by Emily Luijbregts
As a project manager, one of the worst things in the world is feeling like you’ve failed a team member. Earlier in my career, I experienced this feeling quite a few times. It was a really steep learning curve for me, but after gaining more experience, I thought that I knew how to communicate and manage teams. Still, I wasn’t prepared to adjust my approach to lead virtual teams amid the pandemic. And then I learned.
Here are my most valuable lessons learned for leading virtual teams:
- Set expectations.
One of the most effective ways for me to manage my team is to establish ground rules at the start of the project and some clear expectation management for how we are going to work, what’s important for all of us as a team and what they can expect from me. It’s really important to avoid making any assumptions for how you think people want to work or what they are motivated by, as there is a high chance that you might be wrong. It’s not just about knowing your team members, but about having a deeper understanding of their motivations.
- Monitor work-life balance.
I’ve had several team members who have burned out. Most recently, I’ve been mentoring someone, who, since March, was working 14-hour days because they felt like they had to be seen working. When I asked them about their work-life balance, I was bluntly told that it didn’t exist. They were completely isolated from interactions outside of work and this caused a dramatic deterioration in their mental wellbeing.
One easy way for me to address the work-life balance of my team is to address the meetings I schedule. Are they really needed? Do I have the right attendees in the meeting? Are the meetings the right length? I’ve managed to cut down 50 percent of my meetings and avoid Zoom fatigue by arranging shorter catch-ups or different meetings entirely to get the same information.
- Build connections.
If you can, try to interact face-to-face at the start of the project. Using video can really help build trust. Another method for building a meaningful connection is to invest in your team members and ensure they have an opportunity for grow within your project. I try to understand each person’s own development plan and where they want to go in the next year(s), so I’m able to support that.
- Plan teambuilding activities.
Try doing quizzes, virtual team lunches, show and tell, and setting aside time in team meetings for small activities, like online trivia or other conversational “ice breakers.”
- Understand how your team likes to work.
I like to encourage my team to be innovative and creative. That includes having people think about how they work and if there’s a better way to do the work itself. As the project manager, you should understand how your team works most effectively and then protect its ability to do so.
What are the biggest virtual leadership lessons learned you’ve gathered this year? Let me know in the comments.