There is a common misconception (and even fear) that having a virtual team means that staff will not work. We often hear leaders say, I can’t supervise a virtual team because I can’t see them. But leadership is SO much more than physically walking around and seeing your team. We would argue that it is EASIER to manage a virtual team than an in-person team because there is only productivity, only activity and only numbers to go off of. There is far less “fluff” when you are working with a virtual team so when someone isn’t performing it is very evident.
So–fears aside–let’s get into some tips that we have implemented that have helped us lead highly effective virtual teams.
1. Get to know your employees right away via one-on-one virtual meetings. It helps you understand their interests, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
2. Define your core values and make sure they are integrated into every decision you make. Your team should also understand and abide by them. These core values should be evident in everything you do.
3. Know your team’s schedule. Differing time zones don’t have to be a cumbersome thing, it can actually be a huge benefit. It is helpful to pick a timezone (such as the time zone where your headquarters are located) that the company uses in communication and be consistent. Your team will learn quickly how to translate times into their own personal time zones when their tech doesn’t do it for them.
4. Teach your employees to be proactive in their communication. For example, if bad weather is in the forecast (such as a hurricane) that might cause an interruption in their ability to work, put it on them to communicate that to you. That way scheduling accommodations can be made if necessary.
5. Turn on the video when you are having a virtual meeting–as much as possible! This helps the team get to know each other better and helps form stronger connections.
6. Establish an “open door policy.” You think you can’t have an open door policy in a virtual setting–think again! In the virtual setting it may look a little different (for example there is no actual door) but essentially it is just being available to individuals on your team. Certainly there are times you might have to have a “closed door” but try to be available as much as possible.
7. Understand that life interruptions might happen from time to time and give employees grace. If a child runs in or if there is a commotion outside next to the employees window, etc. make sure the employee knows it is okay. Their workspace should be as distraction-free as possible but sometimes things can’t be avoided and they shouldn’t have to fear retribution for that.
8. Put the ownership of being distraction free on the employee. Your employees are adults and should be able to manage their distractions. They know what distractions will derail them and what they can work through. Allowing them to manage themselves in this way–usually is more effective then trying to do it for them. And if they can’t manage to hack it then that is when bigger conversations come into play.
9. Pay attention so that you can tell the difference between the employees who genuinely want to earn their keep and the employees looking to take advantage. In every office setting (virtual or brick and mortar) there will be the achievers and the slackers. So learn how to expertly identify the slackers in a virtual capacity. It doesn’t have to be hard. Look at productivity, listen to other employees’ concerns and pay attention to patterns.
10. Record virtual meetings for reference. It helps you be present in meetings and helps ensure that what you have communicated can be referenced and remembered.
These tips really just skim the surface of the knowledge that we have acquired over the years but we hope this helps our fellow business owners navigate managing a virtual team. If you have any tips you would like to add we would love to hear from you!