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Seven Tips for Managing a Virtual Team for the First Time

Posted by Caitlin Fisher, Director, Leadership Initiatives on April 10, 2020

Participants and Alums of our famed leadership programs share their top tips to managing a remote workforce.

In our current reality, we’re all trying things for the first time – whether it be living through a pandemic, homeschooling kids, working remotely, or managing a team. Research shows that this presents both opportunities and challenges. Did you know that trying something new actually improves your brain function?  "It may create new connections between brain cells by changing the balance of available neurotransmitters and changing how connections are made," says Dr. Kathryn Papp, neuropsychologist and instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.

And sure, trying new things might be good for us, but it’s also REALLY hard! Famous author and researcher Brenee Brown mentions in her new podcast that trying new things can take you up to three times as long and requires us to be vulnerable and push ourselves in really tough ways.

In talking with some stellar participants and alums from our Women’s Leadership Program and Boston’s Future Leaders program, we crowdsourced our top tips for those who are managing remotely for the first time to help you as you adapt, whether for the first time or the first time in these current circumstances.

  1. Keep a Schedule – communicating with your team will be critical to developing trust and establishing a good workflow. This can also help mitigate excessive emails and consolidate information flow. Find a consistent time and platform to connect whether it be on Slack, Google Hangout, Zoom, or a daily email to stay current on project timelines. Don’t forget to infuse some personal positivity – a new favorite activity, motivating quote or recent Netflix binge! 
  2. Embrace Faces – the power of seeing people makes a big difference in how you communicate and helps thwart the loss of non-verbal communication. Try it out if you haven’t yet and see if it works for your team. Keep in mind that not everyone will be able to use video 100% of the time. 
  3. Adapt your Style – There’s a lot of wisdom out there suggesting that a good leader adapts their management style to their direct reports. This also applies to managing remotely. What works for one team member might overwhelm another. While establishing good communication channels is key, don’t overdo the uniformity. For example, pay attention to who is and isn’t comfortable speaking up on a video call and be sensitive to caretakers who may have a different schedule. “Regular work hours” may be different for folks depending on other things they’re juggling. Find a way to check in with them so you can do your job as manager even better.
  4. Build Team Unity – During your check ins, find a way to get everyone’s voice heard in both a personal and professional way. It helps everyone stay present and connected. It could be a silly question that you do a round robin with (everyone has a turn to answer) like “What do you put on toast”? This is great when you’re working across global teams too. Then you can move onto your project updates. 
  5. Repeat Important Messages – We’re all operating in a new norm and important messages are being relayed in a variety of ways. Your team might be more receptive if they hear the message from you as their direct manager vs. seeing it in an email from senior management.  Or they may need to make sense of it together and what it might mean for your team.
  6. Avoid the Urge to just Email – When you have a question that might require back and forth, try to do a video call or use a messaging platform like Slack. To successfully work virtually, you need to infuse some personality and playfulness into your communication to keep people connected as humans.
  7. Re-calibrate your Expectations – In an increasingly complex personal and professional environment, managing the normal flow of work is just not reasonable. Take the time to acknowledge the challenges, remind yourself of your work’s purpose, prioritize your and your team’s wellness above all, and reassess and set realistic expectations of your staff members.


For more tips on effectively managing remote teams, watch Professor Tsedal Neeley, of Harvard Business School’s video below!