Corporate Training Blog

4 Keys to Successfully Leading and Engaging Your Virtual Team

Employee on Virtual Team Meeting
As many companies have had to quickly shift to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders are experiencing new challenges in leading and engaging their teams in this virtual environment.

To help leaders like you navigate these challenges, we recently hosted a webinar where we explored how to lead a virtual team. You can check out the recording of the webinar here, but here’s a quick recap of the ideas that our instructor Adam Brooks shared:

1. Recognize that the COVID-19 virtual team is different than your typical virtual team

When it comes to virtual teams, there’s three types: the mostly in-person team that may work remotely once or twice per week, the virtual team that has always operated entirely remotely, and the COVID-19 virtual team. What’s the difference? 

The COVID-19 virtual team is dealing with a different set of distractions and challenges than your typical virtual team. They might be suddenly responsible for homeschooling their children. They might be sharing a small workspace or limited technology with other adults who are working from home. They might have someone directly impacted by the virus that they are caring for.

Even those who were already working remotely before the pandemic could be experiencing some of these challenges that are impacting their work. For teams that had never worked remotely or were doing so only occasionally, they are also facing the difficulty of learning new technology and ways to communicate with colleagues.

Although the ways to engage the COVID-19 virtual team are similar to any virtual team, it’s important to recognize these differences. By doing so, you will be better able to communicate, build trust, and empathize with your team.

2. Clear and open communication is vital to success

Speaking of communication…it’s no secret that communication has always been an important pillar of leadership, but it’s more important now than ever!  

Without the impromptu conversations that typically happen around the office and with limited face-to-face interaction in general, your team might not feel as connected to your or the organization. This combined with the other stresses in their lives could lead to them feeling like they aren’t being heard or included.

Take the time to involve your team in discussions and related decisions to keep them feeling connected. Making someone feel heard and understood is a basic human need that everyone is looking for, so be sure that you are creating opportunities to listen to your team. 

Voice and video tools are especially helpful for creating this connection and avoiding misunderstandings; however, keep in mind that everyone prefers to communicate differently! If you don’t know how someone prefers to communicate, then take the time to ask them. They will appreciate the effort you are putting into communicating with them in a way that’s compatible with their communication style.

3. Build trust with your team through empathy and sharing

Building trust is another common pillar of leadership that is even more important (and difficult to do) with virtual teams. Two of the best ways to build trust are through sharing and empathy!

Make an effort to share your rationale, feelings, ideas, and lessons learned. If you’re an extroverted person that is struggling to adapt to isolation, share that with your team! It’ll help them connect with you and open up about how they’re feeling, too. If a team member opens up to you, listen!

During our webinar, our instructor Adam Brooks offered some great advice on this point. When someone opens up to him, he asks, “What hat do you need me to wear? Do you just need to vent? Do you want me to help with a solution? Would you like advice?” This helps the person walk away feeling like they were truly heard. 

Other keys to building trust are: strive to meet human needs, be consistent, and recognize your team members! As with communication, keep in mind that people prefer to be recognized in different ways and being aware of those differences can help to build trust as well.

4. Continue to keep vision top of mind

Keeping vision top of mind can be challenging in a virtual environment because you may not have as many physical reminders of your organization’s why; however, making the vision a primary focus is key to keeping your team engaged.

When working virtually, ensure that you are not only setting clear expectations for your team, but that you are also relating them back to the larger vision. If your employees understand and are reminded of the why behind their work, it’ll help keep them motivated despite the challenges and distractions surrounding them. As you are setting expectations, an important question to stop and ask is, “What do you need to be successful?” This way you are showing your team that you care about their needs and want to support them in any way possible.

And finally, celebrate the successes (even the small ones)! Recognizing and celebrating milestones that support your organization’s vision can go a long way in encouraging further progress. Some ideas for celebrating in a virtual environment include sending a handwritten card or a box of donuts to your team member, recognizing them in a team meeting, or calling them for an informal one-on-one.

Looking for other resources for pivoting your organization during the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out our COVID-19 Employer Resource Guide!

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