Tips for Leading Virtual Teams

More organizations are sending people home to work remotely. While that often brings some benefits to an employee’s experience, there is a growing double-bind for managers and executives who now need to lead remote teams. This is especially concerning for early-career managers recently promoted from individual contributors, and for executives who are accustomed to managing in-person, on-site teams. There is a set of pressures coming from the newly remote employees and an organization that still needs to produce results with a now-remote workforce. Combine those pressures with leaders who typically built their skillsets with an on-site team, and you have a recipe for frustration and inefficiency at a time when there is more than enough stress in our environment.

Here are some tips for being more effective with your virtual team:

1. Manage Outcomes, not Activity
Micromanaging just got a lot harder to do, and that’s a good thing. Use OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound), and other ways of tracking outcomes rather than time.  We’re happy to help you develop any of these.

2. Discuss the Default Outcomes as a Team
The Default Future is what is most likely to happen if nothing unexpected comes along. This is usually a range of outcomes that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. After discussing the default expectations, consider if that is good enough. Usually the answer is no. Then discuss what do you and your team want to create, even in the current context of things you can’t control. What outcomes are you willing to work to invent? The Invented Future is always better, and requires that you take different actions today than waiting for the Default Future to simple happen to you. If you would like to learn more about the role of the Invented Future during moments of transformation, here’s a blog for you.

3. Re-set Expectations…Together
Schedules have changed, responsibilities have changed, even how and when we shop for groceries has changed. Have individual conversations with your team members about their new schedule needs, work patterns, and work environment. Context is critical. For instance, you may have team members who have spouses who are nurses or physicians and you likely have team members with school age children who are home and need help navigating their new learning environment. Understanding and working with each of their situations is a critical conversation–now and long-term. We can no longer separate our personal lives from our work lives. We need to help our teams integrate their lives more effectively at this time more than ever before.

4. Partner for Accountability
When assigning tasks, partner with the performing party. Ask them:

  1. When they will be finished.
  2. What is the first sign that they are on-track or not.
  3. How you can help check-in on their progress after the first sign.
  4. How you can support them if they are on-track and if they are off-track.

Micromanagers keep all the responsibility with themselves.  In this scenario, all decisions rest with the responsible party, and all you are doing is checking-in as they have instructed you to do.  This is great management, as opposed to micromanagement.

5. Set the Communication Pecking Order
We have so many ways to connect (e.g., video, telephone, text, chat, email, etc.). Outline when to use which media so that everyone understands. Some default to texting, while others only use it for urgent messaging. Come to agreements on a pecking order. For example: Use video whenever you can, and phone when you can’t. If you have an urgent situation, then text. If it’s social, informative, reporting, or for the whole team, use chat. Use email for everything else.

6. Cameras On and Embrace the Distractions
Our new work norms include children interrupting, dogs barking, cats walking across the camera, and leaf blowers outside. Those used to be mortifying during conference calls. Today, they are just the reality of our situations. Lean into the disruption. Ask your team to introduce their kids, adjust the camera to show the dog. Laugh it off and carry on.

7. Ride the J-Curve for a Few Weeks
We are simply not as productive during transitions as we are in steady-state. When implementing new systems or processes, it takes three weeks to get back to baseline, then we see continued improvement. Give your team some time and space to get back to baseline and then improve.

8. Set Boundaries and Times Away
One risk of working-from-home is that the office is in the house. Burnout is more likely when there is no time away. Set hours when no response is needed until the next day. Be clear about regular work hours, taking break for mealtimes and breaks, practicing self care, and setting up family time so employees have space to attend to those needs.

If you’d like more help with any of this, let us know. We have a 90-minute live virtual course called “Leading Virtual Teams” that goes deeper on all of these topics. This course is designed to work at multiple levels to set up a successful work-from-remote situation for all parties involved – executives, managers, employees, colleagues, teams, families, and roommates.

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