Leading virtually requires a different set of skills, a completely new approach, and a new mindset. Working remotely has changed the way we work, learn, live and lead. This new world of virtual companies or teams introduced new challenges for leaders,
So many thoughts and questions run in the mind of each team leader, or manager, is my team working while they say they are? How many times should I check on them and call them to check if they are? Are they really productive, bored, sleeping, or watching TV? How can I as a leader deal with this amount of anxiety and thoughts?
Leaders now have to gain new skills as international teams are growing, new ways of employment across countries’ borders, and international project management. The new skills and mindset have to be adapted and transformed into behaviors.
Executives who lead international teams or project managers with international participation often face great challenges when it comes to adequate leadership tools to lead from a distance and virtually successfully. Since you are not in the same building as the employees, face-to-face meetings and staff appraisals, which normally take place regularly on-site, are not possible.
New forms of cooperation that are no longer bound to one location are created. More and more often, even beyond company boundaries. Due to external influences such as the current challenges caused by the coronavirus and the associated – legal – restrictions in the working environment, working in virtual teams is becoming a necessity. This demands a great deal from managers in particular.
Leadership in virtual teams is an opportunity to develop one’s own skills and those of the team members in a new context. After all, it is about supporting employees in their initiative, thereby promoting self-organization and stimulating self-motivation, highlighting successful examples in a clever way, and seeing the team in its productivity as a whole.
Virtual teamwork is always associated with difficulties. So how can an efficient virtual exchange be achieved in order to work successfully in a team?
The technical equipment must function perfectly. Because if the sound jerks at every virtual meeting or the Internet breaks down during file upload, nobody can work well. Employees in Germany waste around 20 working days every year because they are bothered by the technology in their company. That’s annoying enough with traditional teams. But anyone who depends on digital communication for their work must be able to rely on a functioning technology. Otherwise, the frustration among employees increases. If the technology does not work, a virtual team cannot work.
If you want to lead a virtual team, you need to set clear goals and rules.
Because if you can’t talk to each other on the fly, you have to keep appointments, agreements, and deadlines.
In addition, there should be a distinct feedback culture throughout the company. This applies both to the employees and to the boss, who must also accept criticism from his employees. It is therefore important to agree on who will take on which tasks and how the progress of a project will be measured. The responsibilities of the individual team members should be precisely defined, as ambiguities slow down virtual teamwork.
Each team member should know when and how to reach the others. It should also be clear to all team members who report to whom, who informs whom, and who has access to which files. Fixed daily or weekly appointments, where the whole team meets virtually, also help to structure teamwork. Virtual teams need clear rules and fixed agreements.
3. Sufficient trust
But although clear rules and clear objectives are needed, the principle of trust instead of control applies. Because employees in the home office must act more independently than employees whose boss sits in the office next door. And if the boss asks himself all the time whether his employees are really diligent, he himself won’t come to work.
Even sufficient praise should not be neglected at a distance. Managers should make an effort to give positive feedback regularly. When employees are in different places, the most important thing is trust.
4. The right employees
For the success of a remote team not only the boss is crucial. Because not everyone is equally suited to working in virtual teams. For one thing, of course, a high level of digital affinity is required. If you don’t feel like dealing with web conferences and project management tools, you might want to sit at a traditional office desk. On the other hand, a high level of digital know-how is not yet the key to success for collaboration. Remote workers often have to struggle with loneliness and find it difficult to separate work and private life. They are under the pressure of constant availability.
For successful cooperation, it is crucial that all team members enjoy and communicate a lot with each other. They should have fun logging in to the chat and seeking contact with other colleagues. If all team members are alone at their desks, it will be difficult to work together effectively. Managers should therefore make sure that the employee is suitable for virtual collaboration. Remote teams need employees who develop their own solutions and still seek close contact with their colleagues.
5. Meet virtually in person every now and then
Since the personal contact and therefore also the personal four-eye-meeting in the office is omitted, it is very important to have individual conversations by phone or video tool. On-site, you can see how the people are doing, how they feel, and how they work. With virtual leadership, they have to communicate more and ask more questions.
6. Room for informal exchange
Remote teams lack the chat next to the coffee machine and the shared after-work beer. A common slack group and a weekly meeting with Skype do not make a team out of scattered employees. Managers of remote teams must therefore create enough space for informal exchange. For web meetings, for example, allow a few minutes for small talk. How was the weekend? Where is the next holiday going? What did you have for lunch? All topics that are talked about before a normal meeting can also be discussed on Skype.
Leading virtual teams is not an option anymore, someone in your team will be working remotely or from home, and your team may be overseas or in another country. You have to prepare your organization not only from a technology and process perspective but also from your leaders’ mindset.
Pinnacle has a set of consultation programs, training, and services to help your organization manage the change that is happening in today’s workplace, and effectively lead remote teams.
Pinnacle® is a multi-country consultancy firm. Our consultants are spread around the world. We have built our organization on a modern business model with agility, diversity, and resilience to the business dynamics. We have chosen our technology platform to support our modern mindset thus we work from anywhere …. As work is not a place anymore. We implement Lean Six Sigma in everything we do whether internally or externally at our client sites.
Article is written by:
Senior Trainer & Coach
Pinnacle Country Representative DACH Region