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How to Lead a Virtual Team: 7 Skills to Put Your People First

Wednesday, May 6, 2020
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2020 is the year that work went remote. In a matter of days, entire workforces were sent home and told to set up shop. Employees with no prior experience working from home were asked to navigate digital communication platforms, online meeting tools, and a deluge of email.

We asked 1,153 of our newsletter readers about the challenges they experienced when they worked from home. Eight in 10 respondents said the hardest challenge they faced as a remote employee was speaking up. In fact, 84 percent said when they had a concern, they let it drag on for a few days or more, while 47 percent let it drag on for a few weeks or more.

When you couple the inherent challenge of communicating remotely with uncertain and turbulent times, creating a cohesive and successful remote team can feel like an uphill battle.

Communication Is Key

While employees struggle to find their places in a new virtual team, how can we ensure the forced—or in some cases, desired—distance doesn’t lead to a culture of silence and silos? How can you put your people first and ensure distance doesn’t come between relationships and results?

We received 853 accounts detailing specific management skills characteristic of the most successful remote teams. These accounts described managers who found ways to ensure their people felt supported and valued in a remote environment. Managers who use these seven skills will find that not only are their teams happier and healthier, they are also more successful.

1. Frequent and Consistent Check-Ins: Nearly half of respondents (46 percent) said the most successful managers checked in frequently and regularly with remote employees. The cadence of the check-ins varied from daily to weekly but were always consistent and usually entailed a standing meeting or scheduled one-on-one.

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2. Face-to-Face or Voice-to-Voice. One in four respondents said managers who insisted on some face time were more successful. At a minimum, use video conferencing technology or pick up the phone to ensure colleagues occasionally see one another’s faces or hear one another’s voices.

3. Exemplify Stellar Communication Skills: The most successful managers are good listeners, communicate trust and respect, inquire about workload and progress without micromanaging, and err on the side of over-communicating.

4. Explicit Expectations: When it comes to managing remote teams, being clear about expectations was mandatory. Managers who are direct with their expectations of remote and onsite employees have happier teams that can deliver to those expectations.

5. Always Available: Successful managers go above and beyond to maintain an open-door policy for remote and on-site employees, making themselves available across multiple time zones and through multiple means of technology (IM, Slack, Skype, email, phone, text, and so forth). Remote employees can always count on their manager to respond to pressing concerns.

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6. Technology Maven: Successful managers use multiple means of communication to connect with their remote workers. They don’t just resort to phone or email but are familiar with video conferencing technologies and various services like Skype, Slack, instant message, Adobe Connect, and more.

7. Prioritize Relationships: Team-building and comradery are important for any team, and remote teams are no exception. They use check-in time to ask about their personal life, families, and hobbies. They allow team meeting time for “water cooler” conversation so the whole team can create personal connections and strengthen relationships. And in times of heightened concern and stress, establishing a foundation of trust with remote employees is paramount.

Great Managers Make It Their Top Priority

As you help your teams avoid a culture of siloed silence, review a few other must-have skills to keep the dialogue going–even remotely— here.

About the Author

Justin Hale is a speaker, training designer, and master trainer at VitalSmarts. He has been a lead engineer in designing training courses and facilitated classes and delivered keynote speeches on the skills and principles to 300+ clients and audiences around the world.

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