With many offices making the move towards working from home, managers are faced with the new challenge of overseeing virtual teams. Now that workforces are distributed across multiple locations, and potentially multiple time zones, management styles have to adapt to stay effective.
Rather than viewing this shift from a deficit perspective, managers should adopt the mindset that this is a golden opportunity to take a more intentional role in how teams are supervised. With employee operations happening out of sight, managers must make more of an effort to clearly communicate their expectations to produce results in an online environment.
As the CEO of a 100% remote company with experience managing virtual teams since before the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some tips for engaging your workforce as a CEO during this challenging time.
Introduce yourself to new team members
Even when working in the same office together, a company's CEO can easily feel removed from the rest of the team if there is limited interaction with employees. When you lead a remote team, this feeling of disconnection can be even more pronounced.
To offset this disconnect, when your team grows, set time aside to welcome each new team member. Even if you do not lead the onboarding process yourself, set a meeting or a call where you get to know new hires to provide a warm, human reception.
Managing my 100% remote team has taught me that these small interactions make all the difference. When you put forth the effort, your employees will feel valued as individuals and not like they're another cog in the machine.
Establish an onboarding process
When entering a new workplace, recent employees can pick up how things are done by simply observing co-workers and asking questions. However, when you have a virtual workforce, communicating your company's policies and procedures needs to be much more intentional.
Establishing an onboarding process remedies this problem. Your onboarding process should be standardized, walking your new hires through sign-ups for the tools and resources needed to succeed.
At Teambuilding.com, we have an onboarding Trello board with resources to familiarize our newest employees with our company mission and values. These cards also contain onboarding checklists for new team members to complete to make sure each employee is ready to go.
Articulate your vision clearly
One of the hallmarks of working remotely is the sensation of your employees powering ahead on different projects without a definite idea of how projects fit into the bigger picture. To provide the necessary focus, articulate your vision clearly for your team to effectively carry out the company's mission.
We post our mission on our website, and managers are always ready to explain the organization's priorities. We also create documents that outline what we want to accomplish and the values we aim to uphold.
One of my favorite core values is to operate with level 10 integrity. We ask our team to question whether their actions follow this principle when enacting new projects or making decisions. Keeping the company's mission and values in mind help everyone feel invested and united in what they do.
Schedule regular check-ins
As a manager, it is important to have an understanding of what projects are in motion and what team members are working on. Regardless of whether your team works from home or not, managers need this information to track the organization's progress in achieving goals and optimizing processes, especially if you have an employee who is not producing desired results.
Regularly check in with your team. Create a reporting process where your team can disclose progress on a regular basis.
At our company, we have team meetings once every other week, and team members fill out weekly surveys, where each employee offers input regarding individual goals for the week and ways management can help make their jobs easier. These check-ins are not only for management's benefit, they also empower employees to speak up in a low-pressure way.
Applaud excellence when you see it
When your employees work remotely, it is essential to elevate good work when you see it. Not only do these acknowledgments motivate your team to perform their best work, but it also keeps everyone connected by showing your team what their co-workers are doing.
We have a Slack channel solely devoted to shouting out our team members' awesome work. In addition, when giving feedback, I include both constructive criticism and praise. I also show my appreciation by reaching out to team members individually, specifically outlining the good work I see. These actions boost team morale and prevent employees from feeling taken for granted or invisible, especially in a virtual environment.
Prioritize team building now more than ever
Feeling isolated when part of a virtual workforce is natural since your co-workers are not in your immediate vicinity. To maintain a sense that the team is a collaborative body, penciling in team building is key.
Team building consists of exercises, games, challenges or activities that bring co-workers together through fun shared experiences to boost employee engagement and productivity. While companies traditionally conduct these activities in person, virtual team building via video conferencing is a great option for remote teams.
My company schedules team-building events at least once a month, which lets employees get to know each other in a casual setting. These optional "hangages" are integral for introducing new hires and familiarizing employees with the colorful, eccentric personalities of our team.
Make yourself available to your team
Our team has a very flexible approach toward schedules. If you are a full-time employee, then as long as you work at least 40 hours a week and get your job duties done, you will not have to clock in and out. Since our team works from all over the globe, it is impractical to expect everyone to be online at exactly the same time all the time.
However, even with this approach, it is pretty clear I am almost always available, if my Slack status is anything to judge by. When employees message me with questions or ideas or concerns, I respond quickly.
I want my employees to feel comfortable with me, and this personal policy helps generate trust between me and my team, even with employees I have yet to physically meet.
Give stirring motivational speeches
A trait that I am notorious within our company for is my love of motivational speeches. While this characteristic seems more analogous to a president or leader in a movie, I believe it helps engage my team by pushing them to live up to the ideals espoused.
People are drawn to passion. Giving motivational speeches taps into this desire to see what drives the company. Simply showing you care about the work and the direction your company is taking helps galvanize your employees and gives them a philosophy to get behind.
When managing a virtual workforce, it is impossible to put limitations on the way your employees choose to work simply because your team is working independently most of the time.
Because of this principle, it is crucial for you to trust your team. If an unforeseen event affects a team member's ability to work, then you should strive to find a solution that addresses the needs of both your company and your employee.
When this situation happens, your attitude should be what the company can do to make your working experience more productive. Being flexible will pay off in the long run. As you show you value your employees, your team will appreciate the sentiment and work to figure out how best to meet company goals.
The new normal and the future of work
Even after the pandemic ends, the nature of work is not guaranteed to return to office life prior to COVID-19. It is my guess that in the new normal, virtual teams will be much more prevalent, and working from home will simply be a way of life for many.
If this remote work is the case, then managers should take this period of working from home as a proof of concept for the future of work. There is no better time than now to find the best ways to cope with the changes that our technologically advanced world has given us.
How have you been leading your virtual workforce during this time? I hope that these tips help you gauge how to tweak your management style to fit the needs of your remote team.