Advice

How to successfully manage virtual teams in the catering industry

Today the catering industry employs over 2.3 million people, and this figure is predicted to rise by 2.5% by the end of 2019, according to data from IBISWorld.

What’s more, by 2020 half of the UK workforce will work remotely according to estimates. In the catering industry this includes roles such as trade sales people who cover wide geographic areas, plus chefs, service and bar staff who work at various events from festivals to concerts.

But as this trend grows, research shows that an alarming two out of every three experienced managers fail at their first attempt to run a virtual team. So how can you successfully manage virtual teams in the catering industry?

Managing virtual teams requires a different approach

Having studied the factors that ensure virtual teams succeed or fail for the past 16 years, I believe that its vital that managers don’t adopt face-to-face management practices with virtual teams. Managers need to consider what’s different and how they can ensure these elements are approached differently. Here’s a breakdown of four key issues and what you can do to successfully manage virtual teams.

Lack of understanding

No two teams are the same. Virtual catering teams are composed of people who work together but are based in different locations. Virtual teammates are also separated by other factors such as the culture, religion and the social norms of the places they’re based.

Think about the unique situation of each team member and learn about how each person’s situation is different. For example, service staff in London may need to take a different approach to customer etiquette to those based in places like Scotland or Wales, where some small talk during service is more likely to be expected from customers.

If you work for an international company, talk to your human resources teams in the countries your virtual team members are based in to learn the relevant laws, policies, or standards in those countries.

A shared notebook on a cloud platform allows you to organise and save this information, and easily share it with teammates for quick reference, no matter where they are based.

Poor communication

Communication becomes even more important when you’re managing virtual teams, because clarity is everything. Remote workers, especially those like staff who work on pop-up food stalls and mobile juice or coffee bars, can’t always quickly ask a colleague in the same place as them to explain something they don’t understand.

And misunderstandings are five times as likely to happen when we move away from face-to-face conversations. That’s because a lot of human communication is nonverbal and relies on individuals interpreting each other’s body language.

Emails are the most prone to error because both parts of the conversation aren’t happening at the same time, so we don’t have the opportunity to instantly explain or correct ourselves. Take care with all your communications, especially if your teammates can’t see your face and body language, and encourage all teammates to ask a question if something isn’t clear to them.

Good communication lets your team share best practice and lessons-learned, which is particularly relevant in catering where appearances are hugely important. So a shared online workspace can let your team share images and details about how to present food, or table layouts, for example.

Using the wrong channels

You and your team need to choose the right communication channel for the right situation. But virtual teams don’t always pick the best channel for the communication, which can create a breakdown in trust.

Therefore, as a team you should agree which communications should happen, via which channel. This will help to build cooperation, meet deadlines, and create the trust that’s vital for your catering organisation to succeed.

Using a cloud platform with notebooks to keep all the information you need for on-boarding and training virtual teammates in one place, rather than emailing information in a fragmented way. This is particularly handy for large hotel, restaurant or pub and bar chains, where it’s vital to maintain consistent brand standards and customer experiences.

Also, every communication should be as clear as glass about WHO, does WHAT, by WHEN. When you have this clarity sharing team information and meeting commitments will be much simpler and easier.

Hiring the wrong people

Not everyone is suited to working remotely and virtual team members like food and beverage trade sales people need precise qualities and skills, not just the core skills and experience for their role. These skills include: self-management skills (good time management, good energy management); above-average self-motivation; plus super-strong written and oral communication skills, including excellent listening skills.

Therefore, recruiting a virtual team requires a different approach to recruiting a team that you will manage face-to-face, in order to avoid hiring the wrong people. Structure your interviewing process differently and start by checking for verbal articulation skills and listening skills. Start with a 30-minute phone call to check how articulate your candidate is. In the same phone-based interview, ask the candidate to respond to two simple questions via email.

Tell the candidate to repeat the questions in their email reply and answer them with no more than four to five sentences. This exercise is less about the candidate’s answers and more about how good their listening skills are. If your candidate can’t listen carefully during the job interview, the same thing is likely to happen once that person becomes part of a virtual team.  

Ultimately, communication is the food of love for successfully managing virtual teams in the catering industry. Play on and take the right management approach to help your team flourish.


By Beat Bühlmann, general manager for EMEA at note taking app and software, Evernote

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