The impact of our sudden switch to remote working lock, stock and barrel in April cannot be over-estimated. One week we were still at the office, the next, our colleagues, our clients and our bosses ‘disappeared’ into a remote work landscape. Almost overnight, “Meet me” became ‘Zoom me” in business communication.
As managers, we have learnt largely through trial and error how to manage and engage a virtual team effectively.
We’ve seen that remote teams needs more managerial support and team leadership, not less. And not everyone – managers and leaders included – is as effective online as they were face to face. Nonetheless, ground rules and guidelines for managing virtual teams are emerging.
TOOLS FOR THE JOB
Resource management is a core part of any team manager’s responsibilities. You have to provide the team with the best tools to do their jobs.
Video conferencing is the best tool we’ve found so far for enabling teams to collaborate remotely. It’s fundamental that your team has the right software installed, that their system is stable, and most importantly that they know how to use it. Some employees are technophiles, others are wary with the new remote working software. Providing training and knowing who to contact when the tech ‘trips up’, is critical to supporting
your team and making them feel they are able to perform just as well at home as they did in the office. Issue a team How-to guide covering basics such as turning the camera on and off, muting the mic and explaining functions such as Zoom Reactions for quick emoji-responses, Raise Hand when they want to make a point or ask a question in a meeting.
HOW DO I KEEP MY VIRTUAL TEAM ENGAGED EFFECTIVELY?
“Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!” It’s today’s virtual management ‘mantra’.
The new arsenal of video conferencing tools – Zoom and Microsoft Teams in particular – have made it possible to manage and motivate virtual teams effectively. Most remote teams we’ve spoken to now schedule a mandatory daily morning catch up – 30 minutes maximum. Share an agenda upfront and encourage people to come with updates and questions. Daily meetings remind the team that they are all part of something bigger – it’s inspiring and motivating. Ensure everyone knows what times the whole team is expected to be online and ‘at work’ – 4 hours a day of ‘team overlap’ – and then allow personal flexibility of work hours around that.
It’s also down to you to issue your own team’s “remote communications” protocol. Include guidelines about which ‘communication channel’ is best suited to which task. Issuing a protocol around which tools to use for which job is brilliant for controlling what could easily become a flood of miscommunications and missed messages by too many people using too many platforms.
– Video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or Teams team meetings, status meetings, creative brainstorming and problem-solving power teams
– WhatsApp is the go-to for project-based group messaging, phone and video calls
– Email is used for corporate information or company-wide initiatives
– Instant Messaging is the virtual equivalent of the convo-over-coffee or social chat forum.
Choose your channels – and stick to them. Once you have set out guidelines for your team, don’t allow channel-hopping!
Using video rather than audio should be actively encouraged – not optional. Seeing AND hearing people doubles the effectiveness of your communication. Just 5% of meaning is conveyed by the actual words we use, and over 55% through gesture, facial expression and body language. And it means that everyone focusses on the meeting rather than surreptitiously checking their phone or email with their camera turned off.
HOW SHOULD I MANAGE PERSONAL PERFORMANCE?
Don’t let employee development slip by the wayside. Even if your team are ‘out of sight’ they should never feel they are out of mind. Most remote managers are setting 1-2-1 catch ups weekly – some even have daily 5 minute ‘check-ins’ if the team is small. It may smack of micro-management but it does allow you to check the status of key projects, iron out snags before they become obstacles, and check that everyone is working to the same goals.
Alternatively you can try blocking out a ‘check-in surgery’ in your own calendar, so employees can join you as and when they want. A digital ‘open-door’ policy.
SHAKE IT UP A LITTLE
Building a remote team is an excellent opportunity to do things differently. Develop some new personal chemistry and team bonding by pairing people with different colleagues. Fresh combinations and buddying-up can stimulate innovative solutions to challenges, and it’s exciting to work with new faces and personalities. It makes people feel less isolated. If you’ve not conducted a Myers Briggs personality audit on your team, this is a great time to do so – https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/
Keep a close eye on how this goes though, and actively solicit honest feedback in 1-2-1 catch ups. Just in case it turns out to be a ‘change too far’ for some team members.
YOU’RE HEAD OF HAPPINESS TOO
Over 50% of remote workers are concerned about managing stress. As their manager, you need to be actively looking out for signs of stress amongst your team. Signs such as withdrawing, going ‘off the radar’ or not answering communications for hours at a time. Other signs of stress are workers becoming more ‘needy’ and less willing to make decisions for themselves. Spotting those stress reactions and working with each team member to create their own workspace, their own working patterns, is key.
Encourage everyone to have a dedicated workspace for their remote working. Somewhere that is generally quiet, that has a window or light source facing the desk so that they will be well-lit on video conferences. Creating a separate space for work replicates the office workspace and creates mental as well as physical separation of work and home. Even
packing the laptop away at the end of the day so you can’t be reminded of work or tempted to keep emailing is good for mental wellbeing.
The other big stressbuster in an office is the quick chat and catch up about life in general. Although we can’t do this in person now, we can ‘meet’ for coffee or Instant Message in just the same way we did when face-to-face.
As a remote manager, it’s good practice to begin all meetings with a personal check-in about families, children, how people are managing the new work-life balance. It makes employees feel valued for who they are, not just what goals they can achieve.
THE FUTURE – AGILE, ACTIVE MANAGEMENT
Teams need high-performance management and visionary leadership even more now they are part of your remote workforce. As a manager of a remote team, your day-to-day management is more intensive, but potentially more rewarding. Be agile, be flexible, be active. That way you’ll make virtual management into a virtue.