Leading Virtual Teams TalentMakersTurbulent times. The world is changing at the speed of light. In just a few weeks, global business and social lives have been turned upside down…

At the same time, everyone is expected to keep all business activities running as usual.

The chances are, you’re reading this from your desk chair at home right now, instead of your workplace at the office. That’s quite a change! For some it may feel like a blessing, while others may miss the routine and structure of the usual office environment. But this ‘virtual’ work environment will be the reality for the time being and in the future – it’s more likely to become the norm, especially in a volatile world like the present.

Therefore, if you want to get the best out of this situation, out of yourself and your team, you can draw up a plan including the things that are important to you. This is important now, but also for later on. It means you will always be prepared for situations where you have to work remotely… and situations where you have to lead remotely!

Maybe you want to keep in contact with your own manager and your team at set times?
The need for clear objectives and pre-agreed team standards is now even greater than usual. After all, everyone should know what is expected of them.

Working from home can actually be very pleasant, because in your own safe environment you often come up with the most creative solutions to problems that have long existed in the work place.

In this article I would like to give you some guidance that should allow you to make the most of this experience.
You will be able to get the best out of yourself and your ‘remote’ team, meaning you will keep firing on all cylinders in these bizarre times!

#1 Firstly, create order from the chaos

I can be brief about this: when chaos reigns, you first of all have to get some things straight for yourself. Chaos can be scary at the beginning, but chaos also offers fantastic possibilities and new insights.

At the moment, there is a lot of uncertainty and stress and that’s really not surprising. A worldwide virus with a ‘lockdown’ as a result: something that normally only occurs in films has now become reality. I won’t go into the details, as this article is about the work right in front of you. But if you’re a little anxious, it’s perfectly understandable.

What’s important is to try and get the basics right for yourself. You can do this by creating clear expectations and guidelines for working from home. I’m sure your supervisor has already told you what he or she expects of you. Now it’s your job to pass that on to your team. So, how do you do that?

If your manager’s expectations are clear, then it is worth writing them out for yourself in a way that is clear to you. Only then will you be able to communicate this to your team.

Write down everything: the things you have at your disposal right now, as well as those objectives that are trickier to tackle. You then have to try and deal with the latter first. In this way, you’re already heading towards a semblance of order and some of that stress and chaos disappears.

#2 Do you have everything you need?

Is your manager asking you to do specific things that are now technically less possible? If that’s the case, I would advise you to ask for resources straight away. It might be the case that a team member does not have a good computer at home, or that some of them are unable to communicate because of a large and busy family.

Try to help your team members with such issues, because they rely on you! There is nothing worse than having a team member stress out even more in times of such global worry. If your manager wants to achieve certain results, you must be given the means to achieve them.

When these are offered, communicate this directly to your team. Are there some things that not everyone can pick up? If so, consider delegating some tasks to another team member, or distribute tasks throughout your team. In this way, you will relieve those team members who are most resistant to working from home.

For example, somebody who normally has a lot of customer contact could be given an administrative job if this person is ‘stuck’ at home with three children. During such times, we have to work with what we’ve got and a little extra creativity certainly won’t go amiss.

Set specific tasks per day, per week and per month. This allows you to draw up an overview for yourself of your team members and their core qualities. When you see that certain qualities overlap, you can swap work between team members.

#3 Communicate clearly and often to your team

Following the above method, it is of course essential that you inform your team members of your plans in a clear and timely manner.

There are four spearheads for this, which are important:

Communicate effectively
Communicate pro-actively
Choose the best communication option
Give feedback that works

You can fine-tune your global plan in consultation with all team members using various online tools, such as Zoom and Skype. You therefore have quite a free choice in determining the size and composition of the group, as is the case with a regular meeting at the office.

Try to get a sense right away where any bottlenecks might arise and make sure these team members get some extra attention, in particular if you start moving tasks around because this can be a bit confusing at the beginning.

That is why it is very important that you are totally clear in communicating your goals:

Why do you want to do things that way?
Why do you want to give those tasks to another team member?
Why do you think this is the best solution?

Afterwards, you can go around the virtual table with each team member, to discuss those points that need a little extra attention. You must be sure to listen carefully to your team member and ask questions where necessary.

Working at home is quite a turnaround for some and your team members are sure to be grateful if you take this seriously, taking their (im)possibilities into account.

It may take a while for things to quieten down, but with clear expectations and proactive communication, including clear feedback, you will certainly get there. That is why it is so important to create mutual trust.

The more this is present, the easier the change will be.

#4 The importance of trust

I can’t stress enough how incredibly important trust is in any interpersonal relationship. Especially in a ‘virtual’ work office!

After all, you no longer see each other on a daily basis, so it makes a huge difference when you build up a relationship of trust with your team members. They will then accept certain changes much more easily than a team who is struggling with trust issues.

In this article I have already emphasised how communication and trust go hand in hand.

If you want to achieve certain goals, you will have to communicate clearly. This way, there is no confusion. It is also the first step towards trust, because it gives your team members the feeling that you are honest. There is no hidden agenda, you just tell them how it is.

After that, you will almost immediately face various reactions from your team. Being aware of how you give and receive feedback will help you achieve your goals. Make sure you have 100% time and attention for each team member and get involved in his or her point of view… even if you disagree! It’s just a matter of adjusting your perspective. You don’t know what someone else is going through until you’ve walked in that person’s shoes for a while.

Trust is all about commitment, so take every question, every complaint and every problem seriously. Then, together with your team member, try to find a constructive solution that reassures both parties. In this article you can find a lot of valuable information about constructive feedback, including the way you build mutual trust through feedback.

With every conversation you have, you need to start from the position of team objectives, the knowledge and skills of your employees, and current possibilities. Try to be flexible with regard to circumstances and you will see that your team will follow you. Personal attention leads to better performance!

#5 Do you need a better grip on things?

It can be difficult for any manager to change things in a short period of time. That is why I have outlined below an example of guidelines regarding remote working and communication with your team.

But this is just an example!

Every company is different, so the chances are that these specific activities and times don’t necessarily work for you. Feel free to adjust what needs to be adjusted and try to work out an ideal scenario together with your team.

Activity Who Time
Short (de-)briefings via video chat
(e.g. Zoom)
Whole team 9:00 and 15:00 daily
Specific team meetings via video chat (depending on individual projects and departments within the team) Team members involved in this 10:00 weekly
1-on-1 meetings via video-chat Every team member Weekly scheduling
(1-on-1 conversations are best spread out so that your attention stays focused)
Time you invest in your own tasks and communication with your manager and third parties (customers, partners, suppliers, etc.). Just you Daily before and/or after the team meetings between 11:00 and 17:00

Daily short update by email:

  • State of play and current goals
  • Ongoing projects
  • Success/achievements
  • Points for improvement and lessons learned
Whole team 17:00 daily
Knowledge development: online training, online exchange & networking Each person individually
(at their own pace)
Before the team meetings and/or after the daily updates

As you can see, your own activities overlap, but as a manager you can certainly interpret this well. Experience has shown that we concentrate best for making plans and carrying our individual tasks early in the morning, not long after we are awake. So spend this time usefully, because that way you can efficiently plan your day.

It is also smart to draw up certain rules with regard to communication.

So, for example:

  • Preferably answer urgent matters directly, by phone, text message or WhatsApp.
  • Preferably answer non-urgent matters by e-mail or telephone within 24 hours.
  • Use your phone and the calendar on your phone for things that need to be followed up; that way you can set useful reminders.
  • Also take into account the e-mail policy of the company, if it exists. You may be working from home, but your client doesn’t necessarily have to see this.

#6 Make meetings fun and productive

Now that you are holding lots of meetings and discussions remotely, it’s more important than ever to ensure your meetings are effective and productive!

It is equally important to keep things ‘fun’ and encourage team spirit.

 

It looks like both you and your team will be working from home for a while.

Have you considered that this is also an opportunity to strengthen the connection and trust with each of your team members?
As well as growing as a leader?

My work (and website) is dedicated to sharing inspiration, tools and resources to help you, as a (new) female manager, get the best out of yourself and your team.

As a result, you and your team will contribute to productivity, enthusiasm, success and job satisfaction.

And you will take up your role with greater satisfaction and self-confidence.

I wish you lots of success!
Take good care of yourself and others 🍀

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