is an author
, keynote speaker and consultant delivering marketing workshops, executive training and big ideas to clients looking for “giant killer” performance.
1. If a person has good leadership skills, does it mean that he or she will be automatically effective working with remote teams, or is 'virtual leadership' is an entirely different set of skills?
SD: The leadership skills needed for thriving in a virtual workplace are different – and changing. The emerging managerial skill set I see is being able to manage “in space” – meaning the ability to work in an extremely unstructured environment with little to no support.
In this new future of work, managers must really excel at several key skills. First, they must be outstanding at reading people. They must be able to interview and hire people with the understanding that once they’re on-boarded, they’ll be loose in the system and working without daily face-to-face coaching. Mistakes can be costly because they won’t always be noticed quickly. You need to be able to identify and hire fully formed adults who can operate on their own. There’s a bit of trust here, but it needs to start with hiring great people. Next, they must be extremely efficient and clear communicators. When the majority of your interaction with your individual team members is on the phone, you need to achieve alignment quickly. There’s no room for misunderstandings. Lastly, these managers need to be willing and able to identify when things aren’t going well – either with something as small as a project or as large as a hire. They need to be willing to fire those who can’t perform quickly. This means they need feedback loops, clear metrics for understanding individual performance and the unwavering understanding that their job is on the line, too.
It’s not easy managing virtual teams! But the upside is enormous. In 2015 (and beyond), it’s not good enough to limit your talent pool to your immediate local geography. Everyone already has a computer and a phone where they are. That puts the burden on you – the manager.
2. What common mistakes do managers and business owners make when working with virtual teams?
SD: The biggest mistake is “out of sight – out of mind.” Virtual team members can literally be forgotten – forgotten in terms of compensation, promotion and input. Social bonds are built in the white spaces between the functional work. When people aren’t physically present, these relationships have a harder time growing. Many business leaders uncomfortable with the idea of virtual teams find they can’t trust them because they can’t monitor them during the work day. This is limiting, for obvious reasons.
3. Which modern technologies do you think will have the most effect in remote collaboration?
SD: Fortunately, we’re living in the golden age of collaboration technologies. We have Unified Communication platforms like Microsoft’s Skype for Business, Cisco’s Jabber and Webex, plus a host of other communication platforms that allow colleagues to use presence, chat, call and video all from their desktops. Even the consumer version of Skype allows for these features, along with others like desktop sharing. Combine these with cloud-based services like Bitrix24, Dropbox and Basecamp and you’re able to not only keep business going but also begin to forge the personal bonds that create a real team. When everyone has a smart phone in their pocket, a connected laptop on their desk, and a headset on their head, they can be as productive on the road as they would be sitting next to you.
4. One of the challenges with virtual teams is that there is very little personal contact. How does one align individual goals with the team’s objectives and instill the 'corporate spirit'?
SD: It’s easy to treat each member as a separate entity and not forge the intra-team bonds that create the culture you’re looking to build when everyone’s somewhere else. There’s several ways to address this, outside of the mindset (answered above). Communication needs to be thorough and systematic – to the point of being almost over-done. You need to find excuses to bring people together to build the relationships that they’d otherwise miss. That’s what “headquarters” is for. Building culture in a virtual team takes effort – it’s hard – and it’s easy to forget this.
5. What resources or tools can you recommend for our readers to help them lead their virtual teams?
SD: I’ll point you to two resources that you might find helpful. The first is Jabra’s blog
, which focuses on the “new ways of working.” This is penned by my friend Holger Reisinger, who runs product management at this very interesting Danish headset brand. Another is an interview I did with Mark Dixon, CEO and founder of Regus
, on the rise of his business and the future of work – you can find that in a e-book I produced in 2013 called, “The Killing Giants Framework: 3 Areas of Excellence That Define How Davids Topple Goliaths.
” It’s 99 cents, but I hope you’ll give it a look anyway. As a leader in the world of office space on demand, Mark is in a unique position to guide the rest of us on creating a sense of culture and inclusion when your team is spread out over different countries and continents.