Strategies for Managing Existing – or Unexpected – Virtual Teams

For many of the millions of Americans being asked to work from home due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, working virtually with team members may be a novel event. Managers and HR leaders will need to find ways to keep their virtual workers and teams motivated and maintaining performance levels, whether the virtual team is out of necessity right now or by design. 

Having worked with organizations across the country to build highly effective virtual teams, and with our own network of coaches that work virtually, here are several strategies to implement within your virtual teams to ensure business continuity and success. 

Communication is key to keeping virtual workers motivated and productive. 

Effective communication is key to keeping virtual teams and workers motivated. Poor communication skills or a lack of understanding workers’ communication preferences can result in frustration and a lack of motivation. Leaders need to understand each of their team members’ real communications preferences and needs, because once you understand those factors, you will be much more effective in reading, guiding, directing and motivating each individual. 

For example, in a virtual environment there tends to be high use of email communication. However, emails can often be misread or misinterpreted. There is a risk of conveying something in the wrong way because you can’t see the body language of people and visual cues. 

This demonstrates the importance of understanding communication preferences. Some virtual workers may prefer – and are comfortable with – email communication. Others may need verbal communication and interaction. And others might need a combination of both of those things. The bottom line is a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. 

Here are several tips to help managers and HR leaders keep newly formed and existing virtual teams performing at high levels:

  • Leverage visual communication technologies. These types of visual communications are much more effective, so if you have access to these technologies it is best to utilize them. In the absence of more high-tech options, try using Skype, Zoom or any other similar technology where you can achieve that visual communication and interaction. 

  • Maintain a consistent communications structure. Particularly as workers may now be working virtually for the first time in their career, it is critical to keep in mind that you will have varying degrees of effective multi-tasking, communication and productivity. Without a consistent and structured plan that includes regular check-ins and checkpoints that are mandatory for every virtual team member, performance will likely break down. Set expectations for how each virtual team member should interact and communicate and adhere to that plan.

    Remote teamwork
  • Pay special attention to high performers. Typically, high performers are also high maintenance team members
    and require more aggressive and clear communication. These workers are inclined to do whatever it takes to get the results. They’ll break the rules and plow over other team members because they are so driven, and they tend not to think about how other people might be thinking or receiving the way in which they communicate. High performers generally don’t want to be evaluated on the process, but instead on the fact that they got the result. However, it is crucial that these virtual workers adhere to consistent and open communication with clear feedback and expectations.
  • Not everyone is built to work virtually. If there is wiggle room deciding who needs to work virtually during COVID-19, or as you look to build virtual teams intentionally, the use of scientific assessment data can help identify who will work well in a virtual team and who may not. Some workers really need people interaction and the structure of an office environment. Others will work well independently and thrive in a virtual environment. Knowing this information can help managers and HR leaders set their virtual workers up for success today and in the future.

In this unprecedented time when it feels like there is little we can control, following these important guidelines can help you better control and manage the onset of newly formed virtual teams and help maintain business continuity. And, they serve as a great reminder to managers of existing virtual teams on how to ensure they stay motivated and highly effective. 

Topics: Team Dynamics, Performance Management