Now Your Team Is Virtual. What’s Next?

What every manager should know about leading virtual teams (includes links to resources)

Image of globe with people in small screens; caption: Are you new to virtual teams?
Image of globe with people in small screens; caption: Are you new to virtual teams?
John Maxwell quotation: In the 21st Century, emphasis is on team leadership because nobody does everything well
John Maxwell quotation: In the 21st Century, emphasis is on team leadership because nobody does everything well

Managing communications

You might be tempted to figure out what to do as you do it. Don’t. When transitioning to virtual teaming, you need to plan carefully. Start by managing your communications.

Determine frequency

Immediately, meet with your virtual team to discuss how you want to engage with each other. Get their input. Discuss how often you want to meet as a team and how often you should meet individually with your team members.

Schedule regular meetings with individuals

Just like face-to-face, schedule regular interval meetings with each team member. I’ll discuss what to do later in this blog.

Email a Post-meeting follow-up

Whether with the team or an individual, email a follow-up to each meeting that includes a thank-you message and summarizes what you agreed to do. This validates their importance and gives them an opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings.

Evaluate and discuss the virtual experience

As you go through this new experience, evaluate how well you and your team are transitioning from face-to-face to virtual. In group and individual meetings, ask your team how well this is working.

Stay connected: Communicate organizational news

While your team is not meeting, spend some time learning what’s going on with the organization and plan to share with your team — either during meetings to discuss or by email. With these communications, plan to discuss implications for your team.

Kouzes & Posner quote: People…cooperate if the payoffs for interdependent efforts are greater…than working independently.
Kouzes & Posner quote: People…cooperate if the payoffs for interdependent efforts are greater…than working independently.

Keep inclusion, equity, and diversity in mind

As your team interacts during meetings, take a step back and observe. Does everyone have an equal voice? Do teammates interrupt others? These are critical to observe. I’ve been guilty of interrupting others, but I continue to learn and improve how I interact. Doing so helps strengthen team dynamics, improves engagement, and ultimately improves performance.

  1. Debrah Lee Charatan’s blog entitled, Diversity Is Pointless Without Balanced Conversations.

Assigning work

When I analyzed how managers behaved for one of my clients, I discovered that some managers didn’t distribute work fairly. They gave the most challenging and interesting assignments to their best-skilled performers, but their least-skilled performers either didn’t have enough work or were left with transactional work.

  1. The less-skilled performers become disengaged for not having enough work to do or having to perform dull work.
Image for post
Image for post

Manage the work

Early in my career, I applied for a job that had a team of in-person and virtual performers. I interviewed with one virtual teammate who asked about how I managed virtual employees. I forgot the answer I gave, but the high performer made it clear that I didn’t answer it to her satisfaction. She told me she needs a boss who will leave her alone and let her do her work. I didn’t get the job.

Level 4: Assign the work and leave them alone

If a performer is highly skilled and accomplished at performing a task, assign the work and don’t bother the performer.

Level 3: Consult as needed

If performers are competent at a task but not that confident, act as a consultant and provide support as needed.

Level 2: Coach

When performers have task experience but need to develop confidence and competence, coach them. They need help. If you aren’t skilled at the task, find someone who is, and don’t let the performer learn by trial and error.

Level 1: Direct

If a task is new to a performer, be directive and model how to accomplish the task. You need to discuss the thinking behind doing the task as well.

More about the four levels

If these four levels seem familiar, then you may be aware of Blanchard’s Situational Learning (or SLII(R)). I loosly base my approach on this model and describe it in more detail in my leadership book. One note about SLII: Blanchard describes it as a leadership style. I don’t think of SLII as a style but a set of behavioral techniques for managing work.

Monitoring work

As the work occurs, monitor appropriately (see the previous topic). Ensure that your team understands the expectations, and provide confirmational or corrective feedback when needed.

Managing up

As your team works and matures their virtual interactions, communicate progress to your boss. Verify expectations and that your team is doing the right work with the right priorities. As with your team, ask your boss for feedback. Most importantly, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Final thoughts

While some may find these standards to be common sense, they may not be commonly practiced.

Are these virtual or in-person standards?

Some may wonder what makes these standards unique to virtual teams. I think that they’re applicable to virtual and in-person teams. However, with virtual teams, I think that managers should spend more time reflecting and assessing their application of these standards. Virtual interactions don’t have the same degree of access to the sensory inputs as you would with in-person interactions.

What about people with disabilities?

This leads me to wonder about how people who happen to have disabilities work. For example, what differences do people with visual disabilities have between virtual and in-person interactions? As managers, we need to raise our awareness continuously as part of our life-long learning, and I’m still learning. If you know of some resources that can help managers with this, please share!

Additional resource

Claire Lew has made her Guide to Managing Virtual Teams available for free. To get a copy, you’ll need to provide your email address to receive a link by email. The link goes to a zip file that contains the 61-page PDF.

About the author

Gary is a Leadership Author, Researcher, Consultant, and Podcast Guest. His latest book, What the Heck Is Leadership and Why Should I Care?, is available in paperback, eBook, and audiobook. You can learn more about Gary and his other books at

Written by

Gary is a speaker, author, researcher, and leadership futurist.

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