Virtual and remote teams are everywhere. Globalised work has become the norm and work-form-home policies have been introduced in a multitude of organisations. Many individuals are enthusiastic about virtual teams - one brings together the people with the best expertise and collaborate across the globe. But times can be less enthusiastic, too, for instance when you leave that phone conference and there was confusion and misunderstanding again. While the benefits of virtual teams are evident we continue to struggle with that type of work as at times it's against our very nature.
Here are 6 strategies that every virtual leader should take into account when leading remote teams in a measurable metric format. Track these metrics and push yourself and your virtual team to create a more lasting success.
1. Proactive Outreach: # of “pings" per day
In a face-to-face setting people bump into each other, for instance at the water cooler. Then they can have a brief chat to catch up. This is not possible any more in a virtual environment. That is why team members and especially leaders need to proactively reach out to other team members and "ping" them regularly and proactively, to stay in touch and to keep included.
A good way is to put calendar reminders or a post it on your desk to remind you. Of course, don’t go so far that you start getting on people’s nerves via pinging every 15 minutes: “Hey waaazzzzzuuuuup?”
2. Clarity: # of results / goal reviews per week
Virtual teams are natural results-only workplaces. Clarity is key here. That is why you have to check at least once per week work that objectives are aligned and results are being shared.
I recommend to have regular 1-1 meetings, go through clear objectives for the week and go for instance through the “sent emails” box to share key achievements of the week.
3. Connection: # of team connects per week
The team connect is a key strategy to bring your virtual team together. This should be in a calendar of every team member and should be conducted on a “drumbeat” basis, so that individuals know that there is a moment for exchange at least once per week.
However, don’t make this a super-long meeting: A short & concise 30 minutes often will do. Push the focus more on the preparation. For instance, with one global team I have worked to have every time 2x5 minute PechaKucha-style status update presentations that kept the attention high during the virtual meeting.
4. Focus: # of vision & strategy communications per week
Communicate your vision and key focus areas often so that people know about the direction and the “why” behind the tasks. Don’t assume that it’s clear, it often isn’t, especially in a remote environment.
This is not about endless PowerPoint presentations either. Rather, use short short, concise updates, both in 1-1s as well as team meetings.
5. Transparency: # of feedbacks on virtual interaction per quarter
If you have ever met somebody for the first time “live” after a virtual interaction and you thought: “Wow, that person is really different from what I imagined...” then you saw the power of virtual image at play. We behave differently in a virtual environment, especially in a low-context medium like email. Often an email can come across as harsh and cause friction in the collaboration.
I recommend to conduct a team feedback on virtual interaction once per quarter. Take concrete examples of virtual interaction and give feedback to each other. How is the email tone? How do we come across on video? This might seem trivial but failing to address interaction issues can seriously effect your effectiveness as a team.
6. Flexibility: Assess your portfolio of communication channels every six months
In your virtual team, is an email always replied with another email? Do you use only one channel of communication 80% of the time? Then your communication portfolio is not well-balanced. I believe a good mix of interaction should be used in virtual teams, from for instance SharePoint or Yammer to Email for low-context communication to instant messaging, phone, video and face-to-face for high context communication such as strategy development.
If it’s too heavily skewed towards email or meetings it’s not good. Try to have a good balance and track the distribution in your team. Then re-balance every six months.
Track your progress and proactively work on your virtual team skills.
You can track all of the above strategies and review the results with your team. By highlighting and proactively measuring and managing these metrics you make a normally unscoscious process conscious and you improve the quality and power of your virtual team.
The best practise consultant Sudmann is an expert on high-performance leadership in global corporations and is regularly featured on FastCompany, BBC.com and many more. He works with multinational organizations as change consultant, keynote speaker as well as executive trainer.