I was in San Francisco last week.  It was a strange week, needless to say.  I was working with a group of managers on how to more effectively inspire and motivate their teams.  Or, at least that was what we had planned to talk about.  Instead, we did a major pivot and talked about how to effectively take your teams virtual.  If you’re like those managers, you probably have some real concerns on how you’re going to successfully keep your teams motivated, focused and engaged over the next few weeks.  These were the most common worries I heard from those San Francisco managers and am continuing to hear from my clients in the past few days:

  • How do I maintain connection and collaboration from my team while everyone is working remotely?
  • How do I maintain pace, performance and results with the team given all the possible distractions working from home?
  • How do I track progress and maintain accountability without coming across as a micromanager?

Taking your team virtual and ensuring success for a short period of time is very possible.  That said, if you want to set your team up for failure, here are some sure-fire ways to ensure a catastrophe.

1. You Don’t Clarify Expectations

In the United States Army, before every mission the commanding officer issues what is referred to as “Commander’s Intent.”  They call a meeting with their direct reports and they clearly communicate the “why” of the mission, the “what” of the mission and the “when” of the mission.  In other words, they make sure everyone understands what the main goals, priorities and timelines are for the mission.  This is step one for taking any team virtual.  You need to make sure everyone is reoriented and reminded of the goals and objectives of the team despite the unusual circumstances.  In addition, you’ll need to clarify “how” you expect the team to operate.  What other demands will your team members have at home?  As one client shared with me, her team is made up of parents with young children.  Juggling conference calls and caring for a 3 year old isn’t for the faint of heart.  You’ll need to clarify and discuss with the team what everyone’s expectations are regarding responsiveness and availability. 

Clarifying what you expect of your team and what they expect from you during this time is critical.  The managers that don’t have these clarifying conversations are inviting disaster.      

2. You Don’t Schedule Enough Time With Your Team

Wise managers are not only scheduling 1:1’s and team meetings with their direct reports, they’re scheduling MORE time with their people than they would under normal circumstances.  Why are they doing this?  These managers understand that a lot of the informal conversations that typically happen in an office won’t naturally occur when working virtually.  How much time should you be spending with your newly virtual team?  I recommend that you consider doubling the time you spend each week with your team.  Instead of one 1:1 call, consider two a week.  Instead of two team calls each week, perhaps you should consider scheduling a team call every day.   In addition, consider scheduling the informal conversations.  Ironically, you’ll need to “operationalize” all of the “relational” components of your team.  I recommend that you schedule “office hours” so your team knows when you are available for questions.  In addition, schedule time to informally “check-in” with members of your team individually.  A simple call during the week with no agenda other than to say, “I was thinking about you and just wanted to check-in to see how you are doing and if there is anything I can help you with,” goes a long way. 

Scheduling extra time with your team during this transition time is key to ensuring connection, alignment and progress.  The managers that keep their “normal” rhythm with their teams are going to be surprised by misalignment and issues that they didn’t anticipate. 

3. You Don’t Schedule Time to Assess What’s Not Working and Make Course Corrections

Show me a world-class team and I can guarantee you that they have a process in place to regularly assess progress and make course corrections.  Whether this process is called an after-action review (AAR), a post-mortem, or a retrospective, the concept is the same.  Stop, pause and evaluate what worked as planned and what did not.  Then, discuss what changes you want to make going forward.  I’m prescribing that this should be either once a week or every other week for the first few weeks of this transition.  A simple structure you can use with your team is the following:

  • What has gone well for you this week (professionally and personally)?
  • What has surprised you or not gone as well as you would have hoped (professionally and personally)?
  • What do you plan on doing differently (or what should we as a team do differently) next week?
  • What do you need from me or what can I be doing more of or differently to support you? 

This is a simple strategy but one that the best managers understand and dedicate time so that the team is constantly improving how it is working together.  Failing to schedule this simple, yet powerful conversation will result in frustration, inefficiency and growing disengagement inside your team. 

So, there you have it.  Avoid the three traps above and your team should be able to adjust to this “new normal” more easily.  One final thought I would like to share about the three traps stated above.  In times of uncertainty, what we need most as human beings is a sense of certainty and predictability and to know we aren’t alone;  there are others that care.  If you look closely at the three points above, by doing what is outlined, you’ll give your team the gifts of certainty and caring. Afterall, isn’t that what we all need today more than ever?