With the increase of BYOD, unified communications and video conferencing technologies, many more employees are choosing to work from home to accommodate their schedule or expand their job possibilities. Similarly, organizations are allowing more employees the flexibility to work from home to attract and retain top employees across the country. Unified communications tools have allowed organizations to expand their talent pool to the best and brightest around the world; rather than their city.

However, the prevalence of remote work teams has led to new challenges for managers who are now tasked with leading these virtual teams. While some remote teams provide stellar results; many fail to reach their full potential and some fail to even complete their assigned tasks. This leaves many managers asking the question, what makes the difference between success and failure? How can managers enhance the probability of a successful virtual work team?

In a MIT Sloan Management Review article, How to Manage Virtual Teams, Frank Siebdrat, Martin Hoegl and Holger Ernst assert that there a few key aspects for managers to focus on when building a virtual team. By carefully selecting team members and developing a global culture, managers can enhance the likelihood of success.

For example, when selecting remote team members, it is important to not only consider abilities and expertise but social skills as well. In order for virtual teams to be successful “members must first and foremost be able to establish a basis for the effective exchange of their varying capabilities” the authors state. Selecting employees who demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence and the ability to work together with others is critical for success. Self-important or headstrong individuals can have the opposite effect on a virtual team.

In addition to social skills, team members must have self-leadership skills. Essentially, team members need to be more “self-sufficient in how they manage their own work because the team leader is less in a position to help.” Therefore, managers need to look for independent and motivated individuals who constantly push boundaries and look for new tasks to complete. Individuals who sit around and wait for someone to tell them what to do will have a difficult time succeeding in a virtual team environment.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of informal interactions and face-to-face communication. Informal interactions, such as happy hour, help develop relationships.  In addition to developing a sense of trust, team members get to know each other on a personal level. Since a traditional happy hour is likely out of the question; managers can put together a virtual social event, such as a virtual happy hour over video. Team members can bring their own glass of wine or beer and informally chat with one another. While it won’t be the exact same as a traditional happy hour, it can still help build camaraderie and team spirit.

Unified communications and visual collaboration solutions have made it easier than ever to work from home.  Remote employees can connect with their boss, collaborate and brainstorm with peers, and drive innovation from the comfort of their couch. However, a recent Forbes article raised and important question.

Can working at home hurt your career?

It’s a possibility, according to a recent issue of MIT Sloan Management Review which notes that remote employees may receive lower performance reviews, smaller raises and fewer promotions than colleagues who go to the office each day; even if they work just as hard, if not harder.  

This is a result of what Kimberly Elsbach and Daniel Cable call “passive face time” or, simply being observed at work. It doesn’t matter what task an employee is completing, he could be writing an email to his wife or friend, and still get credit for being present in the office. What’s more important for career success though is the “extracurricular face time” which involves being seen at work outside of normal business hours or going above and beyond expectations. 

Even though remote workers typically log hours of “extracurricular time” it can go unnoticed by supervisors or peers.  Additionally, remote workers miss the crucial “water cooler chat” bonding time with the management team and other colleagues. Employees in the office are able to say hello and discuss weekend plans with upper management when passing them in the hall while remote employees rarely come in contact them.

So, how can remote employees overcome these barriers?

Elsbach and Cable suggest being immediately available at home, getting peers to talk you up and regular status reports.  However, UC and video solutions can significantly enable and enhance remote employees’ abilities for “virtual” face time. Instead of making regular phone calls and email reports, use instant messaging for quick updates and video calls for more lengthy status updates. 

Instant messaging allows for real-time, casual interactions that show an employee is hard at work.  However, remote workers must be cognizant of presence information that is available on these applications. Frequent or long periods of an idle status could give the impression that you are not around.  If you need to step away from your computer for lunch, a meeting, or any other reason make sure to change your status to “out to lunch,” “in a meeting” or “busy.”

Use video whenever possible to establish face time with managers and colleagues. Video helps build a relationship as face-to-face communication helps establish trust and can increase the likelihood of others putting in a good word to the management team.  

To help achieve extracurricular time, try emailing your boss early in the morning or late in the day noting that you have a few things to discuss when she arrives in the office.  Just make sure you are available when she is ready to touch base.  

Remote employees certainly have their work cut out for them; but, with a conscious effort they can overcome potential barriers that could affect their career.  While they may have to work a little harder to get recognition; the rest of us have to work a little harder getting ready and commuting into the office so it evens out!