Being a leader of distributed teams

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Working from home has been steadily increasing from years, and the pandemic caused us to adapt to this modern way of working even faster.

Although working from home brings a lot of benefits, it also adds new challenges for the people in charge. Managing a virtual team is very different from managing one in real life. With these insights and 4 hands-on tips, you’ll lead in a whole new way.

Some facts & figures

The need for easy-to-use collaboration tools is clearly visible:

  • A recent study by HR provider Acerta published in Dutch and French showed that working from home increased by 53% over the last 2 years, largely because of the COVID-19 measures.

  • Microsoft Office reported their usual growth rate nearly tripled because of the need for communication tools like Teams and cloud based collaboration.

  • Business chat tool Slack reported a similar upward trend, with a 56% growth in 2020 over the previous year.

  • Video conferencing tools Zoom and Google Classroom were 2 of the top 10 searched terms in 2020 according to Google’s report.

Collaborative tools

4 tips for managing a virtual team

Even though knowledge workers made great strides in how they design and manage virtual teams, remote collaboration remains a challenge.

With these 4 tips, you’ll build the foundation on which to build a solid distributed work culture.

Tip 1: Design for minimal interruptions

💡 By organising a daily team check-in to focus and align, you optimise communication and reduce possible interruptions throughout the day.

Overall, there are 3 main interruptions people often face at work:

  1. Physical: colleagues show up at your desks and interrupt work with a chat or a question

  2. Scheduling: inefficient back-to-back meetings, resolving scheduling conflicts, last-minute cancellations or changes of plan…

  3. Technological: notifications of messages pouring in, emails need attention, phones need answering…

Every time you face one of those interruptions, your efficiency and productivity drop, making it impossible to add the full value you would have otherwise.

This in turn has a negative impact on confidence and sense of control, causing even more trouble.

To help you increase your team’s productivity and confidence, Umango’s tool offers a huddle feature to help you organise daily check-ins and make them part of your routine.

Tip 2: Install trust-building behaviour

💡 Building trust within your team will help people stay in control, take responsibility and work autonomously with minimal supervision.

Some of the greatest challenges of suddenly having to work from home stem from those sudden changes. People feel inadequate and are afraid to fail, which negatively impacts their entire way of working.

Showing people that you trust them and that they can trust each other boosts their confidence and makes them more resilient. Trust is crucial when managing a virtual team.

Here’s how you start building trust in your team:

  • Get to know your colleagues and encourage the rest of your team to do the same. Have informal conversations with people to make them feel appreciated as a person.

  • Keep others informed of progress being made and how close you are to reaching objectives. It broadens their view and emphasises they are part of something bigger.

  • Deliver on promises and hold others to theirs. At the same time, make it okay to be transparent about changes and missed deadlines to create a safe space.

Acknowledge team members contributions to show that what they do really matters. This important factor becomes even more valuable when managing a virtual team that otherwise has no way of knowing what others do and what the value is of what they do.

Tip 3: Be open & transparent

💡 Be open and transparent about your own challenges to show your team compassion and create a safe space to vent.

Chances are this is your first time managing a virtual team. Just like your colleagues, you might be a little uneasy with your new job description. By talking about your own challenges, you encourage your team to talk to you and team members about their worries and struggles.

By being transparent you make it easy for others to do the same and to help them help each other.

When you don’t know what to say, you can try:

  • communicating about what you do know to support others

  • talking explicitly about what you don’t know and ask for support

  • bridging the knowledge gap by inviting your team members to speak up

  • announcing bad news by giving facts and remaining hopeful; but not sugarcoating anything

Tip 3: Boost social cohesion

💡 Help people see each other’s added value not just by acknowledging their contributions to the company, but by emphasising their personal roles in the team.

A company is so much more than organisational structures, quarterly charts and profit margins. Whether you’re managing a virtual team or you see your people every day, you should make them feel like a valuable part of the team.

Moreover, making people think about who are the most important colleagues for them personally will make them aware of their safety net within the team.

Pose the following questions for each team member to answer for themselves:

  • Who do I go to for advice?

  • Who do I go to before making a decision?

  • Who do I feel at ease with?

Managing a virtual team is a daunting task, but such a rewarding one. Looking to take your virtual team’s management and cohesion to the next level? Find out what Umango’s tool does for you, get a free trial or ask our experts for advice.

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