✓ Work with transparency
✓ Establish your team’s remote work ground rules
✓ Check in on how people are doing personally
✓ Build or continue fun remote team rituals
If you suddenly find yourself leading a virtual team, these practices will help you with the transition.
Remote working was a hot topic before everyone suddenly started working from home. Especially right now, your entire team is working remotely. This means new practices (or changes to the usual practices), new tools and new ways of communication. For all this to work and run smoothly, a large part of the responsibility lies with you, the team leader. The leaders set the tone. This applies regardless of whether your team is virtually huddled together in one room or widely dispersed in a zoom session.
Here are some practices that have helped these remote leaders and a list of practical ways to manage and support remote teams.
5 fundamental tips for managing virtual teams
The big question that most managers ask themselves: What is the main difference between remote leadership of a team and personal leadership? Well, there is not only one difference. But one can safely say that the most important difference is in communication.
In “normal working life” many decisions are made in conversations in the corridor or over lunch. If this kind of casual exchange of information does not take place, you have to replace it somehow. This starts with doing a good job of over-communication.
Therefore: Overcommunicate. Make it an exercise. Use Slack messages, @remarks and e-mails to keep everyone up to date, even if you think you are repeating yourself. Keep people informed on purpose. Ask them if they know about something, even if you’re pretty sure they do. If it’s a group interaction, remember that maybe another person on the zoom call didn’t know about it and found out because you asked or because you repeated information. There is no harm in repeating something for clarity, and it may solve some problems immediately.
2. Work with transparency
Of course another big question, especially for managers: How do you know that your team is working? Are they productive?
If you really have hired the right people, you shouldn’t have to worry about that. You should trust your team, trust that they are the adult professionals you have hired. But it’s a fair question, and one way to answer it is to look at your tools.
If you’re looking for ways to ensure that this important exchange of information takes place, that projects are discussed, and milestones are discussed, here are some things you should try:
- Consider updating the slack status more frequently. Be specific and consistent to build the habit – for yourself and your team. “Work deep” and “lunch break until 1 pm” and “go for a walk” work really well.
- @ mention a lot. Don’t assume that someone will see a comment or an update unless you specifically address them. It can’t hurt to use a person’s name repeatedly to make sure they are informed.
- Use a shared Google calendar and keep it up to date. A shared calendar is a great way to know what everyone is doing, both at work and out of work.
In short, develop practices that help your team stay connected and keep your team informed about what is going on and where to find information to know what is going on. You shouldn’t have to worry about what people are doing, but it will reassure you – and the others – if you offer ways for everyone to share updates.
3. Establish your team’s remote work ground rules
When things are new and different – and this is definitely new and different – it is hard to know how to set expectations. Same as before? If it’s different for remote teams, then how?
The simple answer is: make sure everyone on the team is on the same page. Speak as a group and get everyone’s input. Working from home is new to many, and it is unique, especially in today’s uncertain circumstances. After these open discussions about what your team needs and what you as a manager want and need from your team, consider these tips:
- Spend time as a team discussing your communication channels and tools and how to use them, including things like expected response times.
- Talk about how to focus on working together and how to work together in this work. In other words, define your practices for working together.
- Use different types of meetings – 1:1, small group, whole team – to provide feedback and create familiar habits.
You create your Playbook. You set the rules for how your team works and what is expected of each member.
4. Check in on how people are doing personally
How’s your team doing? Ask and ask again. And it’s not just about projects, but also about how people are doing as people. It starts by creating a safe space for your team to exchange thoughts and feelings. This is of crucial importance in such an unprecedented and difficult time. As a manager, try to find out how everyone really feels. Find and create time and space for private conversations wherever they are needed.
People who work remotely often suffer from overload. Blurring the boundaries between work and life and adapting to different time zones often makes it difficult to “pull the plug”. All this has a negative effect on their well-being.
You often have to get in touch and really show your commitment to the team. If you need extra time for an appointment, be flexible. Here are some ideas for open questions that help to create a safe space:
- What do you feel?
- What is your workload?
- Where is your burn-out level?
- What is your ultimate goal?
- What is your world like?
- What is your work like?
5. Build or continue fun remote team rituals
Maintaining your social connection as a team while you are completely isolated is more important than ever. But how do you do it from a distance?
It is very important that teams make social contacts under all circumstances. Remote teams can benefit greatly from social team rituals, but they need to be nurtured on purpose. In other words, don’t prescribe a virtual happy hour that feels like a regular meeting, just with drinks.
Other social ideas must be taken into account:
- Set up a virtual coffee, lunch or happy hour. A certain time for casual get-togethers is a long way.
- Start each team meeting with a short personal check-in, like an icebreaker.
Like everything else, it takes getting used to. But there are established practices and habits for dealing with virtual teams that you can emulate. Yes, it’s not the same as working in a more “traditional” environment. But with a little effort you can work together just as well (and in some cases even better) than before.