Remote work is rapidly becoming the new norm. And as many managers have discovered, leading a virtual team is not the same as leading an on-site group.
You’re still responsible for managing performance and helping your team reach its goals. But managing from afar requires a slightly different approach.
In today’s increasingly remote-first environment, getting the best from your employees means adapting the way you communicate and collaborate.
But what exactly does that mean? What can you do to become a more effective virtual leader?
Start by following these seven tips.
1. SET GUIDELINES AROUND COMMUNICATION METHODS
Virtual teams have a wide variety of communication tools at their disposal: email, video chat, instant messaging, document sharing apps, project management apps, etc. But that can cause a lot of confusion when information is flying around on different platforms.
As the leader, it’s your job to make sure everyone understands which channels to use for what. For instance, you might use messaging tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams for quick check-ins, announcements, or clarifications. But team meetings might be better done via video call.
Having a clear plan that outlines how employees should use each tool will let people know where to turn for specific types of information.
2. WORK ON YOUR COMMUNICATION SKILLS
It’s easy to misinterpret tone in an email or instant message. And if you have a culturally diverse group, not everyone will have the same frame of reference for things.
The upshot? Virtual leaders need to be as clear and concise as possible. The goal is to eliminate ambiguity. You need to provide explicit directions so that everyone understands what they’re expected to do.
So avoid slang terms and colloquialisms. When speaking, be careful not to go so fast that some people miss a word or two. (This is especially crucial on video calls: remember to account for latency.)
3. BUILD TRUST WITH YOUR TEAM MEMBERS
Establishing trust is key for any team leader. But it’s more challenging to do that when people don’t come together in the same office every day.
Since you can’t actually see your employees most of the time, you need to be proactive about learning what obstacles they’re dealing with and how you can help.
Reach out regularly to build rapport and see how things are going. Encourage open dialogue so that people feel comfortable giving candid feedback.
Demonstrating that you trust them is also important. As long as the work is getting done to an acceptable standard, don’t worry about how much time people are spending at their desks.
4. RESPECT WORK-LIFE BOUNDARIES
Without the physical separation of home and work, it’s all too easy for your employees to feel like they’re always “on.”
In a 2021 survey by Egress, 46% of remote employees reported they felt pressure to respond to email outside of work hours. And 39% said they strive to reply to messages as quickly as possible, even on personal time.
But not being able to disconnect means workers don’t get the time they need to rest and recharge.
As a leader, you need to respect boundaries between work and personal time. Set an example for your team by explaining that you will avoid answering work-related messages outside of the workday, and that others should feel free to do so as well.
5. MAKE SURE YOUR TEAM HAS THE TOOLS THEY NEED
People have to have the right equipment to do their jobs effectively.
In-house teams have access to a proper ergonomic setup, with everything supplied for them. Remote workers deserve the same consideration.
As the leader of a virtual team, you can help your employees become more productive by making sure they have things like:
☑️ External monitors, keyboards, or mice
☑️ Cell phones
☑️ Noise-cancelling headphones
☑️ Good-quality webcams
☑️ Comfortable chairs
Streamline the approval process as much as you can so that bureaucratic processes don’t get in the way.
6. COMBAT ZOOM FATIGUE
While video calls can be useful, they can also be exhausting. It’s not natural to have that much close-up eye contact or to see a reflection of yourself during a meeting.
A study from November 2020 found that 44% of workers had experienced Zoom fatigue since the onset of the pandemic.
The obvious solution is to have fewer video calls. But what else can you do?
☑️ Keep video meetings short and space them out so people have time to recover in between.
☑️ Have people turn off self-view so that they’re not staring at their own image.☑️ Take advantage of tools like screen sharing or video whiteboards to give people a break from looking at faces.
7. BUILD A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
When people come together in the same physical space, they tend to naturally chat about their families or their hobbies or something interesting they saw on TV. Those simple interactions create stronger bonds between people that help them feel like part of a greater whole.
It’s more difficult to create those social bonds with a virtual team. But keeping team members engaged and motivated is one of the most essential management skills you can learn.
So try organizing regular video chats where no work talk is allowed. Or provide gift cards for online food delivery so people can order in lunch to celebrate colleagues’ birthdays. It’s important to get to know your team as people, not just as employees.
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