Coronavirus Workplace Tips: Manage a Virtual Team

Man sitting at desk working from home on laptopHow do you lead your employees who work from home?  How do you manage a virtual team?  What are the best virtual communication hacks?

Two important challenges arise when we ask our employees to work from home.  First is the technology challenge and second is the leadership challenge.  To keep your team members productive, make sure they have the technology they need, are trained on how to use it, and have quick access to IT help to solve tech problems.  This should be delegated to your IT department or service provider.  You do not want to have to shift your role to IT support to keep your team up and running.

What you will need to do as a virtual leader is to shift your management style.  No matter what your leadership philosophy is, going virtual will impact it.  If you are normally hands on, for example, you will need to make peace with the idea your team working without you when they are working from home.  If you are normally more hands off, you will need to find ways to check in more with your team to make sure things are going smoothly.

Working virtually is not fundamentally different than working in the office, but leadership challenges tend to amplify in virtual teams.  Communication, trust, and engagement are three areas that are impacted the most.  Here are some tips on managing virtual communication.

Make a Communication Plan

Set the expectations of how often and by which method you want to communicate with your team.  Questions to consider:

  • For what types of issues should they call you? Each other?  Send a text?  Email?
  • What is a reasonable response time for each mode of communication? Hours, days?
  • How do you want to be able to reach them? Should they have their phone ringers on?
  • Should they send out a message or set a flag in your chat room when they are taking a break, like for lunch?
  • Would it be useful to set up some group chats or channels for specific projects or issues to reach multiple people at once?
  • What should they update you on and how often?

Use Effective Virtual Communication Techniques

Recommendations:

  • Choose the right modality. Use voice or video for any emotionally charged interactions, like performance feedback, disagreements, and sensitive issues.  If text-based interactions seem to be going down an emotional path, immediately pick up the phone or open a video channel.
  • Practice active listening. Ask others to summarize what they heard and understood to make sure you are on the same page.  Similarly, summarize what they tell you to make sure you understand what they are saying.
  • Communicate the same message more than once and in multiple modalities, such as verbally, followed up by an email.  Ask for confirmations for receipt of text-based messages.
  • Assume the best of others. When someone does not respond in a timely manner, don’t make up a dozen reasons why they are ignoring you.  Check in with them.    Ask if they got the message.  More often than not, they didn’t see it or they got tied up and meant to get back to you.

To see more tips on building and maintaining trust in virtual teams, and engaging employees on virtual teams, stay tuned.  Here are tips on running virtual meetings.

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