Working remotely is not a new phenomenon. Some people have been working from home for decades, and some businesses have a long history of relying on distributed teams, collaborating around the globe. But the pandemic forced employers to adapt quickly, and once workers got a taste of the freedom and flexibility remote work offers, they don’t want to return to the office. 

While some leaders argue that the best collaboration and teamwork happens face-to-face, it’s safe to say virtual teams are here to stay. Going forward, leading virtual teams will be an essential skill for business leaders in companies of all sizes. 

As a small business leader, you need to be aware of what it takes to manage a remote team with confidence. These tips will help you embrace the unique challenges and opportunities of leading a virtual team.

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1. Make sure your team is up to the challenge.

To succeed in leading a virtual team, it’s important to ensure the people on your team are happy with the arrangement. While it seems that most people prefer to work from home, that’s not true; some people strongly prefer to work in the office. Are you able to offer an alternative that works for everyone? 

Your remote employees must be self-motivated and able to work independently. They should also be good at communicating with one another, solving problems, time management, and prioritization.

You’ll want people who can handle tasks well on their own—meaning they know how to find an answer, be resourceful, and don’t need constant guidance from someone else to fulfill their responsibilities and get the job done.

2. Establish an effective onboarding process.

Remote employees do not have as much of an opportunity to fill in the gaps of a poor onboarding process by observing their co-workers, asking a lot of questions, looking around for guidance, or picking up on company culture cues. Onboarding is about more than “new hire orientation.” It isn’t just training employees about the company; it’s about helping them feel welcome. 

Whenever you hire a new employee, you need them to hit the ground running as soon as possible. Successful onboarding has never been an easy process, and with remote work, virtual onboarding poses an even greater challenge. Putting a solid virtual onboarding process in place will help to set your remote workers up for success from the start.

3. Set clear expectations.

Be clear about what you expect from your remote team. The more specific you can be about expectations, the better. What kind of work do you need to be done? How often do they need to provide updates and deliverables? How will you communicate with them? 

Set standards for performance and conduct that apply across the board to all members of your virtual team. For example, if there is a particular type of work that needs to be completed by a certain date, consider setting up a deadline alert so everyone knows when it’s due and holds themselves accountable for meeting that deadline. 

If one employee typically doesn’t complete his or her tasks on time, implement a system where he or she has to submit an update at regular intervals so everyone else can see how much progress has been made toward completing their assignments and whether anyone is falling behind.

4. Communicate consistently.

Your virtual team needs consistent communication from you. Set the standard for how you will communicate with them and when, so that everyone is on the same page — and stick to it. You don’t want to leave them wondering when they will hear from you or why they haven’t heard from you. 

Make sure that your communication style matches up with how people are used to being communicated with and the ways in which they are comfortable communicating. While you may prefer emails and phone calls, some members of your team may prefer text messages or more one-on-one meetings. 

This may not always be a one-size-fits-all approach; consider what method works best for each person individually, especially if you’ve noticed misunderstanding or lack of engagement interfering with someone’s ability to do their job. Remember, ultimately, you are responsible for ensuring messages are conveyed effectively.

Check in often (but not too often). Because there aren’t as many visual cues like body language being transmitted back and forth between teammates who work remotely, it’s important that you frequently communicate throughout the day via email or instant messaging programs such as Slack (or whatever other program works best for your business). This way everyone knows what’s going on at any given moment and nobody feels left out.

5. Brush up on your virtual meeting skills.

Running a virtual team requires a different skill set and mindset than leading an in-person team, but it can be done effectively. Train your team on virtual meeting etiquette. For example:

  • Ensure that your employees test their equipment and secure their internet connection well before the start of the meeting. 
  • Everyone’s surroundings, like artwork that can be seen while in a video meeting, should be “work appropriate.” 
  • If you do not have video enabled, introduce yourself before speaking.
  • Try to eliminate distractions: silence your cell phone notifications and ringer, close your email box, close your “office” door if you can, let your family, friends or roommates know that you are in a meeting to avoid interruptions whenever possible
  • Mute yourself when you’re not speaking.
  • Dress for work (share with your team exactly what that means)
  • Stay focused; do not multitask during virtual meetings. Unless you’re eating together with your virtual team, refrain from eating during virtual meetings.
  • Look into the camera when you’re speaking – this is the virtual version of making eye contact

Whether you’re talking about what project or initiative needs to happen next, or if someone needs clarification about something that was discussed previously, make sure you’re all on the same page. If one person isn’t following up with their portion of the project due to confusion over instructions or other details, then you’ll have problems later down the road when everyone expects things to get done on time—and those expectations may not be met!

6. Offer ongoing feedback.

When you’re leading any team, it’s important to provide feedback on a regular basis — even more so when the team is virtual. If you fail to do this, your team members may be confused about what they are doing well and where they are falling short.

Giving frequent feedback keeps your employees engaged and motivated to do their best work. Make sure you have a process in place for giving frequent and timely feedback. This helps build trust. 

7. Create opportunities to bond.

When you’re working from home, it’s easy to feel isolated from everyone else on your team. This can make it difficult for people who work remotely to form relationships and rapport with their colleagues. As a leader, it’s your job to create opportunities for connections among your employees and help them to build the kind of bonds needed for a successful virtual team. 

To facilitate this process, consider organizing informal meetings, chat sessions, and social hours. Set up Slack channels for topics like pets, fan clubs, and fitness challenges. Remote team building events might include online games, social hours, virtual pub trivia, book or streaming series clubs, or recipe swap virtual team dinners. If you have room in the budget, send swag and virtual party supplies in the mail. If you’re in the same city, meet up every so often at a local restaurant. 

Just because you work virtually doesn’t mean your relationships should be all work and no play.

Embrace your virtual leadership role.

Running a virtual team is not easy, but it can be done successfully. The key is being clear about expectations, confident in your leadership, and consistent in your communication with employees. By doing so, you can ensure that your team members are engaged and productive while working remotely.

Would you like a little help organizing your virtual team meetings or virtual 1:1’s with employees? We can help with that. Book your private 60-minute HR Strategy Session with an HR expert today and let’s get down to business.