I’m writing this blog while wearing my fuzzy socks and sitting at my kitchen table. I am lucky to live within driving distance to our office, which allows me to enjoy some virtual days to get some heads down work done (in conjunction with a fuzzy sock) and also enjoy face-to-face interactions (with makeup) with my team.
While on site with a client recently, I was asked, “How can I drive, influence and coach my team for results when they don’t talk to me until I come into the office. I want them to talk to me virtually as though they met me in the hallway.” A common pain we hear from new clients is “I feel like my team can do much better, and I don’t know how to help them get better.” When you start asking more questions, you find out there’s typically a virtual component here as well.
In recent years, my only guarantee for face-to-face interaction was on a flight or at a client site. I not only had to learn how to succeed in a virtual work environment, but I had to lead a team to do the same. If you sense your virtual team isn’t executing as you feel they should, you may have to take a step back before they can move forward. I’ve learned managing a virtual team is different than a co-located one. You can be successful in both environments if you are willing to adjust your virtual swagger.
In order to get your virtual swagger on, you must adjust the way you…
Kick off a month/quarter/project
Use the face-to-face card whenever you can in order to prevent your team from feeling ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ To expedite alignment while building the sense of team, try to bring your team together quarterly and at the start of major projects. If you can swing it, monthly would be even sweeter.
A Unify study finds that “highly successful virtual teams engage more often on a personal level, with team members speaking their minds and contributing openly regardless of their location.” Virtual leaders don’t have the water cooler or passing hallway opportunities to get to know your team personally. Here are some ideas to create a similar atmosphere:
- Create a communications charter with your team. How often do you wish to meet? Using what medium(s)? Purpose and outcomes of these meetings? At minimum, weekly adjustment meetings should be part of the mix.
- Enact daily virtual standup meetings to feel the pulse of what everyone is working on, accountable for, celebrating and where they’re feeling stuck.
- Check in with your teammates1:1 at times when you don’t have an agenda. Use this time to get to know how things are going in general, both professionally and personally. This is a critical component to building trust with your team.
- Try not to miss your 1:1s as this is your best opportunity to stay connected. If you have to miss, make sure to quickly reschedule.
- Keep your instant message on ‘green’ as much as you can and encourage your team to ping you when needed. If this isn’t possible, try setting office hours.
- Use your camera as much as possible and take advantage of non-verbal communication. Use your arms or walk around in front of your computer to convey more meaning in what you’re saying.
Virtual work requires self-discipline, motivation and an extraordinary amount of focus. In order to get traction in these areas, you can no longer rely on traditional roles and high-level goals. Instead, you should provide the framework of your team’s goals and priorities, and, maintain motivation by working with each team member to define their own individual priorities and action items.
Be clear and consistent with your communication, collaboration, processes and dashboards on how success towards goals will be tracked, discussed and adjusted. Repeat this process (dare, I say establish a rhythm?) to take out the guess work.
Clearly defined processes are key so you can take the back seat on meetings.
- Create meeting ground rules with your team - for example: cell phones off, mute lines when not speaking, no multi-tasking and everyone has to share a sound bite on what they are taking away from the meeting.
- Take the back seat by talking less. Your goal is not to dominate the discussion but to facilitate several discussions and help your team connect the dots.
- Get the team quickly engaged with interactions, e.g., ask questions and track who has responded. Call your team members by name to ensure dialogue.
Grow Your Team
You can’t physically be there when needed, so, you have to cultivate shared leadership.
- Close the gap when you are not available for discussion by assigning mentors to every team member.
- Encourage your team both formally and informally to share experiences with others and benchmark success (dare I say, super greens?).
- Look for opportunities to have your team members lead discussions and team initiatives.
It’s fair to say any of the above tips could also be used with co-located teams as well, which is why I talk about adjustments rather than sweeping changes in how you lead. If you notice your team talks to you more in the hallway than on the phone, you may want to ask yourself:
- Do I really know this person well?
- Have I set up clear channels to communicate and stay connected?
- Are my processes consistent?
Slip on your fuzzy socks, make some adjustments...and get your virtual swagger on.