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Five Strategies for Leading a Virtual Team

Technology has allowed many to work from anywhere, just look at the picture of the Nebo staff having a fun meeting from six different locations! But the emergence of virtual teams means that more and more leaders are finding themselves leading in ways they aren’t used to. Virtual teams have many advantages and also present unique challenges for leaders. Below are five strategies for effectively leading a virtual team.

Set clear boundaries and encourage others to do the same. When working in a traditional office, the lines between work and home are clear.  Yes, we may find ourselves pulled to answer e-mails and catch up in the evenings, yet we know we are home. We feel that we are doing work at home, or after hours.  When working remotely, it is easy for work and home to blend. Without the commute and stop for a morning coffee, it may be hard to know when work starts and when it ends each day. Set clear boundaries around when you are and are not working and use your calendar to communicate with staff and colleagues.  Encourage your team to do the same.

(Re)affirm common ground. Common ground is the shared space where all team members work together. It is important for each team member to have a stake in the ground, or commitments and responsibilities. As the leader, you are responsible for maintaining common ground and ensuring that the shared space doesn’t shrink and that the stakes don’t loosen. Establish regular meetings to check-in with your team around shared purpose and continue to monitor individual engagement through both group and one-on-one conversations.

Create a team communications charter. A team charter clarifies preferred methods for remote communication, such as who will provide progress updates by when, and how and when feedback is given. Will your team meet by phone, video or communicate via e-mail? Establishing ground rules for how and when the team communicates can save team members time and clarifies when and how to highlight or escalate issues. Clear expectations around team communication can also help avoid cultural differences in communication. In times of uncertainty or crisis, revisit the team charter to make sure everyone is clear on the importance of communication and feels empowered to point out when there is silence.

Define expectations with direct reports around updates and status reports around the work. Leaders of remote teams may find themselves either micromanaging to try to stay in the know, or uninformed as to what their team is working on and where they are with current projects. Work with each direct report to establish regular communications regarding current work. Depending on the needs of your business, you may hold a daily recap conversation to hear from each individual, or you may ask each person to send a weekly recap on Friday afternoons with highlights from the week, priorities for the week ahead, and where the individual feels stuck and needs your support. Clearly defining the what and when for these communications, and holding individuals accountable to sending them, will allow you to stay informed and step in where you can be most effective.

Establish a “Virtual Water Cooler.” Distance affects how you feel about people and what you know about them. Encourage your team to check-in on a personal level with each other. You might randomly assign remote team members to a weekly 20- to 30-minute chat where they have a chance to talk about sports, music, their families, etc. You could provide prompts to kickoff the conversation each week or simply let organic conversations happen. You might also encourage a brief check-in or ice breaker at the start of meetings to allow people the chance to connect outside of the topic on the agenda, just as they would if they had walked down the hall to the conference room together.

The Nebo Company offers coaching and leadership development programs to support successful virtual work for both individual leaders and their teams. Contact us to learn more about how we can support your organization.

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