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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

16 ways virtual leaders are cultivating stronger teams

Remote and hybrid workplace environments are here to stay.

16 ways virtual leaders are cultivating stronger teams
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]

Prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic, most executive leaders were accustomed to managing their employees in-office on a daily basis. Now, in the new and ever-changing virtual work world, some leaders are struggling to maintain culture and team growth like they once did.

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In a candidate-driven market and with the “Great Resignation” still looming, many company heads understand that offering more job flexibility, real work-life balance, and substantial growth opportunities are key to staying ahead of the competition and attracting the best talent.

To help supervisors and staff gain confidence as they continue to navigate a growing remote or hybrid business environment, 16 Fast Company Executive Board members share strategies remote managers can use to help their virtual talent develop a thriving career and stay connected with one another.

1. SCHEDULE FOCUS BLOCKS.

During remote work, I find that our creative teams get their time sucked up by rational tactical tasks. To help them lift their creativity and original thinking, we encourage them to leverage the control they now have over their calendar. I encourage our writers and art directors to block 90-minute increments for protected focus time so they can get into a deeply creative and fulfilling workflow mindset. – Susan Treacy, EnergyBBDO

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2. CREATE VIRTUAL TEAM CULTURES.

I have a lot of experience creating virtual team cultures that encourage learning, growth, and collaboration. I always recommend being open and transparent about your virtual workplace’s goals, values, and norms. Talk about it and also have it documented. For skill-building solutions, ask! Your team has ideas of what they need to be successful and rock at their jobs. Be open to supporting them where possible. – Cheryl Contee, The Impact Seat

3. OFFER CHOICES TO ENHANCE PERFORMANCE. 

Having a choice is important for mental well-being, engagement, and performance, so this is the key element of our work-from-home (WFH) policy. We want people to be well settled at home, so we offer a WFH equipment bonus of $1,000 to all newcomers. We don’t suggest what they should buy with the funds, they can choose anything that makes them more comfortable working from home (e.g., a second screen, ergonomic chair, desk, etc.). – Christine de Wendel, sunday

4. DEVELOP STRONG COMMUNICATION.

The most critical factor of success in remote teams is effective communication. To create an effective communication strategy, ensure you have a process for regular check-ins, whether that’s team-wide or 1:1 meetings to share feedback and progress updates. Regular opportunities to speak openly are essential to fostering an encouraging environment where everyone feels heard, valued, and connected. – Bilal Aijazi, Polly

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5. PROVIDE DEVELOPMENTAL TRAINING.

We’ve contracted a leadership development firm to hold training for supervisors to help them mentor and manage their direct reports who may be feeling burnt out.  Managers are given the tools to be able to properly assess situations, act with objectivity and empathy, and ask impactful questions in their weekly 1:1 meetings with subordinates to ensure the conversations are empowering and solutions-based. – Kurt Kaufer, Ad Results Media

6. START A LUNCHTIME BOOK OR JOURNAL CLUB.

Consider a book or journal club, where you read books or articles relevant to your field. It’s an opportunity to create intentional connections across your team while also serving as light professional development. Keep meetings to every 6 to 8 weeks so as to not overwhelm an already busy team. As a bonus, host lunchtime meetings and send participants a gift card for a local delivery service! – Shani Harmon, Stop Meeting Like This

7. SOCIALIZE OFTEN.

Remote workplaces must allow for teams to frequently meet, whether it be virtually or in person. Despite the rise of virtual workplaces, nothing can substitute a face-to-face meeting. Our recent survey found that 92% of employees want some in-person events with co-workers. More than 75% of employees wanted to meet for an in-person work event at least once every 3 months. – Ryan Simonetti, Convene

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8. DON’T LET LOCATION BE A BARRIER.

We’ve tried to help employees find new ways to connect with each other, regardless of where they might be physically located. Gatherings have included virtual coffee dates, digital social events, and increased training and communications so all members of the team have access to the information they need to be successful. – Amit Paley, The Trevor Project

9. CONDUCT COFFEE TALKS. 

I kicked off skip-level coffee talks with team members that I don’t get to meet with as often. This allows me some face time with frontline employees. Sometimes our sessions are focused on work and sometimes we talk about parenting, Netflix, or coffee. Connection is important given the many distractions we face and recruiters are just waiting to talk with your disconnected people. – Liz  Carter, ServiceMax

10. ENGAGE IN PEER-TO-PEER COACHING. 

There are a number of peer-to-peer coaching platforms out there, both informal and formal. Many of these are industry and discipline-specific. I would encourage leaders to identify or even create these platforms where they don’t already exist. Employees get the benefit of meeting new people in and outside of their company, sharing ideas and insights, learning new concepts, and can ask for help from others. – Bill Staikos, Medallia

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11. INVEST IN TECHNOLOGY TOOLS.

A successful shift to remote work is all about the tools you use. My business has worked remotely for years before the pandemic started. What makes things work is that we use tools for project management, chat messaging, storing and sharing files, and more. Have regular meetings and invest in tools like Slack and Asana. That’s the starting point that will keep everyone connected. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

12. ENCOURAGE A CAMERA-ON CULTURE.

I believe it is important to have a camera-on culture. One-click team meetings with video create more connections, assist with clearer communication, and make people’s moods visible. Make it safe to have a literal or figurative “bad hair day.” Remember to role model this yourself and discuss with your team why it is important to be seen and not just heard.  – Steve Dion, Dion Leadership

13. BOOK A 1:1 MEETING.

For my remote team, I have weekly 1:1 meetings where we start with a casual discussion and move into a more practical conversation about work deliverables or needs. Additionally, we do a weekly “happy hour” where the team meets virtually or in-person on Friday afternoon for a social hour to connect, build relationships, and share stories about the week and what’s to come for the weekend. I find this helps maintain a personal touch – Amanda Dorenberg, COMMB

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14. CREATE WATER-COOLER MOMENTS

It’s important to create water-cooler moments, where knowledge is organically shared vs. formal meetings. During this time, I’ve adopted more 1:1 meetings with people across the organization just to talk and listen. There’s no set agenda, it’s just a time to connect and hear from them. Dedicating time to listen is particularly important in a remote environment. – Heather Hatlo Porter, Chegg, Inc.

15. TOUCH BASE IN PERSON ON A MONTHLY BASIS.

Touch base in person if possible at least once per month. Have a sort of “monthly meeting+” with a combination of team-building activities, brainstorming, group work, and maybe even hand out some performance-based bonuses. Do this in a fun and relaxed setting and encourage participation. Investing in some regular in-person interaction pays dividends and can stimulate engagement.  – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

16. GET CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR TEAM

As team leaders navigate this remote work environment, the simple act of asking questions and getting curious about how your team is doing, what drives them, and how you can support them will create intentional points of connection between you and your team members.  – Van  Lai-DuMone, worksmart Advantage

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