Seventy percent of professionals work remotely at least once per week. With so many people telecommuting, effectively leading virtual teams has never been more critical.
Now, we’re not talking about managing remote teams. Leading virtual teams requires much more than simply managing them. You have to be able to influence and motivate them from afar.
Do you have what it takes to manage and lead a non-traditional team?
What is a virtual team?
A virtual team is when employees telecommute from different locations. Virtual teams are not physically gathered in one area. Instead, they work, collaborate, and communicate in the cloud (aka online).
Your employees might work remotely, or virtually, all the time. Or, you may let employees work from home some days and require them to come into the office on other days.
Regardless of whether you have an exclusively-virtual team or semi-virtual team, you need to evolve your management style. The way you manage and lead remote employees is different than employees who work in the office.
Tips for leading virtual teams
When it comes to leading employees, there are tried and true leadership strategies that are effective. You just have to adapt that leadership approach when it comes to leading virtual teams.
As a recap, growing as a leader requires you to do the following:
- Encourage collaboration
- Listen to others
- Create new leaders
- Recognize talent
So, how can you exemplify these leadership characteristics when managing virtual teams? Check out these seven tips to get started.
1. Come up with a project management strategy
Small business project management is one of the keys to an effective workforce. If your workers aren’t able to successfully move a project down the pipeline, your business might miss deadlines or go over budget.
Managing projects is especially difficult when there are multiple people working on them. And what about when your employees are working from home?
Come up with a project management strategy for virtual team collaboration. Lead your team to help them:
- Identify who is handling what part of the project
- What to do when they finish their portion of the project
- Where to access project information
- Which project management tools to use (e.g., shared spreadsheets)
Consider writing out all of the above information and putting it in a shared space that employees can quickly access.
Because the majority of the work takes place online amongst a virtual team, make sure everyone is on the same page from the start. Make yourself available to employees or teams who have questions.
2. Use tools that encourage communication
A remote employee doesn’t have the luxury of popping over to a co-worker’s desk if they have a question. And, your virtual team lacks the environment that innately nurtures team building and builds friendships.
So, what can you do? How can you provide your virtual team with the ability to virtually head over to a co-worker’s desk or meet at the water cooler?
When it comes to leading virtual teams, you need to equip them with the necessary tools that encourage communication.
You should implement:
- Chat tools (e.g., Slack)
- Video tools (e.g., Skype)
- Collaboration tools (e.g., Google Spreadsheets)
Chat tools are much easier for employees to get in touch with their co-workers than having to email or call them. And, you can set up groups to streamline idea-sharing.
Some virtual employers use video tools to host virtual meetings, throw virtual company parties, or hang around the virtual water cooler.
Rather than attaching PDFs or documents to emails, collaboration tools let all of your employees work directly in one main resource. Employees can work synchronously, leave comments for one another, and more.
3. Check-in, but don’t micromanage
Only one in five employees feel their performance is managed in a motivating way. Is the way you check-in with your workers toxic?
Micromanaging is arguably the least motivational thing you can do for your employees.
Although you may want to give your input to telecommuting employees, you also need to give them freedom. Freedom is where innovation starts. And, it’s how mutual respect forms.
To avoid employee frustration and disengagement, learn how to manage virtual teams in a non-toxic way. Check-in with employees to find out what they’re doing, but don’t micromanage them.
One way you can check-in without micromanaging is by having short standups at the start of each day. That way, you can ask employees what they’re doing and give tips on how to do it.
Consider having a virtual standup through video. Ask each employee to share their goals for the day and touch base to see whether they reached the previous day’s goals. Find out what obstacles stood in their way and offer guidance as needed.
4. Ask for employee feedback
What do your employees need more of? Less of? What are their concerns or frustrations? Without a physical office that employees can walk in and out of, they might not communicate things with you.
Getting employee feedback is relatively easy to do in a physical office setting. You can conduct regular performance reviews, host meetings, keep your office door open, or keep a suggestion box out in the open.
Asking for employee feedback is just as easy when you’re leading a virtual team. Consider hosting virtual meetings, distributing online surveys, and conducting online performance reviews.
If your team is only semi-virtual, you can host in-person performance reviews by specifying the date. Or, if your team is entirely virtual, you can conduct reviews over video chat.
It doesn’t matter how you do it, but gathering employee feedback is critical when leading virtual teams.
5. Provide ongoing training opportunities, online
Training shouldn’t stop after onboarding new employees. Instead, training should be ongoing throughout the employee lifecycle.
If you’re leading virtual teams, don’t panic. There are plenty of online training opportunities employees can participate in. Online training programs include classes, certifications, and workshops.
You might also encourage employees to independently find training opportunities or conventions in their area and reimburse them.
Check out the training to verify it would help your employees, their positions, and your business. Consider establishing a training reimbursement policy so your virtual team knows how to get their programs approved.
6. Don’t neglect team building for virtual teams
Team building is the basis of effective teamwork and collaboration.
You may not be able to do team-building exercises like going to a bowling alley, catering lunch, or doing a scavenger hunt. But, you can pursue virtual team building activities.
When coming up with team-building exercises, be willing to get creative. There are endless possibilities for virtual team building.
To get you started, here are a few team building for virtual teams ideas:
- Implement small business wellness programs to encourage virtual competitions
- Send out fun quizzes
- Host video trivia events
- Start a chat channel for funny, random things
- Have a cup of coffee during a morning standup
7. Out of sight isn’t out of mind when it comes to praise
Employee recognition is uber important in the workplace. But when your workers aren’t physically in front of you, you might forget to thank and praise them for their accomplishments.
This is a big mistake.
One Gallup poll found that employees who aren’t recognized reported being twice as likely to quit in the next year.
Keep an eye out for employees on your virtual team who go above and beyond. Make sure to praise the employee in front of your team to encourage your other workers, too.
In addition to recognizing top employees with praise, you may consider offering other rewards, like bonuses or extra paid time off (PTO).