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How to lead a virtual team

20/04/20

Helping your team stay productive and engaged while working from home

As the COVID-19 crisis forces us all to change our day-to-day professional and personal life, team dynamics change, and teams need to be innovative and flexible in the way they collaborate with each other. This ‘new normal’ not only requires a shift in the way we work together, but also in the way leaders manage their teams. This shift is challenging for executives, since they need to adjust to the new situation and may feel a little lost as to what practical steps to take.

How do you deal with working together apart? How do you adjust your leadership styles to leading a team that merely meets online? How do you provide your team with some extra care and a sense of unity? These are questions that require some practical advice on how to lead your teams through this unusual and challenging time. Following up these tips can make leading a virtual team a bit easier. 

Het leiden van een virtueel team

1. Organize the right communication lines

  • Establish the ground rules of communication with the entire team. What do we need as a team for effective and efficient communication?
  • Discuss frequency of communication (daily stand-up, weekly check-ins etc.) and set up the right communication channels (where do we share documents; do we use Skype, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp or Slack to communicate).
  • Make sure the entire team has access and knows how to use the right systems, you could put one person in charge of the technology. 
  • Plan the right interaction based on the needs of the individual with your team members.

2. Keep your team productive

  • Help your team to bring some regularity in their day.
  • Advise your team to take enough breaks - for example, encourage taking some time to enjoy a nice lunch away from the computer.
  • Help your team members in creating a comfortable working space, with as little distractions as possible. Of course, as a leader, there is little you can do to help others create a comfortable working environment but explaining the importance of such an environment can encourage a team to put some extra effort into it.
  • Especially when living with a partner, with or without children, making some time for yourself is crucial, even if it’s is only ten minutes. Tell your team this is important and encourage them to create these moments of self-reflection. Also help your team members who have kids. Show empathy and give them some practical tips and tricks to handle challenges at home.
  • Take a moment with the entire team (possibly even daily) to share highlights, challenges and successes with working virtually from home. In other words, create an open culture in which team members will be able to help each other and learn from best practices.

3. Give trust and freedom

  • Create a culture in which your people are encouraged to tell each other how they feel, what they need to work together effectively or if there are things preventing them from being able to work effectively.
  •  Encourage an environment where people understand about other people’s situations and trust other people to do their job at the best of their ability.
  • If working in a new team, take time to get to know each other on a personal level in order to establish a culture of trust.
  •  Make a difference by sharing your challenges and issues as a leader as well. By doing this, you will give your team members a feeling of security and make them feel more confident to share their own feelings about the situation.
  • Show a bit extra leadership in the beginning of a crisis in order to create stability and trust. If you need to reach a big number of people you could send out a video message.

4. Be aware of team members feeling isolated

  • Encourage your team to take a daily walk or bicycle ride outside, if permitted, and only if people feel comfortable doing so.
  • Remind your team to not only call each other to discuss content but also talk about how you and your colleagues are doing working from home - take time for informal catch-ups and stay connected. For example, schedule a video meeting and sit down for a virtual team lunch.
  • Do short individual check-ins with your team members so they feel heard and seen. Show some extra care. This will ensure trust between you and your team members, making it easier for them to share their challenges or issues with working in this ‘new normal’.
  • Share pictures with each other of your home offices, walking breaks or maybe share a selfie. Next to this, video-calling is a way to add that personal touch to day-to-day calls. Things like these will make people feel connected, even when working from a distance. Note that this will only work if people do not feel forced into doing these things, it is up to themselves to decide what they would like to share.

5. Keep challenging the team and yourself

  • Dust off your list of people to connect with and challenge your team to do the same. Schedule some virtual coffee catch-ups with people you have not spoken to in a while.
  • Look for ways to challenge the team and yourself. For example, look for e-learnings you can do to digitally upskill yourself or share knowledge with colleagues in virtual lunch & learn sessions.
  • Challenge your team to reimagine the possible, by writing articles on topics of interest for your sector and competence.
  • Take the opportunity to tackle some of your ‘do later’ backlog. Keep track of your to-dos and check those boxes.
  • Discuss topics the team and you would like to develop and look for ways to put ideas into practice.

Contact

Lianne van Jaarsveld

Lianne van Jaarsveld

Senior Manager, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)62 096 37 29

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