Welcome to the Future of Work! As most of us are adjusting to virtual dinner dates and Zoom happy hours, leaders around the world have found themselves in a tough situation figuring out how to lead their teams, departments, and organizations virtually.
Studies have established that the leadership behaviors in face-to-face and virtual settings are largely the same, but their relative importance increases in virtual settings. Some leadership behaviors become that much more important when you lead virtually. For example, clearly defining roles and tasks, stimulating team discussions, focusing on outcomes rather than activities, communicating clearly in writing, making people feel part of the team, emphasizing shared values, and building relationships gain importance when leading a virtual workforce.
Here are several other key procedures you should keep in mind when leading virtual teams.
Schedule More Meetings.
You need to put more frequent meetings on the calendar when you work virtually. This means that you need more frequent one-on-ones with your direct reports (I prefer weekly) as well as team meetings. You won’t see each other in the office, and you can’t just pop into their cubicle, so having a protected time to catch up regularly becomes more important.
Keep the Webcam On.
To nurture your relationships and promote human connection, I strongly encourage everyone to have their webcams on. The rich, in-person interaction that we take for granted in an office environment becomes scarce when telecommuting. So anytime you can see each other, even via video, becomes very special.
Maintain Solid Project Tracking.
When your direct reports work from home, you have to trust that they do their job. And to foster that trust, you need a solid tracking system for deliverables and deadlines. I don’t mean elaborate project management software (although some of our teams use Trello). It could be a simple email at the end of each one-on-one meeting summarizing the agreed action items and timelines. Then be sure to review them together when you meet next.
Include Only Relevant Thoughts and Information In Your Communications.
Keep your messages focused by including only relevant thoughts and information. After you finish writing an email, reread it and cut out as many unnecessary words as you can. Can you even delete an entire sentence?
Specify “What,” Not “How”.
Get in the habit of letting others decide how they will do their work. After deciding to delegate a project to a particular person, assign it by saying, “I’d like you to figure out how to . . . ” and “How do you think you’ll do that?”
Link Individual Assignments with Your Team’s Purpose.
Practice helping people to connect the dots between their work and the goals of the team and organization. After reviewing what someone is working on, highlight how that project or task supports the team’s mission by saying, “Your work on . . . is important for our team’s mission to . . . ”
Make Others Feel Valued and Appreciated.
We all want to feel valued and appreciated for who we are and what we contribute. Practice telling at least one person a day either in an email or over the phone that you value and appreciate something about them. After realizing that the discussion or email is coming to an end, say, “I want you to know that I value [or] appreciate . . .” For example, you could say that you value the person’s input on the issue or appreciate their hard work.
Author of “The Leader Habit“ Martin Lanik, Ph.D. is the CEO of Pinsight, a global leadership software-as-service company known for its disruptive HR technology. His leadership programs have been implemented by more than 100 companies – including AIG and CenturyLink – and have received awards from Chief Learning Officer and Brandon Hall.