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Managing virtual teams in a COVID-19 era

By Lynne Curry bio

If you’re a manager struggling your way up the steep virtual workplace learning curve, you may discover the COVID-19 pandemic makes you a better leader. Here’s how to navigate your way through this trial by fire.

Focus on results

Effective remote supervision requires managers to switch gears from supervising activities to managing results. Train yourself to keep your focus, and that of your team, on results and overall productivity.

Say goodbye to micro-management.  Not only doesn’t it work, but you’ll drive your employees and yourself crazy if you keep them under a microscope from a distance.  Things come up for employees working from home that don’t when they’re at a regular work site. Let your employees know what you hold them accountable for and allow them the wiggle room they need with their schedules as long as they achieve sufficient productivity.

Lead, don’t boss

Be a leader. Your employees need to hear your plan for how your company or department will make it through this crisis. They may worry your company will fail or that they’ll be the next to be furloughed or laid off. They’re looking for direction. They need you’ll arrange the resources they need to do their jobs.

Walk your talk. Work hard. Hold yourself to the standards you want your employee to meet. If you expect your employees to quickly respond to your or customer emails, respond promptly to theirs. Let them know you with your actions as well as your words that have their back.

Communication and support

Your employees need to regularly hear from you.  Let them know that they can count on getting answers and support from you. Keep open two-way lines of communication as monologue doesn’t suffice.  If there’s conflict or you need to give constructive criticism, pick up the phone or schedule a video-conference as email doesn’t cut it in these circumstances.

Show your employees you appreciate them. Call them to say thank you and to see how they’re doing. When you ask “how’s it going?” listen. We need authenticity from our leaders and managers to make it through this.

Clear expectations

You may need to up your game in how you deliver expectations. Provide your employees crystal clarity concerning what you hold them accountable for in terms of results and behavior. Let them know you expect them, to the greatest degree possible, to help your company or department maintain normal working hours and business operations. How, when and on what should they communicate?  If your employees need to be available at all times during working hours, let them know.

Don’t assume anything. Your employees’ lives maybe disrupted because of COVID-19. They may not be able to maintain normal working hours free from distraction. If so, agree on what’s possible.

Develop operating agreements for your team. You need protocols in place so that the majority of your team don’t find themselves waiting for latecomer to arrive to a scheduled team conference call.


Make team operations as streamlined and transparent as possible, so your employees aren’t searching for essential information they need.  Keep all essential team communications in one place. Ensure that all meetings are scheduled in advance and have a clear agenda. Agree on one or two communication platforms, whether email, Zoom, Slack, Skype or text.

Create a team

Create a sense of team so your employees don’t feel disconnected and untethered. Maintain as much normalcy as possible by keeping your employees informed concerning company and department news. Celebrate small and large milestones. Organize a monthly conference call for your team. Start team meetings by asking “who has a high five for another team member?” Turn cameras on during virtual conversations. Ask each of your employees to include a thumbnail photo in their communications.


The Centers for Disease Control has advised employers to have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple teleworking employees. Employees need Internet access along with security and privacy protocols. Make your employees aware of how to prevent data breaches through encryption, password-protection and log-out/lockdown procedures.  You may need to give your employees a crash course in cyber-security. Arrange for the right cloud-based tools so your employees can easily access the applications they need to maintain productivity.

Handling those who can’t handle remote work

You may have legitimate concerns you about an individual employee’s poor productivity. An employee who was a problem employee before the pandemic may grow even worse now when you’re out of sight, out of mind. Now may be the time to bless them out the door.

We’re all navigating unexpected, uncharted, unwelcome territory. You may, however, discover that what you learn during this trial by fire makes you a better manager and leader.










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