Well, we’ve made it to the last post of our 4-part series on “Leading a Virtual Team.” Below are links to the first three posts if you’d like to catch up on the discussion:
- Connect and build relationships
- Establish a consistent leadership presence
- Perfect team communications
Acquire & Develop the “Right” Talent
Having worked between 40%-100% from my home for the past three years, I’ve given a lot of thought to the innate strengths and learned behaviors it takes for the remote worker to succeed. There’s a lot out there aimed at uncovering the much needed competencies of virtual leaders, this blog series included; however, not as much emphasis in recent years has been placed on what each and every team member (not just the “boss”) who works virtually needs to do well in order to thrive in that role.
As the leader of a virtual team, you want to pay keen attention to the “type” of employee you hire, as well as the development opportunities you offer and encourage. The remote lifestyle is definitely not for everyone. I have a few friends who readily admit they would get “NOTHING!” done if they worked from home; too many distractions – television, hobbies, laundry, etc. I’m thinking you probably wouldn’t want them on your virtual team, or if they were on your team, you’d want to offer learning opportunities for them to grow in some of the skill sets I describe below.
There is even talk about a new(ish) term, “Virtual Competence” in today’s workplace. In a March 2014 Cambridge University Press post titled, “Is there such a thing as virtual competence?,” author Bob Dignen explores the exact topic of this blog post – what underlying competencies do remote workers need to excel in to be successful on a virtual team?
I very much agree with what Bob outlines as 5 key skills that comprise “virtual competence,” and you will see similar thoughts in what I’ve shared below. I’ve ended up with my own list of 6, which adds discussion around a few other key behaviors as well.
I encourage you, as a virtual leader, to design interview questions, create learning plans, provide feedback, and structure rewards around the competencies below. And as always, please add your own thoughts/additions to this list in the Comments section.
Gallup’s StrengthsFinder theme of Achiever comes to mind when I think of this one. Achievers cannot go to bed at night until every item on their to-do list is complete. As described by Gallup, Achievers have “…an internal fire burning inside that pushes you to do more, to achieve more.” Watch the video below to learn more about Achievers:
Although intrinsic self-discipline can be hard to “teach,” you can certainly focus learning efforts on skills such as time management and SMART goal setting. You can also model the way as the team’s leader by demonstrating self-discipline in your own practices, as employees often mirror the behaviors of their leaders.
2. Relationship Building
The first post of this series was dedicated entirely to encouraging you to connect and build relationships amongst your virtual team. You want to acquire and build a team that has stellar relationship-building skills. They can’t nurture relationships around the water cooler, so if they have super power strength in this skill set, it will certainly help your cause. Demonstrating mutual respect, networking, valuing diversity, and cooperating with others are all traits you want to acquire and foster. If you have a team member who struggles in this area, it will be far too easy for her or him to “hide” away in the digital world and work in a silo.
3. Emotional Intelligence
When working virtually, we have a tendency to become somewhat robotic and remove the human element from our daily interactions. It’s easy to “yell” at someone via email without the repercussion of seeing them the next day; to not detect and seek to understand the variety of emotions expressed during a conference call; to not change course or style based on the feelings you detect, etc.
This can harm your team’s internal dynamics, as well as the output received by customers, so you want to be proactive in ensuring your virtual team’s EQ is strong.
4. Active Listening
Ever been on one of those conference calls where everyone just talks over each other, or where you’re silent and working on something else because you don’t have the energy to fight for air time? We get on the phone and feel we need to talk, and that our only chance to prove our worth to the team or client is to insert our 1 or 2 thoughtful contributions during each meeting (because we have no other way to prove ourselves and stand out from our home office).
What if your team members, rather, were less self-focused on demonstrating their intelligence and ideas and more outwardly-focused on achieving a deepened understanding of your clients’ needs and colleagues’ points of view? In order to get there, they need to be really good listeners, questioners, and also have the confidence to be comfortable with periods of silence on the other end.
Just as it’s important for you as the team lead to be tech-savvy, as discussed in Part 3 of this series, it is likewise imperative for your team members to understand and utilize technology with ease. Are they active on social media, do they understand the frameworks behind large digital platforms well enough to identify what’s possible for a front-end user, are they comfortable posting their thoughts and contributions on a team wiki site? These are all things you want to consider when acquiring and developing the talent on your virtual team.
6. Ethics & Integrity
Trust in the workplace is a hot topic right now and has been attributed as a key factor impacting levels of employee engagement. As with the other competencies discussed in this post, trust is harder to build in the digital world than in person. So, it’s an area where your team will need to use a little extra elbow grease – with each other and with your clients. The highest levels of honesty at all times should be the expectation, along with consistent reliability, follow through, and transparent communication. Again, this is an area where you have the unique ability and influence to model the way for your team.
Need help building your team’s virtual competence or modifying your hiring practices to ensure you’re bringing on the “right” talent from Day 1? Core would love to help. Just visit our Contact page.
Note: This is the third post in a 4-part series on Leading a Virtual Team. I’ve listed links below to the other three posts:
- Part 1: Connect & Build Relationships
- Part 2: Establish a Consistent Leadership Presence
- Part 4: Acquire and Develop the “Right” Talent
Part 3: Perfect Team Communications
Ahhh…communication (sigh). Why is it that nearly every conversation I have about something gone wrong includes the word “communication” as a key focal point? We’ve been practicing human communication since our Neanderthal days and studying it as an academic field as early on as Ancient Greece (to my knowledge, possibly prior), but we just can’t seem to get it right.
Termed by many as a “soft skill” (argh!), communication is hard – very hard. Add on the growing existence of virtual teams in today’s workforce, and you probably feel like just hanging up your hat when it comes to perfecting communications.
BUT (here’s where this somber story takes a turn in the protagonist’s favor), you CAN enhance communications amongst your virtual team. How, you ask? I’ve rounded up a few tips in this third installment of Core’s Leading a Virtual Team series.
Create a Game Plan
Communicate about your communications. Don’t just assume that everyone has the same practices when it comes to text vs. email vs. conference calls vs. IM vs. [insert any number of virtual comms platforms here]. Because there are so many channels out there at your disposal, it’s important that you create a game plan and make sure everyone is on the same page.
What channels do we use to communicate what?
For example, you might determine as a group to use:
- Group chat for brief back-and-forth throughout the day (preventing a mess in your inbox)
- Email for lengthier messages; communication with clients; communicating across time zones that prohibit real-time chat; etc.
- Phone when something is more efficient to discuss during a quick 5-10 minute call versus lots of back and forth on chat or email
- Google Drive for file sharing and collaboration
- Shared calendar for out-of-office schedules
- Weekly digital newsletter for sales success stories and industry trends/thought leadership
- Private team Facebook page for leisure and social content
- Weekly webcam calls for team touch points /updates
What’s appropriate and what’s not?
Once you’ve determined what each channel should be used for, you might want to consider crafting general behavioral guidelines. Have your team develop these “rules of thumb” themselves. For example:
Email Do’s And Don’ts
|Acknowledge via a reply within a 24-hr period||Include people who don’t need to know or take action|
|Be as brief as possible and use bullets/lists whenever possible||Use ALL CAPS|
|Use the red flag sparingly – only in true cases of urgency||Reply All unless everyone needs to see your response|
|Avoid after-hours and weekend emails to respect personal time and wellness||Use email to address a sensitive topic that deserves a more personal delivery|
Virtual Meeting Do’s and Don’ts
|Have a clear purpose and agenda||Schedule on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons (team members need this time to adequately prepare for their week ahead and tie up any loose ends)|
|Start and end on time if you are the host and arrive a few minutes early as a participant||Send call-in details right before it starts (include them in original appt.)|
|Turn your webcam on (often helps avoid people talking over each other and keeps everyone more engaged in the discussion)||Invite unnecessary participants who are not needed to advance the topic forward|
|Open the virtual meeting space up 10 minutes prior to start time if you are the host||Fail to address the details of who is responsible for what (be specific!)|
|Mute your phone when not speaking to minimize background noise (and unmute before you speak!)||Interrupt/announce yourself if you log in late; the Host will be able to see that you have joined|
|Be aware of all time zones when scheduling your meeting||Turn beeping notifications on for attendees entering and leaving the meeting space|
|Conclude by recapping discussion and summarizing next steps||Have your email notifications on when sharing your screen|
As an aside, check out this funny YouTube clip. I’m sure many of you have already seen it, but just had to share:
With a plan like this in place, your team now knows what communication channels to use for what purpose and how to appropriately use each one. You will really start rocking and rolling now!
Three implementation tips for your virtual team’s communications strategy:
- Turn it into something visual. A quick reference page for your team to keep visible at their home office would be helpful.
- Make sure you onboard every new team member with your communications strategy from Day 1.
- Revisit every 6-12 months and tweak as needed. With the number of digital communication tools entering the market each day, you never know what might work better. However, also don’t feel a need to change just because the latest trendy product or service has launched. If it’s working – stick with it.
Become Tech Savvy & Provide Access to Tools
As the leader of a virtual team, it’s imperative that you are very aware of digital workplace tools and that you provide your team members with the tools they need to be successful as a virtual worker. Don’t skimp in this area. It will make your team feel inadequately equipped, and thus less valued.
Ask yourself – Does my team have the right digital infrastructure in place to most efficiently and effectively support each other and our clients?
Consider needs such as:
- IM/Chat (I’ve had colleagues recommend HipChat and Slack during this series)
- Shared calendaring
- Files sharing and collaboration – Check out Google Drive, Evernote, Basecamp and Dropbox just to name a few
- Screen sharing & web conferencing – Check out join.me, Google Hangouts, or any number of web conferencing solutions
- Social networks – You can use public sites like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (that have the capability to set up private collaboration), or you can consider internal enterprise solutions such as Jive, Share Point and Yammer
- Hardware – Don’t forget about critical physical devices such as smart phones, laptops, tablets, hot spots, etc. Make sure your team members are equipped with reliable devices; otherwise it can really hinder productivity.
As always, please share your own thoughts and resources below. There are so many useful tools to help virtual teams these days, and I’ve only skimmed the surface here with some of what I’ve shared. I’d love to hear what is working well for your virtual team.
Stay tuned for our last piece on this series, which will be “Acquire & Develop the Right Talent.”
Till next time…
Note: This is the second post in a 4-part series on Leading a Virtual Team. I’ve listed links below to the other three posts:
- Part 1: Connect & Build Relationships
- Part 3: Perfect Team Communications
- Part 4: Acquire and Develop the “Right” Talent
Part 2: Establish a Consistent Leadership Presence
I’m relaxing on the couch browsing my evening news feed, while occasionally peeping over at my youngest son (Jacob) who is playing the memory game Simon. I notice he’s not paying much attention, lacks engagement, and is only making it to Rounds 3 or 4 each time.
I put my phone down and lock eyes with him. Without exchanging any words, Jacob knows I’m going to give his next attempt my sole focus. He perks up, smiles and then the colors and beeps begin. He makes it 9 rounds this time! Granted, occasionally he asked me for help during those rounds, but he got there…we got there. During his previous attempts, I was there, but I wasn’t present.
Leadership presence. This is the focus of Part 2 of 4 in our “Leading a Virtual Team” series. As with all topics we are exploring during this series, they apply to all leaders – not just those of virtual teams; however, we are diving into them through the lens of a virtual leader.
What do we need from our leaders in the workplace? Historically, and now thankfully archaically, it was things like very specific direction, punch lists and tracking records, 1x per year reviews, etc. Luckily the workplace environment has evolved, and thus the role of organizational leaders has changed.
Let’s take a look at what your virtual team needs to “feel” from you as their leader and how you can establish a consistent leadership presence for them in these three critical areas.
- Motivation & Recognition
Establishing a strong presence in these areas doesn’t get accomplished through regular conference calls where you punch through to-do lists and share updates. Below are a few things you can try to grow your presence in these three areas for your virtual team. It is then that you will become their valued leader and not just a manager who they have to dial into each week to touch base.
Regularly remind the team of the future vision. Articulate it in a compelling and inspirational way. I know, hard to do virtually, but entirely possible.
Time to tap into the right side of your brain! Rely on new media – infographics, video, images, audio. Start a virtual Vision Board that you and your team can add to whenever you come across something that speaks to where you are heading; what your ultimate aim is. Pinterest might be a good platform for this (read this article for more info), or you might already be using some type of online community with functionality that would enable you to create this.
You could also start a YouTube channel and/or blog that becomes an inspirational forum, where content is very much future-oriented. Quotes, little nuggets from a recent business trip, a TED Talk you want to share, etc. Just make sure you keep it focused on a consistent message of where you’re heading as a team or organization – to develop a belief in and excitement for the future.
Motivation & Recognition
Each one of your team members has unique motivators. Invest the time to learn what their “carrots” are and dangle them throughout the race. A few motivators and forms of recognition to consider for your virtual team are:
- Sending hand written thank-you notes to their home (be specific about what behaviors you’re thankful for)
- Sending gifts that are meaningful to them (hence the need to spend the time learning what they like) – flowers, tickets to a local sporting event in their city, gift cards, spa retreat day, charitable donation on their behalf, etc.
- If you have a *healthy* competitive environment amongst the team, consider using a leaderboard or other digital gamification techniques for certain projects/initiatives
- You’re not around to pop your head into their cube and say “nice job” after a presentation, so after you hang up with the client, pick your phone back up and call them to say “nice job.” Or use a team Chat forum to send the same message. Point being – take an extra minute of your day to reach out virtually with a simple pat on the back.
- Take personal note of your employees’ birthdays and send birthday cake to their home. Make it a tradition to leave a voicemail of a version of Happy Birthday by an artist or music genre that would resonate with that person (click here for an example). It’s the little things. Make sure you send enough birthday cake for the entire family if they live with others.
- After a long week, send them a note at 3:00 on Friday telling everyone to log off and that happy hour or Friday Night Family Night is on you. Allow them to expense their Friday evening shenanigans to the boss! (within reason of course)
- Consider offering a Dream Manager program to your employees. This could easily be supported virtually.
Adopt a servant leadership mindset. Your role is to align, develop and engage your team members and ensure their ultimate success with the organization. Implement the following practices to serve as a constant source of support during their tenure:
- Hold a weekly one-on-one via webcam with each of your direct reports. (I very much believe that using a webcam is critical in building a virtual leadership presence with your team.) Unless an apocalypse is upon us, don’t cancel these weekly touch points or move them around.
- Always ask, “What can I do to help?” and/or “What do you need from me to be successful this week?” during your discussion.
- Set aside separate monthly coaching calls (using webcam as well). Focus this time on discussing career development plans, performance feedback, where they want to grow expertise in their field, etc. Distinguish this from your weekly touch points. Make them feel different. If you worked in an office with your team, you might make your coaching sessions feel different by holding them at a local coffee shop. Virtually, you can make them feel different by holding them on a different day of the week and time of day than your regular weekly calls. You can even hold them in the morning from a coffee shop; you’ll just be at two different coffee shops. Point being – do something with the virtual environment that distinguishes these coaching conversations from your regular weekly dialogue. It will enhance the quality of the conversation.
They need to feel your presence in these three areas regularly…not just on “slow” weeks when you happen to have the time to focus on it (this is actually probably the least valuable time for them to feel your presence). Build it into your regular interactions with the team and watch performance BOOM! Jacob’s performance increased by nearly 200%. Imagine the possibilities.
Continue to follow along in this series and add your insights and experiences in the Comments section below. Here are the next two strategies we’ll explore, so stay tuned!
- Perfect Team Communications
- Acquire & Develop the “Right” Talent for Virtual Teams
It has become the norm to find ourselves on a virtual team, and many of us are leading those teams. A friend of mine reached out recently asking for advice on this topic. She finds it challenging to inspire, engage and drive high performance from her dining room table. And I’d venture to bet she’s not alone.
As this is a highly relevant and critical topic for many, I have separated it into a series of posts over the next 4 weeks. I’ll focus on one overarching strategy per week, giving you time to devote attention to each one and consider how you might implement the suggestions with your team. Below are the four focus areas we’ll cover:
- Connect & Build Relationships
- Establish a Consistent Leadership Presence
- Perfect Team Communications
- Acquire & Develop the “Right” Talent for Virtual Teams
Please share your own experiences and advice throughout this series. I am certainly not the only one who can weigh in on this topic! Use the Comments section to connect with others throughout the series.
Here we go with Strategy #1 for acing your role as a virtual leader…
Connect & Build Relationships
First and foremost, it’s about relationships. Humans have an innate need to connect with one another, and this doesn’t go away when working on a virtual team. However, it is far too easy to treat relationships as transactional in the virtual world. We can “hide” in our home office, complete our 5 tasks for the day, and then head out for happy hour with our local friends, who we don’t work with. This has created efficiencies in some areas, but any productivity gains you realize are at high risk of being reversed due to lack of loyalty and engagement.
Make sure you are connecting regularly with your virtual team, and make sure your team is connecting regularly with one another. When I say “connecting,” I mean everything from asking about their weekend and engaging in friendly banter about the upcoming SuperBowl, to sharing client successes and challenges and ideating around future offerings. It needs to be both social and work-related. Why? Because the stronger our personal relationships are with one another, the stronger our business relationships will be. It will increase levels of trust and the influence you have on one another.
Think about this – who would you bend over backwards for at work? It’s likely someone who you know on a deeper level, and not just superficially through occasional work-related encounters. You need to build relationships with one another. Real relationships. Have names, faces, likes, dislikes, strengths, limitations, emotions. It’s not just “fluff” to connect socially with one another; it’s a business imperative.
Here’s an experiment – watch the video below.
Has watching that video put a voice behind these characters on the screen? A passion for this topic, possibly luring you to read on? Think about how to create this same human connection on a consistent basis amongst the virtual team you lead.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the importance of connecting your virtual team with each other and building meaningful relationships. Below are a few ideas of how you can do that. Please share any others you can contribute to this discussion!
|1. As just demonstrated, turn your webcams on! Google Hangouts and Chat make it very easy to connect via webcams throughout the day as needs arise. Take advantage of the free tools that are out there.|
|2. Establish 1 hour each week in an informal “chat room” setting to share what’s going well, where people are having challenges, etc. Keep it a consistent, recurring appointment on everyone’s calendar and support its importance as the team leader. Recognize and reward team members when displaying the types of behaviors you wish to gain through this forum (sharing resources, collaboratively solving problems, collectively ideating on a topic). I would not overly-structure this forum, but I would ensure that it’s valuable time spent. It might require some prodding and light structure initially, but then I think you’ll see it being largely self-run by the team once they get into a groove. Consider giving it a catchy title like Team60, Monday Round-Up, Hump Day Happenings…|
|3. Create a private Facebook page (for use during the work day too…this is their water cooler!). Model the way by being an active participant on the page yourself. Alternatively, you could create a team-specific hashtag on Twitter. What’s important is that you use the social media channel that the majority of your team is already using and is most comfortable with. That way, team happenings and collaboration just become part of their regular news feed. Discuss with your team to determine the best channel.|
|4. Spend the first 5 minutes of your weekly team meetings doing a “Round Robin” on a selected topic, such as:
Placing a time cap on this part of your meeting will help keep it efficient. You could even gamify it a bit by putting up a digital clock on your web conferencing screen.
|5. Create greater awareness of and transparency around team members and team dynamics, using tools such as (just to name a few):
The most important piece here is that you are creating a greater awareness of individual strengths, communication preferences, conflict styles, thought processes, values, etc. and then purposefully modifying your interactions with one another accordingly to enhance overall team dynamics and outcomes.
|6. Convene in person. I know this post is focused on virtual team leadership, but to have a really strong team you have to leverage face-to-face, live interaction whenever possible. I recommend doing this during the initial onboarding of a new team member, and then at regular pre-established offsites during the year. I would convene the entire team annually at minimum, but bi-annually if budget and logistics allow.I spent 2 days in Pittsburgh with a team from Australia that I was working with a few years ago. Those are the only 2 days we have ever spent together in person, but to this day my relationships with those colleagues are stronger than anyone else I work with in the APAC region. Trust me, it’s worth the time and investment.What should you do when you convene? Anything that is more effective in-person (i.e., leave day-to-day tactics and operations out of it):
|7. Virtual Philanthropy – Empower each of your team members to lead a philanthropic effort of their choice, virtually of course, and rotate on a quarterly basis. This could be contributing to a team blog to raise awareness of a particular issue/cause; collecting videos from each team member to send into their local Children’s hospital to brighten someone’s day; organizing a food or toy drive with shipments all coming into their home address and sharing final stats and pictures of your drop-off; hosting a virtual walk-a-thon or 5K at lunch one day with everyone getting sponsors and then sharing pictures from their afternoon jog, etc. Possibilities here are endless! Leave it up to the creativity of your team to decide what they want to do.|
Remember to continue to follow this series and contribute your expertise on this topic. I will post additional Virtual Leadership strategies each week for the next three weeks. Here are the next 3 strategies we’ll explore, so stay tuned!