3 Ways to Effectively Manage a Team When You Can’t Be Face-to-Face

By Clinton M. Padgett
face-to-face

Let’s face it – no pun intended – corporate-sponsored, face-to-face meetings aren’t happening right now. Perhaps in smaller businesses and circles, those meetings are still occurring but corporations aren’t taking the risk associated with in-person gatherings while we’re still in the midst of a historic pandemic. Despite the challenges we face globally, the world has not stopped; projects are still being launched and executed.

The question becomes – how do you effectively manage a dispersed team when face-to-face isn’t an option? Part of our proven approach—one that clients have seen the benefits of firsthand for almost 40 years—emphasizes the importance of in-person touchpoints, particularly in the beginning. And while current conditions aren’t yet optimal for gathering key team members from all over the globe in one room, there are temporary strategies you can leverage to help your team be as successful as possible.

  1. Replicate the In-Person Experience as Best as You Can. The beginning of any project is arguably the most critical phase of an entire project. Tone and expectations are set – relationships started. Getting an entire team into one room for a multi-day planning session encourages relationship development and it removes many of the obstacles that get in the way of effective project management. When everyone plans together, this creates buy-in from the entire team—helping everyone move toward the same goal rather than running off in different directions. So where does that leave teams in today’s environment? The key is to create as close to an in-person/face-to-face experience as possible. We are currently working with a team in China to create a kick-off event experience as if we were there in the room even though we are still in the US. Where possible, encourage those who can safely meet in person to do so, thus breaking down hidden silos that can manifest themselves within a team. Mirror your set up with others to create an appearance of looking and interacting with the same resources and tools. From whiteboard positioning, to replicating post-it notes in multiple locations with the same details written on them—try to create an experience where the only thing separating you is a screen.
  2. Create Clear Expectations. The fact is, distractions surround every individual who joins a virtual meeting. Being home presents a variety of challenges: a temptation to merely show up and not be physically presentable, interrupting family members, spotty internet strength, dogs barking, doorbells ringing. The possibilities for distraction are endless. Without the physical presence and interaction of others motivating you to stay present, helping individuals stay focused and engaged is harder than ever. This is why clear expectations need to be formally introduced and announced prior to meetings, especially initial launch meetings where introductions, assignments, and timeliness are established. Indicate what you expect in terms of environment, presence of technology, attire, video/microphone quality, etc. When those expectations are communicated formally, individuals are more likely to approach the experience with a greater level of commitment. Also, meeting facilitators need to be sure to consistently engage each group or individual joining the virtual meeting. Doing this helps everyone become an involved participant, which helps with accountability.
  3. Fight Silo-itis. I’m an engineer. As an engineer, I have specific ways I like to think about and approach a challenge or process, which makes it a lot easier to flock to other engineers face-to-face in a room. However, the HR or marketing professional in the room may have a perspective I hadn’t considered, which could, in turn, improve a process or project. In today’s virtual setting, working silos are an even greater threat than they were before. We tend to only communicate with those we absolutely must in order to get our work done. Not being in the office means there are no run-ins with colleagues from different departments at the elevator, drinking fountain, or cafeteria. It’s important to consciously counteract this with short virtual events that force people from different areas to engage. Virtual cocktail hours, sports bracket contests, and company-wide challenges are a few ways businesses can encourage connection in this siloed environment.

Even when we’ve put the worst of today’s pandemic behind us, remnants of telecommuting policies—creating a more hybrid environment—will likely be more present for quite some time. Make these strategies an active priority in your interactions; they will likely be just as important in the coming years as they are now. Learn more project management best practices in my latest book, How Teams Triumph: Managing by Commitment, which you can find on my website.