Managing A Remote Or Virtual Team? Is Your Team Scattered In Different Locations? Read Our Time Tested 20 Killer Tips To Ensure Your Success.
Why would I say this guide is proven and time-tested? Well, I have been leading teams locally and more often than not global teams scattered across the globe for over 15 years. So let me share with you what I have learned about how to manage a team remotely and still be successful.
20 Best Practices For Managing Remote Employees
1. Establish Ground Rules For The Team
Ground rules for a remote or virtual team team are very important. Establish the rules individually with your team members and then reinforce them in a session with your new team. Ground rules that I have established over the years go as follows.
- We as a team do not play politics. Playing politics is the assertion of power or with-holding of information between team members in order to gain advantage, prestige or glory. A high performing team has no politics in it. Every team member needs to look out for one another and help each other to succeed. They need to know that you do not play politics and if they do, it will be frowned upon.
- Your success is our success. Believe it or not, you will never be a successful manager if you cannot deliver results. You cannot deliver results if your team cannot deliver results. As the three musketeers once said “its all for one and one for all”.
- You Have Their Back – Always. If you need help with a problem or need a wall broken down come to me. You need to be there for your team, even more so in a virtual team.
- Be prepared to talk in team meetings. Establish the rule that they will need to provide the team an update in every team meeting. This not only gets them prepared to have something to say, which improves participation but it also gets them to think about what they have achieved or what problems they have faced since the last team meeting.
2. Try to Meet Face To Face At Least Once
You may have a team scattered across the globe, or even scattered across the country. But you need to meet at least once. All the hours that people spend talking on Skype is no replacement for actually meeting face to face.
How do you make the face to face meeting happen? Well in big corporations it comes in the guise of goal setting and planning.
It starts with an email.
Dear Boss, I want to arrange a face to face meeting with my team in order to establish the following.
Deliverable: A 10 Point Plan to Improve [Productivity / Sales / Customer Retention] within [cite organization or process].
Agenda for Team Face To Face
- Overview Of Business Objectives
- Team Presentations
- Idea Harvesting
- Return On Investment Of Potential Ideas
- Ideas Shortlisting
- Action Plan
- Execution Timetable & Total Estimated $ Improvement
This always works, it is guaranteed. Your company will have to be facing bankruptcy to refuse such a request.
3. Communicate Clearly
“What, are we only on step three, I feel like I have been reading forever already!”
“It only gets better from here… hold onto your pants.”
It took me a while to work this out and I learned this from my staff in our year-end performance reviews. When I asked for 360-degree feedback about myself and my performance, many people said that I was such a great communicator. When I probed further they meant I spoke at a steady rhythm and that I spoke very clearly and pronounced.
This is an important skill I stumbled upon. You see I am English, in fact from a place in middle England called Warwickshire. In this part of the U.K., we do not have a strong regional accent, in fact, it is a relatively posh accent. If you want to hear my voice check out my podcast.
This means that when I spoke on Skype or in video conferences every nationality had a chance of understanding me. In fact, I always take the effort to spell out clearly important points.
If your team are non-native English speakers you really need to take your time and be clear when you are talking.
4. Use Visuals… Always
When I want to get an important point across I always use a visual. A visual is a graphical representation of the key points you are trying to make.
Important points warrant pulling up a PowerPoint presentation. But in a team meetings, it is simply worth sharing the meeting agenda and minutes so that the audience can see (even if they join late) what the topic is and who the actions belong to.
The visual side of the brain is a lot more receptive than the audio receptors. As they say “a picture paints a thousand words” and this is as true in remote team meetings as it is in an art exhibition.
5. Build Trust With What You Say & Do
If your team has not had the great fortune to meet you in person, then it is even more important that what you say continues to built trust brick by brick.
If you say you will follow up on a topic after the meeting, do it. If you fail to do what you say, soon your words just become worthless and that means your character and leadership is worthless.
What you say and how you say it is extremely important. Here is my quick guide to what to say and not say.
What Not To Say And Do In A Remote Team Meeting
- Never sound impatient
- Never, Never, NEVER RAISE YOUR VOICE
- Never dismiss someone out of hand
- Never demean anyone’s opinion
- Never cut someone short (unless they simply cannot stop talking)
- Never talk rubbish. You team know when you are lying, covering up for the company, or being dishonest. Honesty is, after all, a truly defining factor. If you genuinely cannot talk about a company sensitive topic, simply say you cannot discuss it, but never lie.
What Positive Things You Can Say In A Virtual Team Meeting
- When someone has a success no matter how small, be positive
- Encourage people to talk openly and share their challenges with the team
- Encourage people to ask for help, that is what a team is for, to help each other
- Celebrate a birthday, work anniversaries or the birth of a new child
- When someone takes new action or responsibility thank them wholeheartedly, it will encourage others to take on more work.
You would not believe how your team hangs on your words and the way you intone your voice. Be honest, firm and treat others with respect and it will work out.
6. Set SMART Goals
Honestly, I have heard the S.M.A.R.T. goals mantra so many times over my career it makes me cringe.
However, there is a lot of sense to this. SMART goals refer to:
Set a maximum of 3 or 4 big goals for the year per person, this will enable them to be focused.
Measurable – set a number on the goal.
- Dollars in new sales generated
- Customer Satisfaction Feedback Above 8
- How many doughnuts you can fit in your mouth at once.
They need to be able to actually achieve the goal. If you set the bar too high they will be stressed out all year and ultimately fail
Here is where the HR-speak breaks down. If it is not Realistic how would it be Achievable in the previous A. Come on seriously it should read SMAT goals, not SMART goals.
Finally, we have time-based goals. This simply means there needs to be a date for the goals to be achieved.
So now we have our SMAT goals we can move on.
7. Have Regular One On One Meetings
Holding a great One On One meeting means you will have a highly motivated and energized employee. Repeat the process over and over again with your employees to have a high performing team.
What Is A One On One Meeting?
A “one on one” meeting, also known as a “one to one” (121 meeting) is a way for a manager or team leader to stay personally and professionally connected to a team member. It is also a great way for the team member to stay connected to their manager.
In my experience, an average or poor manager will neglect to have regular one on one meetings because they are “too busy” or they have more important priorities.
If you want to be an average leader of an average team, then ignore One on One meetings at your peril
8. Have A Great Team Meeting
Your team meetings need to be weekly. If you leave it any longer, you will be jeopardizing the wellbeing of the team. People need to get together, it gives them a feeling of belonging especially when they are all in different countries.
In my experience the ideal one hour team meeting consists of the following:
- Review of the Agenda & New Topics – 5 Minutes
- 3 Main Topics – 10 minutes per topic
- Round Table – Highlights where each team member can provide an update or request for help
- Managers Corner – You highlight any business/organizational developments, or new requests to the team – 10 Minutes
If you have an urgent topic or need input on a strategic decision it is acceptable to dominate the meeting with your own topic. Why, because you are seeking to amass the brainpower and support of your team on a major pivot point. They will love you for consulting with them on it.
The time for the team to speak is very important and it should be given priority.
So many managers go into their team meeting and talk for one hour without letting anyone else contribute. If you do that, your team hates you. You don’t know it, because you are too busy listening to the sound of your own voice, but it’s a fact.
9. Ensure You Engage Your Team Members
Here is the problem. An insecure manager is reluctant to engage their team in a group setting because they are worried they may lose the argument or seem not to be the thought leader in the discussion.
A great manager who wants to harness the group think of a team of talented individuals will enter the conversation by stating the problem and asking for ideas to help resolve the problem or even improve the solution to a problem.
You see if you are a manager that is so full of ego that you go into every conversation with all the answers without at least posing a question to gain additional perspectives, then you will fail, plain and simple.
10. Try To Inject Humor Into Your Conversations
If you have a gram of humor in you, use it. I have seen so many managers who are so straight you could use them to correct a slanted picture frame. It is painful when it is all business.
Humor is even more important when working remotely. Do not be afraid to self-deprecate. For non-native English speakers, that means, feel free to take the piss out of yourself. If you are the first to see the humor in your own failings then no-one else has a chance.
11. Make Meeting Them In Person A Top Priority
If you ever have the opportunity to visit the country or city that your team member lives in, make it a key part of your agenda to meet them. Meet them at a business meeting or even for a coffee. I was even invited to stay at peoples homes and was treated like a king. Not because I was their boss, but because I was human, they were human and we had built such a respectful and positive relationship they wanted me to stay at their house, meet their wife and play with their dogs.
Well, that is how I saw it. Guys if any of you are reading this feel free to smack talk me in the comments section underneath. 🙂
12. Set Team Meetings At The Best Time
I ran a global team that had people from the following countries. Starting from West to East, Costa Rica, California, Cincinnati, Ireland, U.K., Germany, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Philippines, India, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and more.
Imagine trying to work the logistics out on that team meeting. I tried rotating the team meeting schedules but that was even worse. As I was in Europe team meetings were exactly in the middle of my working day, that means the American had to get up at the crack of dawn and our Asian friends had to stay up late. A global team, global hours. Thank you guys, I love you all for that.
13. Put Energy & Intonation Into Your Voice
When your main form of communication in a global conference call is your voice, you had better make sure your voice means something. Watch this video to learn more.
14. Always Be Available
Ensure your team knows you are always available to talk and that they should not leave their only interaction with you until their bi-weekly One On One session. If you are not available a team member may get slowed down with a problem that you could help with. This slows them down and slows down the ultimate achievement of the goal.
Even if you are in meetings, try to ensure that the chat function on Skype is always available for chat messages.
15. Have The Right Tools
As a remote manager with a team of 10 to 20 people, you will inevitably be on the phone or Skyping most of the day. Here are the tools you need to ensure you have a smooth and effective approach to getting things done.
Effective Tools For Productive Remote Working
- Skype for Business – Ensure you have a group set up with your team in it. You can then always see who is online and communicate quickly and effectively.
- Outlook & Exchange – the integration of Skype & Outlook mean you have simply the best way of scheduling meetings, managing your calendar and connecting to conference calls with a single click.
- A Wireless Headset – if you are stuck in meetings all day, normally that equates to you being chained to your desk. With a wireless headset, you can get up and roam around your house and still have that conversation. It is better for your body and I found that when I am walking around and gesticulating when I talk my voice and presence is much more effective.
- Microsoft Office – Office is still the king of the corporate working world, I have created thousands of presentations over the years and it certainly helps to get the message across visually. When it comes to Excel, you would not believe how even the largest companies in the world are still basically run on excel.
- Multiple Monitor Screens – 2 screens are 5 times better than 1. Most laptops can support multiple monitor setups, simply buy the extra screen and plug it in. Then you can have your email and Skype running on one screen and you excel and powerpoint running on another.
- A Separate Room For Your Home Office – There is nothing worse when you are on a conference call and someone’s baby starts crying or the dog is barking. If you cannot create a private area for working, you need to go into the office.
16. Never Show Favorites
So many teams breakdown and become dysfunctional because of one thing. The boss has a favorite clique. I have seen it so many times. You know if you have a few favorites in the team. They are the ones you always go to lunch with, they are the ones you always go for a beer after work with. They are the ones you always go for your smoke break or coffee break with. This also goes for remote teams. Just because you are not there in person you can still demonstrate your favorites by giving them the best new assignments, by overly singing their praises or taking their side against others in the team. Be mindful of overtly having favorites as your team will notice it and it will breed bad blood.
17. Be Goal Oriented Not Task Oriented
Micromanagement is the scourge of high performing teams. It is also very difficult to do with a virtual team spread out across different locations. So do not try to do it. Do not focus on the task, focus on the goal. This means you have to develop very clear and simple goals that are tied to your assigned business objectives. Therefore, their goals are also your goals.
18. Build Your Circle Of Trust
This is something you do inside your mind. There will always be those that are super committed and do a great job in achieving their goals. They are online, available and communicative throughout the working day. There are, however, those who are simply not cut out for working from home. Working from home requires you to be disciplined, professional and goal oriented. Those who do not have those traits will struggle and be distracted during the working day.
19. Choose Your Next Leader
Any great manager or leader will have a succession plan in place. If you are good at what you do then the next promotion could be around the corner. If you are offered another assignment and your answer is “I cannot take it there is none who can replace me”, then you are letting yourself down.
You can start by rotating who is your back up or stand-in when you are on vacation. This means when you are out of office this person will attend your meetings and take on your responsibilities. This demonstrates to the team that you do not play favorites and everyone gets a chance to prove themselves. Over time you can see who can handle your job the best.
One of the most important items on this list is how you handle successes. If you manage a high performing team that has serious business objectives, then you will need to report out to senior management monthly or quarterly on your progress against those objectives.
Where your team is not meeting their targets or goals, then you are responsible. Take it on the chin, ultimately failure within the team is your fault. Your team will respect you for it.
When your team delivers a significant milestone or achieve a goal, do not take credit alone, you must ensure to personally thank in public the person who delivered it. No matter how much you helped them deliver the result, deflect the kudos to them. Your team will love you for this. It is the golden rule of truly great leadership.