Managing A Virtual Workforce


It’s a Tuesday morning, and two members of my team and I are getting ready to meet to discuss the next steps in one of our ongoing projects. My manager is working from home with young children who clamor for her attention. My coworker is helping her daughter with schoolwork in between a barrage of online meetings. I am formatting documentation headers while monitoring what my dogs are getting into at that particular moment.

While none of us are in the same location right now, we’re still able to make progress on the project. We share the project plan on screen, and all three of us are able to provide input and make some headway. At the end of our thirty-minute meeting, the project plan has been updated, and all of us know our next steps in the project.

Virtual collaboration is not new for our team, we’ve been doing it on and off for a while now, and my manager has a solid plan in place to lead her virtual team. However, many have recently been thrust into working remotely, and their managers may be struggling with how to lead their teams, who are now exclusively working from home. As someone who is accustomed to working remotely and has had the advantage of an experienced virtual manager, I may be able to provide some advice to those managers who are trying to figure out how to lead their virtual workforce.

The following is a list from a Salesforce Trailhead module that outlines best practices for managers who lead virtual workforces. While the module was written for those who manage regular remote workers, it has been adapted slightly for those who are attempting to manage their teams through this period of forced virtual collaboration.

  • Set up regular one-on-ones

Setting up weekly one-on-ones with your direct reports is an effective way to check in on projects to ensure that they are running smoothly and that your direct report is not experiencing any issues with working remotely. Your team may not be accustomed to working from home and could be struggling with productivity or technology issues, checking in with each one could help alleviate some of these issues and help get them back on track.

You can use this time as an informal check-in, or you can set an agenda before the meeting, whichever works best for you and your direct report. Get in the habit of quickly following up on any action items that come from the meeting and let your direct reports know what you expect from them in the coming week.

  • Be available to meet informally

Even with the one-one-ones, it’s important that your team members can reach out to you outside of these scheduled meetings. This allows your direct reports to get answers to questions quickly and keep moving forward with their work. Let them know how and when it’s best to reach out to you.

  • Establish a rhythm for collaborating with your direct reports

Your collaboration rhythm is how you work with your direct report. You may have several different collaboration rhythms if you have multiple direct reports because each of them may prefer different styles and ways of communicating. Figure out what style, frequency, and method work best for you and each of your direct reports to set up effective communication and collaboration.

  • Respond quickly

If you were in the office, it would be easy for a direct report to walk over and ask you a quick question. However, now that they’re working remotely, they can’t do that, and the lag time between asking a question and getting an answer could produce a lull in their productivity and motivation. Try to answer questions from your remote workers quickly to help them keep rolling.

  • Visibility for remote workers

As we’ve been separated for a while and maybe for a bit longer, it’s easy to lose track of what your team members are working on at the moment. As a manager, you can keep your team united and informed of others’ work by sharing what team members are doing during this time.

If one of your team members had a breakthrough or completed a particularly difficult or cumbersome project, share that accomplishment.

  • Give feedback in the most effective way

Working by yourself from home all day can be intense.

Working away on a project only to hand it off and have EVERYTHING that could have been done differently pointed out all at once can be demoralizing. As a manager, you have the best intentions and want your direct reports to produce their best work, but you need to understand that your virtual workforce is new to this situation, and reading all that feedback at once could make them feel a little defeated.

When delivering feedback, try mentioning feedback that applies to the whole piece, such as formatting, at the beginning rather than repeatedly flagging every instance.

Also, ask yourself if all the feedback is necessary or if it’s just how you would have done it. The difference between providing objective or subjective feedback to those who are just getting used to working remotely could be the difference between bettering the outcome and shutting a team member down.

It’s a stressful time, but managing your virtual team doesn’t need to add to the stress. These best practices in virtual collaboration can help you, as the manager, be prepared to navigate the tricky virtual management environment you find yourself in right now.

Best practices pulled from Salesforce Trailhead module: Virtual Collaboration

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