How to lead a virtual team, remain productive and stay sane!

How to lead a virtual team, remain productive and stay sane!

“Effective immediately, plan to work from home, until further notice.” 

Woah, wait, what? How does that work? We’ve never been able to work from home. How am I supposed to know if my employees are getting their work done?

Did you wake up this past week and find yourself leading a team virtually, working from home yourself along with some “extra employees”?  Those extra employees could be pets, a spouse, or kids who are also home for the foreseeable future.

It’s a lot to take in while staying focused as a leader and positive that things will get better – and they will get better. 

Have you ever worked from home before? Beyond the occasional day here and there, you may not be that accustomed to remote work. Your experience may have consisted of the freedom to wear casual clothing and set up a mini-office on your bed or couch. You probably found joy in knowing you didn’t have to make the commute to work and the flexibility to throw in a load of laundry between projects or calls.

I had those days long ago, but if you’re like me, you may find the upsides of working from home short-lived. Unless you have a dedicated home office, you may struggle to blend the two worlds.  

I say blend, as you have to adapt your work preferences to your current situation. As a leader, it’s vital not to give yourself and your team unrealistic expectations. It’s not likely you can mirror your office workday during your working-from-home day. 

For six years, I worked virtual for an organization that worked nationwide. It was a time when video conferencing was fairly new, but work expectations still needed to be met in a traditional 9-to-5 structure. I remember a video meeting on a day my daycare was closed. My three-year-old son decided to join me. Well, he really wanted to see himself on “TV.” 

I was mortified, everyone else laughed – and it brought home the fact that unique interruptions like this can happen when you are working from home. 

For example, how do you politely ask your neighbor to bring their dog inside as the non-stop barking can be heard on video calls? 

Or to take a rather recent event: My dog, who feels the need to be in my office when I work, cannot wait to go outside. As I’m in the middle of a serious video call, he starts to quietly whimper, gives me an apologetic look and pees on the carpet in front of my door! Yep, that doesn’t happen in a business office but is one of many examples that can occur when working from home. 

Having kids around can bring an entirely new level of challenges, particularly if you are responsible for preparing food and overseeing their educational activities.

Leading a team virtually while also working remotely can bring additional stress. You have the major role you play at home and your major role at work. When those worlds collide, it’s a challenge to keep them both moving and stay sane! 

As the leader working from home, it is critically important that you stay connected to your employees and understand each of their particular situations. 

Here are my top five tips to keep your team engaged and productive:

  1. Clarify Expectations:
    • Do your employees need to start and stop work at a certain time?
    • Do they have key objectives to meet on a daily or weekly basis?
    • Can current meetings be done over the phone or video call?  Do they need to stay the same or should the focus shift?
    • Do you understand who your employees’ new “co-workers” are? By co-workers, I mean pets, a spouse, or children indefinitely sharing their workspace.
     2. Encourage time blocking:
    • Have employees block time to complete essential work. It can be early in the morning or late in the day. Ask what they can do, and help problem-solve if they have too many “co-worker” interruptions.
    • Tie objectives to complete during these set times.
    • Recognize that it can be challenging to stop working when you are at home because you no longer have the interruption of driving home from work to break up your day. 
     3. Stay Connected: 
    • Social Distancing should really be thought of as physical distancing. Maintaining communication with your employees is even more important when you are working remotely.  
    • Use instant messaging, emails, phone calls or Zoom video calls to keep in contact. It’s best to schedule these if possible instead of just calling to talk. It creates less stress for your employee but also helps you connect when they can be the most focused.
    • Team cohesiveness is even more critical now when your team is out of sight.  Be supportive and check in on them from a personal level in addition to following up on the work that needs to be done.
     4. Get up and Move:
    • If you don’t have extra co-workers or you have the ability to have a home office, you can get sucked into your work.  
    • It’s important for your physical health when you work at home to get up and move, as any walking across the office activities are no longer in existence.
    • Encourage your employees to take breaks as needed to balance the demands of work and home.
    • Office ergonomics is important when working from home, especially if you don’t have a desk to sit at. Setting up with a laptop on the couch may seem luxurious at first, but back and neck problems from bad posture can rapidly make themselves felt.
     5. Lead by example:
    • Share with your employees how you are approaching a sudden change to working from home, and include the challenges.
    • Be flexible. What doesn’t work may need tweaking to have it work in a remote capacity to support your business needs.
    • Be willing to try something new. For example, host an informal virtual coffee for 30 minutes a week to check in on your team as a group. Consider ways to keep them talking to one another, not only with you.
    • Show them this is temporary by giving them confidence your company is doing the best it can. 

Exhausted trying to make your virtual team work? Schedule time with me to share your top 3 challenges and learn one thing you can do to start turning this around now. 

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