How to Lead Teams Remotely

Melody Morin

In the new reality of working remotely due to COVID-19, many leaders are scrambling to adjust. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to connect with and lead others on your team in a virtual environment.

Given that face-to-face leadership is extremely complex, even for seasoned and skilled leaders, leading an effective, efficient, high-performing team in a virtual environment is still a new area, researchers are trying to understand.

One of my recommendations to leaders is to focus on realigning the goals of the organization to the newly formed and unexpected virtual environment. Keep in mind, there is going to be a huge adjustment period for individuals as they work through their emotional response to the changes. We all need to be supportive of one another – not all aspects of change are easy. However, these changes can be made easier through effective communication, coordination, relationships, and trust.

Focus on realigning the goals of the organization to the newly formed and unexpected virtual environment.

Even before COVID-19, I was often asked, “How can I effectively lead my team when we all work remotely?” A few years ago, I also wrote a Ph.D. paper on how to lead remotely, so here are a few tips I’ve learned:

Schedule time for socializing

Whether you are social distancing or isolating, teams still need to regularly spend time together. Some teams may not be able to support face-to-face interactions, but you can still engage in purposeful social interactions. Find time at least once a week to create social connections that aren’t about work. A team that is connected will have increased productivity and decreased mistakes.

Clarify each person’s role

As organizations and teams move onto digital platforms to do their work, it is more important than ever to make sure that each team member is clear on what their role is in this new environment. Role clarity in the digital world is paramount to productivity. In fact, a 2009 journal article by Ebrahim et al. found that a “lack of visibility may cause the virtual team members to feel less accountable for results.”

Being compassionate toward the frustration and stressors that employees may experience will allow for the development of a healthy culture and increased employee engagement.

Be willing to adapt

For teams working in a virtual environment, being flexible is key. Trying to juggle working from home, teaching kids, and sharing space with spouses or roommates can make it difficult for employees to work in the same way they did at the office. As a leader, being able to adapt to your team’s needs is important for leading virtual teams. Employees will appreciate your willingness to accommodate them when necessary.

Show empathy

Your employees’ emotional and mental well-being may be suffering right now, and limited opportunities for physical and social connection may be wearing on them. Healthier employees are more productive, so find opportunities to check in with your staff to see how they’re doing, and help out where you can. Being compassionate toward the frustration and stressors that employees may experience will allow for the development of a healthy culture and increased employee engagement.

Utilizing these tips will help you and your team connect and work effectively during COVID-19. Remember that employees will remember how their leaders treated them during these stressful times and, if necessary, there are specialists out there that support and develop learning programs to help individuals, teams, and leaders learn about working in a virtual environment.


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Author: Melody Morin
Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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