Leading a team remotely can feel like a challenge, especially when you’re used to face-to-face interaction. There are, however, many ways to keep your team engaged and productive while sitting in different locations. Here are 10 Best Practices for Effectively Leading Virtual Teams.
Let’s face it, COVID-19’s rapid spread across the globe is forcing a lot of companies to go remote — whether they are ready for it or not. For some, digitalization has been on the agenda for months (or years). For others, it was never in the plans.
Regardless of the reasons for now being the leader of a virtual team, there are certain skills you can implement right away to ensure your team feels supported, productive, and effective while working together. And not to mention, to help your teams keep their sanity when working in isolation.
After 10 years of working with remote teams, and many years of training leaders across the globe in how to be a great leader, even from a distance, I am sharing my accumulated wisdom on how to be an effective virtual leader.
Add these 10 Tips for Effectively Leading a Virtual Team to your leadership repertoire and empower your teams to continue performing together, while physically spread apart.
1. Set “Ground Rules”
Give every member of the team a chance to speak up and ask for what they need from others to be able to do their work effectively, and allow the team to co-create the rules of engagement they will follow. This ensures everyone has the chance to be heard and to set some boundaries for what is okay and not okay in remote work.
Ask questions like, “What do you need from the team to be able to get your work done?” “What do you need from me as a leader?” “What is not okay for you in this work environment?” etc. Give everyone the chance to contribute to this discussion.
This will help you build the trust of the team as well as a sense of team spirit.
2. Agree on Communication Tools
Communication in any team is critical. And if you are used to sitting side-by-side you might suddenly feel yourself at a loss for how to talk to your team. Weekly meetings, or email might not cut it in the age of remote work. And with such a plethora of tools and apps available to support your remote team communication it can also be overwhelming to choose the ones that work best for you.
As the leader, you hold a unique responsibility to ensure the team has easy communication channels and that work doesn’t stop when everyone leaves the physical office. Check out tools such as Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Asana, Google Drive, etc to find what can best support your team’s work.
Then make sure everyone is aligned on which tool to use for which type of communication. This will save you countless hours of miscommunication and frustration.
3. Create Space for Open Communication
Your team needs a way to share what they are experiencing and to feel like they are still working together collaboratively. Create a space for them to share their experiences or feelings with the team (or even just with you). This builds a shared experience of feeling close and supported within the team so that no one feels alone, and they feel they are truly working together towards a common goal.
This can be in the form of a special channel within Slack dedicated to chat, or a daily check-in with the team first thing in the morning, or even a check-out at the end of the day.
4. Create Problem Escalation Channels
Let your team know how they can escalate challenges or problems they are facing within their work. Perhaps it is within a critical client project, or with poor communication from another team member. Whatever the challenge they may face, give then a clear indication of how to escalate so they know they can get your attention when they need it.
This speeds up the problem-solving process and doesn’t leave any one team member to try and “figure it out” on their own.
5. Give (and Be Open to) Feedback
Many challenges that teams face can be resolved through timely and honest feedback, delivered with compassion. This, of course, goes for face-to-face teams as well. Giving feedback is a skill that is honed over time, how to deliver honest feedback, with clearly observable behaviors that do not place judgment on the individual, but rather call into question what might have been going on at a particular moment in time.
While this is a skill that can be improved with training, set some standards within your team for how you will give and receive feedback. Ensure that people feel free to share what is on their mind (open communication should be the rule, withholding or building resentment should be avoided at all costs!) Encourage open feedback, and be open to receive it as well.
6. Stay Curious (and Non-Judgmental)
As a general rule, assume that each member of your team is doing their best.
When you see lapses in performance or strange behavior, don’t jump to conclusions about what might be going on. The truth is, you don’t really know what is happening for that person behind-the-scenes.
Instead, get curious — ask questions, find out what might be happening in their life and open a dialogue about it. Making judgments about their behavior, which could very well be inaccurate, will only harm your relationship and damage your trust.
Let your team know what’s going on. Communicate more than you think you should. Be transparent, invite conversation and questions, and share with them relevant information in a timely manner. Your team will be grateful for the openness and you will skillfully avoid the rumor-mill from taking control of the conversation.
This is especially important during difficult times or a crisis situation — your team may need more reassurance , and will look to you for leadership.
8. Listen Actively
Listen to what your team is actually telling you, or each other. Listen for what is not being said. Ask clarifying questions when you are unclear or don’t understand something. Don’t just listen to give a response or plan out what you want to say next.
9. Have Regular Team Meetings — With Video
While it might not always be possible to gather your team together in the same physical location, you can certainly have them all in the same virtual room. Set times for checking in with each other (as mentioned earlier you could use the “Check In” and “Check Out” method at the beginning and end of each work day to see how everyone is doing).
Encourage video conferences as much as possible as this build the camaraderie and helps people to feel part of a greater whole, rather than isolated or alone in their workspace.
10. Keep Your “Door” Open
Your team might not be able to pop in your office when they need to speak with you — and a sudden virtual wall between you could make it difficult to get in touch when things aren’t going well on a project, or they are looking for support or direction.
Just as when you’re in the office, when working from home you should keep your virtual door open. Allow people to “knock” when they need support and know that they can reach you. This doesn’t mean you have to keep your video camera on from 9-to-5, (though this could actually be a great tool to promote open communication and team bonding), but your team should feel it is possible to have spontaneous dialogue with you when necessary.
Decide what this looks like for you (e.g. Open Office Hours from 2PM — 4PM every day, stay in a Zoom room for 4 hours a day for anyone who wants to pop in and have a chat, keep your Slack open all day (during working hours) so people can easily get in touch, etc). Be creative, find a rhythm that works for you, and then communicate it transparently to your team.
While you are not solely responsible for your team’s well-being, this is your opportunity to stand up and take leadership, to help your team feel confident that they can withstand challenging circumstances, and that even when working remotely they are valuable and valued members of the team.
If you’d like to share some tips of your own, please feel free to comment below.
Amanda Parker, Leadership Coach & Founder of The Courage Factory, works with leaders, like you, who want to hit the ground running so they can succeed in their new role.
Through coaching with Amanda, you will clarify your purpose & vision, and start to feel confident in your ability to inspire, engage, and lead others.
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