Five Musts For Managing Remote Teams

Virtual meetings and remote teaming have quickly become a hot topic. I manage a team of 200-plus people in eight operating companies across 20 countries.

We are by definition a virtual team. Below are five techniques that we have found essential for building culture, flexibility and delivering great work.

1. Regular informal check-ins. Preserving the sanctity of regularly scheduled meetings with stakeholders is critical to staying connected when you don’t physically sit together. Whether it’s with clients, leadership teams or 1:1s, we have frequent standing meetings.

We make every effort to treat these meetings as mandatory in order to stay connected on the priorities of the business. The agenda is informal, and everyone is drawn in through quick “around the horn” updates. The informal check-in is useful when managing up as well. All told, it’s essential to embrace frequent, radical transparency to keep the information flowing.  



2. Cameras on! To create connectivity and improve efficiency, it is important to embrace all collaboration technology. Cameras on in group meetings are mandatory. The chat window is a great way to have multi-threaded conversations in a meeting.

Instant messaging, collaborative documents, and recording meetings for those who cannot attend are also important ways to keep a remote team connected. These behaviors are unnatural to some workers and must be modeled by leadership. In addition, office layout can go a long way toward facilitating the inclusion of remote team members. 

3. Avoid pronouns. In a virtual team, the enemy is “the matrix” or the assumption that someone else has responsibility for a particular task. If an e-mail is sent to multiple people, assume that each recipient will assume the email is intended for someone else on the distribution list. Referring to colleagues by pronouns is a recipe for a breakdown in a large organization.

Addressing communication to specific people will at least make sure it gets routed to the correct stakeholder. In addition, it is also important to recognize individual contributions within a virtual team. Internal awards, no matter how small, are a nice way to show that individuals working hard in isolation feel appreciated.

4. If it’s not documented, it did not happen. The challenge with remote teams is keeping all stakeholders in the loop on fast-moving projects. All key updates must be documented.

Meeting agendas, pre-reads, and notes are a must. Robust formal documentation is not necessary, and quick e-mails with some bullets will suffice. It often helps to centralize notes on a particular project to keep a running tally of all meetings and touchpoints.

5. Make in-person personal. Virtual meetings with packed agendas have little time for the small talk upon which trusting relationships are built. When things get back to normal after the current health crisis, it will be important to make time for a more personal experience -- having a meal, hosting an event at someone’s house, and inviting significant others -- to quickly get a feel for the full person beyond the avatar.

When properly managed, the inherent challenges of a distributed team can be overcome with a little effort and a lot of consistency. This allows all of us to unlock the benefits of having our top talent focused on key priorities no matter where they sit. This will prove to be essential to an organization’s success -- not just for today, for the future of all business. 

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