Imagine being tucked away in your favorite corner at home in your comfiest clothes with no one watching over your shoulder or disrupting your workflow. Working from home is a dream for many people.

This dream is coming true with the increasing flexibility of jobs and open startup cultures nowadays. But only for individuals. For teams, working remotely can be a nightmare. The biggest challenge is the lack of face-to-face interaction. It is tough to complete shared tasks with a deadline looming over your head if you can’t get your team members to reply to a simple message about promised deliverables.

With uncertainty staring us in the face over the coronavirus pandemic, more and more office teams are working remotely today. But with no defined rules to go by, managing teams remotely is a greater challenge than ever before. American psychologist Bruce Tuckman’s model to build a highly productive team is a useful benchmark to follow.

According to Tuckman’s model, even the best teams go through four stages: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Read on to find out more about them, and how to manage a team virtually in each stage.

The Forming Stage

A team is very curious, cooperative and courteous in the forming stage when a team is newly created. Virtual teams also go through the same process as people learn each other’s preferences while working remotely. This is a time when things are ambiguous and it’s important to clearly define the team’s goals and everyone’s individual roles.

So what can you do if you have to manage a virtual team in its forming stage?

1. Ask questions to understand your role

2. Invest in getting to know your team and their virtual communication preference and work hours

3. Avoid over-committing to tasks

The Storming Stage

After this, teams get to the storming stage. As the name suggests, conflict between members emerges over things like deliverables, deadlines or performance evaluation. Members then tend to form smaller sub-groups based on their work styles. While this stage might be tough, it’s important to remember it’s only a phase and is necessary for collaborative evolution.

In this stage, it’s advisable to take the following steps:

1. Listen to others

2. Trust your colleagues

3. Stay confident

The Norming Stage

After this comes the norming stage in which team members begin to address issues and take a problem-solving approach. This is especially critical in a virtual environment because it brings the unique challenge of a completely new set of rules and norms—like what are the working hours? What is the primary method of communication?

So what do you do in this stage? Follow the steps below.

1. Help to develop team processes

2. Follow processes and norms

3. Assess your workload and prioritize tasks

The Performing Stage

Finally, there’s the performing stage. Of course, every team wishes to get there as quickly as possible because it’s marked by high productivity and there is more autonomy. Roles and responsibilities are clear, and people learn to adapt to one another’s styles of working.

While this seems like the ideal stage, you can do a few things to make it even better:

1. Balance work with play

2. Start coaching junior members

3. Ask for feedback and act on it

It might seem daunting to get to the performing stage, especially if you are managing a team virtually, but don’t worry. Just allow some time and effort to go through the stages, find out people’s virtual work preferences, build some mutually agreeable rules and practices, and respect everyone’s time to reach this stage of high productivity. Soon your virtual team will be working as smoothly as a real-world team.

Vrinda Prahladka is Specialist, Curriculum at Harappa Education.

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