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Leading a virtual team

Leading a virtual team brings with it many challenges. However, they’re challenges that we all need to learn to overcome in today’s technology driven world.

April 7, 2020

A person in the background leading a virtual team traces an overlay of a Gantt chart with his finger

Working virtually isn't just about someone working from home, the term can be applied to managing teams spread across different offices in different locations. It's important your people feel engaged, connected and part of a great team with a passion and commitment for the company culture. This is critical for both personal and professional development, team effectiveness and overall success.

So, what are the best ways to lead and manage a disparate workforce whether they are in an office environment or working from home?

How can you create a strong team ethos, provide leadership, drive the company culture from afar and create an environment where everyone feels included?

Regular communication is key

Your team members probably have a variety of roles and responsibilities with different schedules, commitments and deadlines. You therefore need to ensure you communicate regularly with each team member on a one-to-one basis as well as sharing information collectively as a team.

It's also important you encourage your team to check in and communicate regularly with each other.

Identify the common platforms you will use to communicate and ensure everyone knows how to use them. You then need to ensure you communicate through those channels on a regular basis as well as identifying what you will use each channel for and stick to this. Your people will then become familiar with the communication, frequency and channel.

Try to embed a routine as quickly as possible but also, if the routine, the technology or meeting frequency you've established is not working then bring your team together to identify the solution. Having your team involved will also help increase their engagement and buy-in.

Driving a strong company culture

Your company culture is your DNA and what you are known for both internally and externally. A stronger culture leads to greater overall business success. Everything you do as a business stems from your culture. How you create your strategy, priorities and all underlying programmes and tasks.

Key components to think about that come under the culture umbrella are personal and professional development, creating an inclusive and diverse working environment and promoting the benefits of embedding feedback within everyday operations.

A strong culture helps drives overall performance and productivity, so it should always be a key part of the interview process. Remember, it is easier to teach someone new skills than to try and align a new starter with your culture.

To continue to drive a strong culture, you need to regularly talk about the key components of your culture and the rituals that everyone in the team needs to demonstrate to truly embed the culture in your regular operating rhythm. This not only keeps it alive but by threading it through everyday tasks it becomes the norm for people. It should be seen as a key requirement for continued success.

Create schedules and routines

Create a schedule of regular meetings, collective team meetings, project updates and one-to-ones. Then identify the technology to be used for each type of meeting. Create the calendar invites and share the details.

Create an agenda for each meeting and share in advance. During meetings with more than two people, set the ground rules and give everyone the opportunity to participate. Set aside time for questions at the end and, if appropriate, incorporate the giving and receiving of feedback as the casual conversations by the desk or water cooler are no longer applicable in a virtual environment.

Remember, as the leader it is your job to communicate and build both relationships and rapport across your team. Always check in with people but beware that you don't micromanage. Keep the lines of communication open so if people have a question, they know how to contact you.

Use video technology

We all know the saying, ‘out of sight, out of mind'. It's therefore really important that you identity a video technology platform to use that all of your team have access to.

You then need to ensure you use it on a regular basis and you encourage your team members to do the same.

Being able to see people helps people to feel a connection and connections enable much stronger relationships to be built. Video technology is also very important for new people joining the team as it could be the first time, and in some cases depending on locations, the only time they actually see their colleagues.

Being able to actually see people gives you insight into how each person is feeling. You can see first-hand how people react to the conversation; you have eye contact, body language and facial gestures - great for generating humour in the right context! Overall, the use of video technology helps to build relationships, promotes teamwork and greater levels of interaction.

Focus on health and wellbeing

Health and wellbeing are key factors that help to drive business and are as equally important as delivering projects and managing the day-to-day operations. There are many components that can contribute to overall health and wellbeing, from flexible working, Employee Assistance Programmes to fitness memberships and healthcare schemes.

These go some way to increasing engagement and overall satisfaction, but it is also important to remember that driving an inclusive and diverse working environment aligned with a strong company culture are key components to helping people feel positive. Finally, when working in a virtual capacity, it is sometimes easy for people to feel guilty about working flexible - for example, they have no commute. This can lead to people working longer hours and not making the time to exercise or simply spend time with their family because they feel guilty. As a leader of a virtual team always be clear on the hours your team are working.