Many managers have been thrown unexpectedly into working virtually and
consequently, do not feel they have the experience or know-how to lead their teams
as well as they would like.
But I would like to pose the question: how is leading a virtual team different? And
what new skills do you need to be an effective virtual manager?
Resilience at this moment in time extremely important for both you and your team.
You may need to up your game in terms of how you use technology. There are
myriad of software programmes, tools, apps, and platforms out there which can
make working virtually easier and there are plenty of experts ready to offer you
I have worked with many international virtual teams over the last 7 or 8 years,
helping them to work together more productively and to communicate with each
other more effectively. More recently, I have also become a digital champion for the
Digital Knowledge Exchange and, as such, mentor small business owners who want
to build their digital skills.
I would like to share the following tips on how to lead a successful virtual team. I
hope they will be helpful to those of you who, six months down the line, feel they
need a few pointers:
1. Take a moment to reflect on how you communicate as a team.
Do you have a robust set of protocols or best practices for team communication? These best
practices will provide a firm foundation for collaboration. They will also allow
individuals to voice expectations and raise doubts before miscommunication
and confusion arise. Investing time and energy in getting the relationships and
procedures right will lead to greater efficiency and productivity in the long run.
– How does the team like to communicate internally – WhatsApp,
– Response times for emails and messages – what is reasonable in
these challenging times?
– How and where do you share information – Share Point, Trello,
– How should feedback be given – is an email acceptable?
– What is your meeting style – formal or informal?
2. Individual team members often experience a sense of isolation and a lack of
connection with others in the team.
You, therefore, need to be adept at keeping your team engaged and feeling included.
– Is everyone clear about their role in the team? Who do they report to?
Who they can turn to in a crisis? What can you do to make this as
transparent as possible?
– What does work-flow look like for your team? Have all the relevant
processes been adapted to the virtual workplace?
– Does your onboarding/induction process for new team members allow
for the fact that they will most likely not meet the rest of the team face-
to-face for a long time? How will they forge new relationships? How
easy is it for someone new to your set up to learn the processes? What
support will you provide?
– How do you encourage collaboration? Research ways for your team to
work together easily through document sharing tools like SharePoint or
in project-based tools such as Trello.
– Is there a regular time slot during the day/ week for socialising as a
team? Is it sufficient or can you do something to make it more
meaningful? How do introverts in your team feel about ‘performing’ on
camera in meetings? Are the extroverts able to cope with working
alone for significant periods of time?
– Are you truly ‘visible’ to you team – do you check in with individuals on
a regular basis to see how they are coping emotionally and physically?
How do you let them know there is still an ‘open door’ policy in this
3. Trust is fundamental to the success of your virtual team.
Research shows that teams who are thrown together at short notice, for a short period of time, or to
work together virtually, form what is known as Swift Trust.* In this case
individual team members are willing to put aside their usual distrust of each
other if they believe they are reliable and will keep their promises.
Achieving a goal or completing a project on time takes priority over everything else.
Whether you need to build Swift Trust or something more permanent, the
starting point is surely for the team to get to know each other. At this stage,
hopefully your team members do know each other to a certain extent.
However, we should never underestimate the importance of building and
strengthening existing relationships. So, invest time whenever you can in
creating opportunities to do just this.
In addition to familiarity, trust is often based on things like competency,
integrity, empathy, reliability, consistency, sharing, mutual trust and similarity.
– How do you demonstrate to the team that they can rely on you? And
are you consistent in your management style?
– How do you know the team is confident in your competence as a
leader? Do they have opportunities to give you feedback and how?
– Do you involve your team in decision making? How do you empower
– Are you open with your feelings? How willing are you to share
– How do you show the team that you care about them?
– In what way do you show your team that you trust them?
4. Resilience, as I have already mentioned is vital for everyone working in the
Resilient teams will learn how to improvise in this situation, but it will
necessitate constant adjustments and no doubt mistakes will be made. The
key is to learn from these mistakes and find ways to bounce back.
Having a strong support network motivates people to keep trying, so as a
leader it is important that you do what you can to strengthen the relationships
amongst the team. Show them that you are a part of the team and not an
outsider, that you empathise with them and even if you cannot solve all their
problems, by working collectively you will be much more effective.
– Who in the team needs most support in terms of resilience? What can
you do to help?
– In what ways could you monitor levels of resilience among the team?
– Could a buddy system help build or maintain resilience? How could you
5. Resist the urge to micro-manage and DO NOT succumb to spying on your
Statistics show that many people working from home are equally as
productive as they were when they were in the office, if not more. Many have
successfully adapted to their new work environment and, having the freedom
to manage their work-life balance is a major factor in motivating them to keep
If you would like to build on your virtual skills, check out the courses on my
*Swift trust is a form of trust occurring in temporary organizational structures, which can
include quick starting groups or teams. It was first explored by Debra Meyerson and
colleagues in 1996. In swift trust theory, a group or team assumes trust initially, and later
verifies and adjusts trust beliefs accordingly