Leading Virtual Teams

“How can our line managers better engage with their direct reports when they work remotely?” 

– HR Manager, Global Chemicals Manufacturer

Ensuring Engagement in Virtual Relationships

 

It is entirely possible to develop an engaging and productive relationship over a long distance, without any or minimal face-to-face contact. However, it is not easy and requires the development of certain remote leadership skills.

Here are two main areas that remote leaders can focus on in order to build a sense of ‘virtual closeness’ that takes the attention away from the possible discomfort of physical distance.

 

1. Building Trust: Task versus Relationship

Why do people behave differently with each other when meeting virtually, as opposed to face-to-face?

We have observed time and time again that when a team meets virtually, it will get right down to business. Virtual teams tend to be much more task-focused than co-located teams.

We believe that this is because in a virtual setting, team members are not physically able to have a chat in the hallway or over coffee just before the meeting starts.

These informal conversations and personal connections are critical in creating and maintaining relationships and in building trust – which is of course key to engagement, and even more so in a remote setting.

One way to improve virtual conversations and meetings is to create a balance between focusing on the task as well as the relationship. The right balance depends on the task, type of team and cultural context.

 

2. Communicating Effectively: Virtual Etiquette

A well-planned approach that allows a lively exchange of views and perspectives – whether conducting a virtual two-way conversation or a team meeting — is the best way to get an informative debate going, important questions aired, and a range of perspectives shared.

Getting leaders to conduct virtual meetings that are enjoyable, interactive and therefore productive is entirely achievable, by applying some basic principles – what we call ‘virtual etiquette’ – during the meeting itself.

These virtual etiquette principles will quickly increase a sense of engagement.

 

Getting Practical

 

What does this look like in practice? Here are some tried-and-tested tips from our Virtual Meetings Toolkit: 

  • Start with the relationship: allocate a few minutes at the beginning of each one-to-one conversation or team meeting with an informal chat and check-in process.
  • Encourage spontaneity: unmute all participants during the course of the meeting and ask them not to mention their name every time they comment. Over-structuring a meeting stifles human interaction such as laughter and interruptions.
  • Listen carefully, not just to what is said but also to silences. If the cultural context allows, ask what these silences mean.
  • Limit presentations or monologues to four minutes each: any longer and you’ll decrease engagement.

Learning to manage, lead, build teams that are not co-located are important skills, and should not be confused with team leadership skills in co-located teams.

In our remote leadership development programmes, leaders learn how to build high performing virtual teams that are just as — or even more — engaged and committed as co-located teams. 

Our programmes are delivered completely online which accelerates the learning by mirroring the real world of the participants.

Email us for more information or to receive a free overview of the different remote workshop outlines that we offer.

 

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