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Leading virtual and remote teams effectively

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have discovered the benefits of working remotely including flexibility in hours, no need for commuting, and being able to work from anywhere. According to research from McKinsey, when people have the opportunity to work flexibly, 87% take it. With remote work rising in popularity, leaders need tools to manage and lead their teams effectively. Regardless of where your team members are situated, a good leader is essential in creating an effective, close-knit team. While managing a team virtually may be different, there are strategies you can implement to create a successful team. Here are some practical ways to effectively lead your remote team.


1. Foster trust and connection in an online environment

Trust remains a key factor in building reliable and successful teams. Every team dynamic is different, and leaders need to adapt their management styles according to the needs of their team. Because remote teams do not have typical in-person interactions that naturally form bonds between coworkers, it is especially important for leaders to proactively foster trust in remote teams. Fostering trust may look different online as body language, eye contact, and other visual cues tend to be more difficult to spot. However, there are other ways leaders can amplify trust remotely. For instance, leaders can implement virtual socialization activities to help team members get to know each other outside work and build relationships, or set aside time to collectively celebrate team achievements and uplift one another’s wins. Additionally, 1-on-1 check-ins with team members can provide opportunities for causal exchanges seen in traditional office environments and this can help build the connections necessary in fostering trust.

Trust starts with the leader. When leaders are transparent and honest in their decisions, consistent with expectations, and reliable when concerns arise, trust can be fostered anywhere—whether that’s in person or virtually. It is important to not micromanage your team as overbearing leaders can dissuade and discourage their teams. Excessive emails, for example, can make team members feel their leader does not believe in them and consequentially complicate their workflow by flooding their inboxes with unnecessary messages. When a team trusts one another, they can work efficiently because of the bond they share and the confidence they have in their coworkers. Creating a sense of connection virtually starts with making sure the online environment is safe, secure, and welcoming.

2. Be flexible with hours

Your team may be working in different time zones, so being flexible in scheduling team meetings can help your team members pace themselves in a way that works for them and their needs. By being flexible with work hours, you demonstrate to your team members that you value their needs and preferences, which are key aspects of a human-centered approach to leadership. While this may mean more frequent meetings or setting up office hours outside traditional work hours, being flexible and understanding will show your team you also support them outside of work. Every team operates differently, so it’s important to communicate with your team and learn about their specific needs and how you can best support them. It serves as a challenge to rethink how they can create their greatest work.

3. Acknowledge the challenges

While there are numerous benefits to working remotely, there are challenges too. It can be hard for people to feel like they are part of a team when they only see their coworkers on a computer screen. The Academy of Management Journal research shows that loneliness is one of the top challenges for remote teams. As leaders, we need to acknowledge that these challenges are real and help our team members adapt to working remotely if they are having difficulty transitioning from a traditional workplace. Leaders can do this by creating a caring environment and fostering strong relationships between coworkers. It’s important to make sure all employees feel valued and appreciated, and reaching out to your team members demonstrates compassion and understanding.

4. Prioritize and create opportunities for open communication

One of the most important aspects of managing a team—regardless of in-person or online teams—is communication. Being in a virtual team naturally means everyone is working at different paces, so keeping communication open, consistent, and frequent minimizes confusion that may occur between team members and helps everyone understand what their roles are. When team members work from various locations (or in different time zones), keeping everyone on the same page and informed of expectations can be a demanding job. This is why regular check-ins and creating opportunities for open communication are especially important: you want your team to be up-to-date on current affairs so there are no surprises when it comes to tasks and responsibilities.

If your team is located within the same city, it may be helpful to schedule occasional get-togethers to socialize with one another. Co-working spaces are becoming popular and many co-working spaces offer rooms to rent for short durations. This can be especially helpful if you feel your team may need a “morale boost or even to celebrate the completion of a project. It’s important to celebrate all milestones with your team so they know you care about them and find their achievements meaningful. If your team is located around the world, you can consider sending them a gift card to their local coffee shop. Small gestures show your team you care about them as a person.

Managing a virtual team has its challenges, but with the right support in place, you can lead your team effectively and help your team members thrive remotely. At Humanicity, we equip leaders with the tools and resources they need to become effective leaders of remote teams whilst maintaining a human-centered approach to leadership. Schedule a call with Humanicity Consulting Group to learn how we can support you in your journey of leadership.