A virtual working environment presents a particular challenge for employers, as it requires different management approaches compared with the traditional working environment. Specifically, maintaining organisational culture and trust, as well as ensuring regular communication and collaboration across virtual teams requires more dedicated effort and different management skills from leaders. Additionally, given the rapid shift we have experienced in moving to a virtual working environment, many leaders have had little training or guidance on remote practices and policies. Furthermore, employees might need guidance to enhance mental wellbeing while working remotely.
What can you do as an organisation tackle the challenges of leading virtual teams and enable those teams to be as productive and supported as possible?
1: Agree ways of working
Make sure every team member is clear about how you will work together remotely, how you will keep each other updated and how frequently. If working a split workplace and home pattern then schedule in specific days to get the team together where you can.
2: Show the big picture but be prepared to flex
Remind your team about the big picture and how their work fits into it. If some members can’t carry out their usual functions, consider skills they can lend to others to meet team goals. There may be certain days you need people in the workplace, ensure these are scheduled in as early as possible so workers can arrange their other responsibilities to accommodate this.
3: Set expectations and trust your team
Be clear about mutual expectations and trust your team to get on without micromanaging. Focus on results rather than activity. Providing guidance or training on maintaining an effective work-life balance is also important as homeworking can lead to people working longer hours than they would in the office
4: Make sure your team have the support and equipment they need
This includes any coaching they might need to use online systems and work remotely. Keep your calendar visible and maintain a virtual open door. Now that things are less desperate, have staff carry out remote working surveys and redo their Display Screen Equipment risk assessments to identify any issues. If someone is working on their sofa using the coffee table as a desk they’re not going to be able to maintain proper posture for example, or if they’re squinting at a tiny laptop screen then this can cause headaches and a whole host of other problems.
5: Have a weekly virtual huddle
This is essential for keeping connected as a team, to check in on each other’s well-being and keep workflow on track. It needn’t be long but regularity is key.
6: Keep the rhythm of regular 1-2-1’s and team meetings going
This maintains a sense of structure and continuity for everyone. If possible try to schedule in some face to face meetings to prevent “Zoom Fatigue”!
7: Share information and encourage your team to do the same
Opportunities to pick up information in passing are more limited when working remotely. Share appropriate updates or learnings from other meetings and projects and invite your team to do the same.
8: Tailor your feedback and communications
People can be more sensitive if they’re feeling anxious or isolated, so take this into account when talking or writing. Communicate regularly about news and updates, not just when things go wrong, whether it is information, praise or constructive criticism.
9: Listen closely and read between the lines
Not being in the same room means you don’t have extra information from body language or tone to get the sense of what people are thinking or feeling. Home in on what’s not being said and ask questions to clarify.
10: Foster relationships and wellbeing
Make time for social conversations. This increases rapport and eases communication between people who may not meet often. Keeping staff connected to each other and making time to socialise like they would in a physical office environment will be key. Something as simple as giving your employees a bit of free time during the working day to have a conversation that isn’t work-related can be a huge mood booster. Encourage them to continue to build social relationships with their colleagues and keep talking to them about their wellbeing.