. 

Functional team. Teams belonging to this category are commonly known as departments where employees possessing different responsibilities and who report to one manager are clustered together in one group. An example of this is Research and Development teams. Reporting to the research manager, teams can comprise quality assurance analysts, statisticians, and research specialists.

Cross-functional team. Employees coming from different departments to conduct multi-disciplinary projects can be categorized under a cross-functional team. In such cases, each employee is still required to report to their direct supervisors while reporting to the project manager simultaneously. For example, Sales and Marketing, HR, and IT departments are tasked to create a better performance appraisal system of sales agents through the use of state-of-the-art technology. This entails employees from each department collaborating on this type of project.

No cookie-cutter method in managing distributed teams

There are far too many variables to consider a one-size-fits-all approach to managing a hybrid workforce. Will it call for more trial-and-errors? Perhaps, but you can reduce the number of trials by executing strategies based on intellectual inferences. 

One aspect businesses can investigate is workplace design. Though numerous articles highlight the workforce’s desire to keep virtual workspace setup in the future, it shouldn’t be considered the tell-all sentiment for all groups. 

On the other spectrum, workers are excited to return to the office. A OnePoll survey of 1000 American workers demonstrates that 9 out of 10 are looking forward to office life. This signals decision-makers to revisit office designs. Azeus, an IT services provider, underscores that office design should encompass these characteristics: flexible, inclusive, collaborative, secure, and managed.

Moving to an aspect involving more of the human touch is connection. There is no use arguing that employees have been the most affected by workplace disruptions. With mental health well-being, employee experience, and employee engagement, the buzzwords around the business realm, one can hypothesize that the current work arrangements impact its employees significantly.

According to BenefitsPRO, people who are working virtually full-time or part-time are losing human connection. This is a legitimate problem since a sizable percentage of the American workforce consider flexible work arrangements as part of their job selection criteria. 

Virtual burnout

Screen time all over the globe is at its highest levels. It’s no wonder why HR and global mobility professionals encounter an increased frequency of employee complaints about virtual burnout. Dr. Bob Nelson, president of Nelson Motivation Inc, understands that these patterns are inevitable, so he recommends people managers make creative avenues for employees to reduce burnout instead of relying on mental health coverage from health plans to intervene on these employee issues. 

He suggests getting creative and fun with team Happy Hours. Beyond the typical group setting where sharing of challenges and wins on a weekly basis occurs, teams can opt to spice things up. Dr. Nelson recommends having a home tour similar to MTV Cribs, but make sure employees keep personal things private. He even encourages having pet introductions. Getting creative and searching for relatable subjects to discuss outside of work can alleviate virtual exhaustion. And who knows? Happy Hours might be something employees can look forward to spending their screen times on.