If you’ve never led a virtual team before, the past six months have probably been some of the most challenging of your leadership journey. Leaders in all industries have needed to adapt their playbooks to a remote world, updating communications practices, meeting cadences and accountability structures.
Even leaders who don’t micromanage their teams have likely undergone some kind of adjustment and uncertainty while transitioning from an office to a virtual workplace. They can’t walk through the office for facetime with employees, or see when the office fills up and empties at the beginning and end of each day.
Leading a virtual team takes a high degree of trust, and is a valuable test for leaders and managers. Do you worry about whether your employees are being productive throughout the day? Do you wish you could check in on them in person to make sure work is getting done?
If the answer is yes, it’s probably worth rethinking your organization’s management structure.
I’ve led a remote organization for the last 13 years, and we’ve addressed this issue by concluding outcomes matter much more than inputs. If you clarify the goals and metrics you expect your employees to hit, you don’t need to worry about they spend their day—you just need to measure their output and see if it stacks up to what the business needs.
Leading a virtual team will help you level up as a leader—to improve your goal-setting, shore up your accountability structure and learn how to delegate more effectively. Here are three key tips.
Set clear, consistent goals
The best way to assure effective performance is to set clear goals and hold people accountable to them. It’s important to work with your team to set clear, specific, measurable goals that build toward the organization’s long-term priorities.
There are several digital tools that can allow you to systematize the goals for both the organization and each employee, adding a necessary amount of transparency and accountability. We use a tool called Metronome that allows everyone on our team to input their goals and note their progress with either a green, yellow or red tag, illustrating whether they’re on track to reach a given goal.
Executive teams should share their goals as well—employees will be more comfortable with their goals and progress being visible if the head of their department is following the same protocol.
This practice helps employees as well. When people know what is expected of them, they can prioritize those goals to ensure they are achieved, rather than spending precious time on tasks that don’t move the organization forward in a meaningful way.
Once you’ve set up a clear goal-tracking system, it becomes much easier to hold employees accountable and evaluate a team’s performance. For leaders who are managing a newly remote team and wondering if their employees are still productive while working from home, this is a crucial measuring stick.
When the company’s goals, and the employee goals that support them, are laid out clearly and specifically, employees know exactly what they are expected to accomplish and can be held to that standard. Employees know that if they don’t get their core goals done in a given quarter, they will be expected to explain why. Missing goals due to lack of effort will not be accepted.
With this in mind, there’s no need to worry about what an employee is doing on any given day, or even how many hours they’re working in a given week. If they hit their goals, those outcomes are what matter—the inputs are less important.
Organizations that manage people by emphasizing the need for facetime, long hours, or exhaustive effort do this because either they haven’t set these expectations properly, or because are unable to hold the teams accountable. Clear, consistent, measurable goals solve both problems.
Delegate and empower
A challenge some face when transitioning to a remote environment is managing projects without the benefit of frequent in-person check-ins or collaboration. Managers who are used to stepping in frequently to assist their employees with their projects, or to invite a team member to their office for an impromptu brainstorm, might struggle when separated from their teams.
However, leaders can use this adjustment as an opportunity to build the essential skill of delegation. Leaders can improve overall productivity by giving team members the expectations and direction they need to complete a project, then giving them the freedom to get it done without lingering supervision.
In the short-run, this creates a more trusting culture in your organization. Employees may actually get more done when they aren’t frequently interrupting their work to meet with colleagues in person, leading to better results and a feeling of accomplishment among employees.
But delegation can also have important long-term benefits as well. By pushing employees to get work done without extensive oversight, leaders empower their teams to figure out solutions for themselves, build their capacity, and learn good management practices they can pass along as they rise in the organization.
There’s no doubt remote work is an adjustment for leaders and employees alike. But the organizations that excel are the ones that use these unusual circumstances as an opportunity to challenge assumptions in their business that are out of date.
By setting clear, measurable goals, driving accountability by prioritizing outcomes over inputs, and improving delegation, leaders can keep their organizations thriving in a virtual world—and make lasting changes to improve the business in the long-run.