Learn Virtual Collaboration Skills for Managers

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify virtual manager best practices and techniques.
  • Establish effective work communications and work processes with individuals on your remote team.

Lead Your Virtual Team

Juan is new to your team. Before joining your team, he owned his own business and was used to working independently. He’s a pro at hosting web conferences and is no stranger to using technology. But he’s new to other aspects of virtual collaboration. For example, in joining your team, real-time collaboration in Quip is all new to him.

Because your other direct reports have experience collaborating with Quip, you usually jump right in on their projects. No one on the team ever complained, so you thought the process was working.

One afternoon, you had some extra time and so you decided to have a look at Juan’s project in Quip. Before you knew it, you made a ton of wonderful edits. Heck! As an added bonus, you even finished off his project for him! You thought he’d be thrilled.

Juan wasn’t thrilled.

One employee cheerfully finishing up a project; another employee confused about the changes.

He opened the project and felt confused and upset. He even wondered if he did something wrong. Were you dissatisfied with his work? Being new to the team and having never met you in person before, Juan made assumptions about what was going on. He didn’t exactly know how to talk about what happened.

As a manager on a virtual team, these are the kinds of situations you want to be attuned to. If you were the manager in this scenario, what might you have done differently?

No idea? It’s okay, we’re here to help. We have some ideas and best practices to keep you in sync with your virtual direct reports.

Virtual Collaboration Best Practices for Managers

To help make sure that you’re on your “A” game when virtually leading your team, we’ve put together a list of best practices to set up rapport between you and your virtual direct reports. They offer a framework to discuss and avoid misunderstandings like what happened with Juan.

These are our top best practices that we suggest when it comes to establishing great collaboration and engaging your virtual team.

Set up regular 1:1s
  • Set up 1:1s and keep them sacred as virtual employees don’t have as many opportunities for informally connecting with you.
  • Ask questions about what you can do to support your employee from afar.
  • Get to know your employees to find the balance between how much support they need and how much is too much.
Be available to meet informally
  • Let your direct reports know that you are available to meet via web conference, chat, text, or email whenever they need. Make sure that your direct reports know who they can reach out to if you’re not available.
  • Reach out to your direct reports often just to check in on how they are doing.
Establish a rhythm for collaborating with your direct report
  • Find a happy medium between too much collaboration and just enough.
  • Pay attention to what’s working within your work process and fine-tune the parts of your work process that don’t work as well.
Respond quickly
  • Respond quickly to emails, text messages, and phone calls.
  • Move processes along smoothly by providing authorizations and sign-offs in a timely manner.
Schedule quarterly career development conversations
  • Make a plan to ensure that your virtual direct reports feel good about their career path.
  • Increase your virtual direct reports engagement and commitment to their role by setting milestones.
Shadow field employees once a quarter
  • Get to know more about your direct reports’ day-to-day by spending time with them in the field.
  • Follow along in person to get a feel for what it’s like to do their job.
Drive visibility for remote employees
  • Keep other members of the team up to speed on what your virtual direct reports are working on.
  • Advocate for opportunities to allow your direct report to travel onsite.
  • Recognize and acknowledge your virtual direct reports’ achievements.
Give feedback in the most effective way
  • Be thoughtful when it comes to how you deliver constructive feedback.
  • Be conscious of the fact that your direct report is heads down in work and that a flood of constructive feedback on their projects could break their morale and disengage them.

Set Up Regular 1:1s

Video conference call with a manager and his direct report

Setting up a weekly or bi-weekly 1:1 with your virtual direct report is a great way for you and your direct report to check in on projects. These regular 1:1 meetings ensure that you’re both working toward the same agenda and that projects are running smoothly.

And, it keeps the airwaves of communication open so that you can address potential concerns promptly. If something arises, like a miscommunication, you have a built-in time to address the matter. For example, a regular 1:1 meeting gives a direct report like Juan the opportunity to ask questions about what happened with his Quip project.

Decide together how you to approach 1:1s. Some managers like to use the time as an open forum for checking in. Others have found it more effective to have an organized agenda before meeting. Choose whichever format you think works best for you and your direct report.

Follow up promptly on action items that come from the 1:1s. When you end the virtual meeting, make sure that you know what you can expect of your employee in the next week or so. And make sure that your employees know what they can expect from you.

Keep in mind that honoring the time you’ve set aside for virtual 1:1s is even more important than if your direct report was seated in your same office. If you need to cancel, be sure to reschedule within the same week.

Be Available to Meet Informally

While 1:1s are a great idea, it’s important that all your team members feel comfortable reaching out to you informally. Being available to meet informally helps your remote employees work quicker and feel reassured that they’re moving in the right direction.

Let employees know your preference for how you’d like to be communicated with and when. Is the quickest way to reach you via text? Phone? Email?

Who do they reach out to if they need assistance and you’re not available? It’s especially important to communicate about this when you have an employee who works in a different time zone. If you work in London and your direct reports are in San Francisco, let them know who else they can contact in the late afternoon.

Establish a Rhythm for Collaborating with Your Team

Your collaboration rhythm is how you work together with your direct report. Earlier we discussed a faulty virtual collaboration process between Juan and his manager. To avoid this kind of situation and establish a rhythm for collaborating, communication is key.

Find out which methods work with your virtual team. Learn what makes the most sense given the work that you do. If you manage a team of engineers, how do you collaborate? What sorts of communication tools can you use to stay in touch with your team and to QA their work?

Respond Quickly

A big pain point that remote employees experience is a lag time when it comes to permissions, such as authorizing sales deals, and moving forward on certain projects. Be your remote employee’s advocate by being available to authorize projects that need your sign-off.

Schedule Quarterly Career Development Conversations

Does out of sight mean out of mind? Some remote employees feel like they’re less likely to be promoted or advance in their career because they aren’t in the office to hear about opportunities.

Be sure to schedule quarterly career development conversations with your remote employees. Career development conversations help you stay aware of what your employees want to accomplish and let your virtual employees feel like they are on a path.

Meet virtually each quarter for at least 1 hour, or in person if the company allows for it, about your employee’s career development.

Check out Facilitating Career Conversations for more tips on how to have these conversations.

Shadow Field Employees Once a Quarter

A manager is shadowing the employee by driving along to an appointment.

One manager here at Salesforce makes a point to schedule what she calls a “ride along” with each of her 42 virtual direct reports once per quarter. Forty-two! Wow!

Because her employees are often out at client meetings and rarely at their virtual desks, taking time to spend a day shadowing her direct reports helps her better understand their job.

“It’s also a really great opportunity to get to know the people on my team and to spend time in person with each of my direct reports.”

You might be thinking, but this module is about “virtual” collaboration not “in-person” collaboration. Remember, all collaboration involves relationships and understanding people’s roles and responsibilities. If your company’s budget allows for it, take time to spend a day in the life of your virtual direct report. You’ll learn a lot and be better prepared to manage virtually.

Drive Visibility for Remote Employees

Make a point to mention the hard work that your virtual direct reports are doing in front of other co-workers and colleagues. And go out of your way to mention your direct reports’ accomplishments on Chatter.

Think about it. It’s up to you to help non-virtual employees know about your virtual direct reports’ accomplishments. Help them be present on the team even when they are not in the office.

A man walking through an airport.

And prioritize budget approvals for periodic travel to the office. It’s the best way for your team to come together and for your virtual direct report to be more connected to the work that’s going on in the office.

Give Feedback in the Most Effective Way

Being heads-down in work all day is intense. Studies show that people who work remotely put in 10 more hours per week on average than employees who do not.

Now imagine that you’re a remote employee and you’ve invested everything you’ve got into a project or proposal you’ve been working on. You hand the proposal off to your boss and within a few hours your boss has devoured the proposal pointing out ALL the things that you could have done differently.

Employee sitting at a desk, confused by all of the red marks on the document.

As a manager, your intentions were probably good. You wanted to make sure that your direct report did their best work, right? But for your direct reports, reading all that feedback could make them feel draining, defeated, or even demoralized. Worse even, repeated incidents might cause your direct reports to look for other work. No one wants to feel like they can’t get it right, right?

Why is it so important to get feedback with virtual direct reports right?

  • Your virtual direct report has less face time with you. Frequent floods of constructive feedback in writing might not be the most effective way to establish great rapport.
  • When you manage a virtual team, you lose the opportunity to coach in person, in the moment, and on the fly.

You might be thinking, but I don’t have time to sugar-coat things, and they’re professionals.

It’s true. Nobody has time for sugar-coating, and everyone should be professional enough to read feedback and power through. But what if they disagree with your feedback or have questions? Do you expect them to implement all your feedback? Can you clearly articulate to them why doing so makes the proposal better?

Make sure that your virtual direct reports stay engaged in the work that they’re doing and that they view your feedback as an opportunity to learn.

Take special consideration when delivering constructive feedback to your virtual direct reports.

  • Do a read-through of the project, and mention feedback that applies to the whole piece upfront. For example, if throughout the project proposal your direct report uses the wrong formatting, mention the issue once rather than flagging every instance of incorrect formatting.
  • Before you give feedback, ask yourself if the feedback is necessary or if it’s just something you would have done differently. In other words, is your feedback subjective or objective?
  • Call your virtual direct report to collaborate on how to best implement your feedback.
  • Be realistic and willing to negotiate about which feedback needs to be implemented and which is nice to have.

Let's sum it up

Let’s Sum It Up

Managing your virtual team doesn’t have to be stressful. With virtual collaboration techniques and best practices for managers, you can be prepared for even the trickiest virtual management conundrums.


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