How to Lead a Virtual Team
With the Covid-19 crisis of 2020, many companies have had to adjust to managing remote teams on the fly. For the first 15 years that The Leaders Institute ® existed, we operated entirely remotely. In fact, we went through the opposite of what companies in early 2020 went through. We had to adjust our company culture from going from a virtual company to an office environment.

Of course, we had a couple of years to master the change. So, when the virus epidemic hit, and we had to start working remotely, we had a distinct advantage over our competitors. Here are a few tips about leading a virtual team that you can use based on our experience. Perhaps you can get a jump on your competition as well!

There Are Significant Differences Between an Office Environment and a Remote Team.

Although there are a number of similarities with office and remote teams, there are quite a few more differences. The main thing that you need to know if you are leading a virtual team, though is that remote teams are not ideal for every person. So, if your team is temporarily working remotely, most likely, any team member can manage. However, if you choose to work remotely on a more permanent basis, your choice of personnel is critical. In fact, your personnel choices are more important to the success of your virtual team than your communication or processes.

With that being said, let’s cover the advantages and disadvantages of a remote team.

Advantages of a Remote Team.

The main advantage of leading a remote team is that you aren’t limited territorially in your personnel choices. I have to admit, I totally underestimated how valuable this was before I built my office. In the early days of my company, I was able to attract some fairly elite level employees and contractors. The reason why was because I was able to choose from the population of the WORLD, not just within 25 miles of my office.

Another major advantage is freedom and flexibility. When your commute is 32 feet, you can be more productive much earlier in the day. You can also take a break in the middle of the day and have lunch with your kids. As long as you keep discipline in your routine, you can often get more done in less time as a remote team member.
In addition, if your team is entirely virtual, you also have significant cost savings. This is the main reason why I kept my company virtual for so long. Our overhead was significantly lower than a lot of our major competitors. As a result, our customers got more value from highering our team members.

Disadvantages of a Remote Team.

Remote teams aren’t a panacea, though. There are also challenges, and these challenges can be costly. For instance, remote team members are isolated from the company culture. This is especially challenging when some team members work in an office and others are remote. The remote team members tend to be left-out-of-the-loop and may begin to feel like they aren’t a significant part of the team.

The biggest challenge that I saw from this over the years was that success stories weren’t being shared. We actually started devoting at least 10 minutes of our weekly meeting time just to sharing customer successes from the previous week.

Another major drawback of a remote team can be miscommunication. In an office, word of changes or new opportunities spreads very quickly. In a remote team, though, there is a much higher chance that team members will not inform each other of progress. There is also a much higher chance of team members duplicating effort and creating challenges for one another.

Remote Learning

Finally, collaboration is more challenging in a virtual team. This was the reason why I finally moved my team to an office environment years ago. You see, it doesn’t matter how many great minds you have on the team if you can’t get your team share ideas regularly.

Create a Critical Communication Guide Before Going Remote.

Since we started as a virtual team, we never sat down to create a critical communication guide. Instead, we created it as we went along based on the mistakes and challenges that we experienced. (I don’t suggest that you do this, by the way. It is a very costly way to create a virtual team.)

The guide doesn’t have to be comprehensive or detailed, but you should put it in writing. This document is basically just a way for you, as the leader, to outline your expectations of how the team will communicate. For instance, we have internal projects that four or five people may be working on. Each of those team members needs to know the protocols for how to let the other team members know when the project is ready for input from another team member.

For example, we have recently been working remotely on creating and releasing online mini-courses. The team consists of four people — Me, the videographer, the website person, and the copywriter. The website person can’t really do a lot until the copy is written and the video is completely edited. So, it is important for each of these team members to keep her in the loop on their timetables.

Prior to having the guide in place, team members would jump from project to project not realizing that coworkers were waiting for them to complete a task. The more incidents like this occur, the high the frustration level will be.

A Few Items Include in Your Communication Guide that Can Help Avoid Miscommunication.

  • Daily Face-to-Face Meetings Via Zoom

The collaboration challenge can be reduced if you have face-to-face meetings more often. (You don’t necessarily have to do them daily, but you may start with them.) As a leader, you will experience a higher level of comfort with your virtual team if you can see them daily. We communicate a lot of information visually when we speak. Email, texting, phone calls, and chat are less efficient and have a higher chance of creating problems.

  • Keep Your Meetings Short and Have an Agenda

When you meet with your team, outline the agenda of the conversation. If you want team members to give you an update on a project, give them a warning. If you just call on them in the spur of the moment, you will get less participation. Typically 30 minutes is a good maximum time for a meeting. (By the way, that is the same whether you are in the office or virtual.) If your team is in a meeting, they aren’t being productive.

  • Use Slack so Everyone Can be in the Loop

We use Slack to share information within the team. If you have never used Slack, in short, it is a way to chat with your team members that stores and catalogs conversations. The chat is organized into “channels.” (Channels are basically topics.) To understand the brilliance of this concept, let me give you an example.

My Church has a text group. On occasion, my pastor will send out a group text. Every time he does, my phone blows up for the next hour with people in the group replying to let the pastor know that they got the text. (It is very annoying.) If you are the manager of a remote group, you may be tempted to send out a message to the whole group as well. As people respond, the rest will get annoyed. With Slack, your team can choose which channels are important for them to receive notifications from.

For instance, customer questions can be funneled to the “sales” channel. When a request comes in, your entire sales staff can get notified instantly and simultaneously. A single sales rep can reply to the channel with a checkmark emoji letting the entire group know that he/she has answered the question for the customer. You as the manager can go into the channel at the end of the day and look at all of the activity. The sales reps can also go into your “social media” channel at any time to see what the marketing team is working on.

  • Post Summaries

A bonus tip when posting to Slack is to go in and make frequent summaries. We actually created a new channel called “daily updates” where each manager goes in to give a quick summary of what their team worked on that day. It is usually only a sentence or two (very high level.) However, the summary allows team members to go to a single place to identify major ideas or changes companywide. If the team member sees something of interest, he/she can just click on that particular channel to find out more.

The Systems Put in Place for Your Virtual Team Are Important to Increased Productivity.

Once you have the communication strategy in place, you also have to create and refine your processes. If you don’t hold your team accountable for results, they will spend way too much time on individual tasks.

I’ll give you a good example. I hired a video guy to help us with video production. He and I would meet to record footage for YouTube and online courses. However, I didn’t take the time to create a step-by-step process to make sure that we produced results. After a month or so, we had 30 hours of footage and a couple of stellar videos produced.

Since no goal or timetable was established, he spent weeks editing and refining each video. The videos were top-notch, but we just weren’t producing them fast enough. Basically, I was spending thousands of dollars for each five-minute video. Eventually, I figured out that we had to set a production schedule with deadlines.

  • Set Weekly Goals WITH the Team

The temptation will be to create a task-list for your team. This is very time-consuming and kind of juvenile. Instead, meet with your individual team members for just a few minutes at the beginning of each week and help them establish their weekly goals. Then, you as the leader role up the individual goals into a unified team goal for the week.

If you can do this fast, you can do it in a virtual team meeting with everyone. If it gets burdensome, just meet with your team members individually.

  • Go Over the Results of Previous Goals (with Accolades)

At the start of each week, share a few of the big accomplishments from the previous week. Be lavish with your praise for your team members.

  • Create a Project List With the Roles of Each Team Member

After each team member sets his/her weekly goal with you, have them add the tasks to a project task list. This way, as they accomplish one of the tasks, they can check the task off. This helps them feel a sense of accomplishment and also documents the productivity of each team member.

  • Use Document Cloud-Sharing to Collaborate on Projects.

We use G Suite, the Google cloud-sharing service. So, if the copywriter is working on ad copy for a webpage, the web-designer can access the document in real-time. If the entire team has access to all of the same documents, it improves communication dramatically.

  • As the Leader, Your Role is to Communicate One-on-One, Frequently

After you meet with the team as a whole, start reaching out to each team member individually. I’d suggest that you use Zoom or Facetime here as well. If your team member is having challenges, he/she may not want to divulge that with the entire group. They are more likely to confide in you personally, though.

Manage Your Team Remotely

A Few Tips to Manage Your Team Remotely.

Don’t Do These Things When You Manage Your Remote Team:

  • Try to Do Everything Yourself
  • Micromanage
  • Have Meetings Just to Have Meetings
  • Criticize
  • Add to Negative Morale

Instead, Do These Things When You Manage Your Remote Team:

  • Get Your Team to Set and Monitor Goals
  • Collaborate
  • Use Virtual Meetings to Build Teamwork
  • Praise
  • Add Energy and Optimism