Tips to Lead a Virtual Team

By Jessica Wishart

dateMon, Sep 22, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

Since Rhythm is a great tool for companies that are geographically dispersed, we work with a number of companies that have many different locations across the country or internationally. In fact, our company also has many team members who work remotely. One of the unique challenges faced by companies with remote workers is how to effectively manage a team in a virtual environment.

If you are familiar with group dynamics or have experience managing teams for any amount of time, you business_growthknow that sometimes effectively managing a team in person is hard enough without the added complexity of getting everyone on the same page without being in the same room. I came across an article in which Jennifer Rasmussen offers “Five C’s of Managing Virtual Teams” that I thought would be helpful to share:

  • Communicate: This seems obvious, but Rasmussen recommends doubling whatever your regular pattern of communication would be for virtual teams. Involving the team in planning, offering frequent feedback, and providing immediate updates are all good, but you need to do these things more often when your team is not together. So much of our communication is non-verbal that we are sometimes quick to assume that people know what is going on because they usually would if they were there in person to pick up our non-verbal cues. Slowing down to be abundantly clear and communicating on a regular and frequent rhythm are key tips when leading a virtual team. Responsiveness is also imperative; remember that you are also missing part of what your team members are communicating without their verbal cues. Something that seems unimportant or not urgent in an email might beholding up their productivity and keeping them stuck until they hear back from you.
  • Chat: You might be thinking that this is just a restatement of #1… but chatting is different than communicating. Communicating is about work, and chatting is personal. If you think that making an effort do this with your virtual team is a waste of time, then you are depriving them and yourself of the opportunity to develop a relationship that goes beyond the work at hand. Your team will be more motivated if they feel like they are part of a team and that you care about them as a person not just someone that gets the job done. Think about all the ways teams interact casually in an office setting: lunches, dropping by each others’ offices, meeting at the water cooler, etc. These interactions all build team morale and are difficult to replicate in a virtual environment. Be intentional about leaving some time in your Weekly Meeting to share personal victories and calling your direct reports to check in periodically about how things are going (not just work-related).
  • Change it up: There are many modes of communication for virtual teams, so do some experimenting to see what works best for your team as a whole and for individual team members. There will always be those who prefer a phone call to an email, and some on your team would probably rather get an instant message than a call. You can try conference lines, video conferencing, or screen sharing for meetings and you can test out alternatives to email chains, like using Collaboration in Rhythm.
  • Cut out: Rasmussen recommends having a forum (chat room or group) that is available to the team that the manager is not apart of. One piece of the puzzle that is missing from most virtual environments is a place where your team can feel comfortable talking about ideas and issues without the manager there. Coworkers who work in proximity often take advantage of time to chat when the manager is not around, and these more relaxed and informal discussions can often lead to problem solving and leadership development among your team as well as create time for team bonding outside of the more formal virtual meetings.
  • Celebrate: Just because you can’t give them a pat on the back for a job well done doesn’t mean that your virtual team doesn’t need some recognition for their accomplishments. Some members on our team are fond of mass email chains for congratulating each other on achievements; we also take time in our daily huddles and weekly meetings to pause and share our victories. When someone does something really awesome, they might just get a special delivery to their home office. There are thousands of ways to celebrate with a virtual team; you just have to make the effort to do it.

Hopefully, you’ll find these tips for effectively leading virtual teams useful. As our world changes, more people are working non-traditional hours and more workplaces are going this route. The important thing to remember is that we still spend a significant portion of our lives working (whether virtually or in person), and we still crave interaction and collaboration and relationships to have meaningful work that keeps us engaged and willing to give our best.


Executive Summary from Patrick Thean's book Rhythm

Jessica Wishart


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images