Creating a Sense of Team Virtually

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A reader asks: “I just inherited a global team – which includes people from Europe, the US, and Asia.  How do I create a sense of team virtually? How do I handle time zone differences?

Managing a geographically dispersed team certainly comes with challenges and requires an understanding of all participants. As the manager, you will need to be prepared to flex more than the individual team members to accommodate each staff member’s needs. 

Leading Global Remote Teams

Here are some simple yet powerful ideas on how to lead a global team:

  • As a new leader, you must get to know each person personally. What is their background?  Have you seen their resume and prior performance reviews? What are their values, needs, and wants?  If you can’t travel to their location (and this is highly recommended), arrange a video call (any of the free video conferencing platforms will do), so you can physically see the person you’re getting to know.  The key here is to listen more than you speak.  The first conversation is not the time to dive into work priorities or pressing deadlines.  Begin building a relationship before trying to manage work.
  • As you bring individuals together virtually, consider rotating standing meeting schedules. For example, start with Europe dictating the time, then Asia and lastly your own.  Put the onus on the team to schedule meetings that work for them, personally and professionally.  Don’t let your calendar alone mandate when you meet with the team.   Schedules are often one of the biggest dissatisfiers for remote staff (remote to you at least).  Calendar sensitivity on your part is an excellent way to demonstrate you are aware of the demands placed on those you manage.

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  • Create a team calendar that includes vacation schedules, customer or partner meetings which require time away from their desk/phone, as well as standing meetings others have locally. Team members should also routinely note their availability for their colleagues in the time zone of the people who may need to reach out to them.  Two essential purposes are served:
    • Each team member’s work schedule and availability will be “advertised.” You won’t confront the potential invisibility of remote staff.  Knowing where and when someone can be reached is an immediate reduction of angst associated amongst worldwide team members.
    • Familiarity with time zone differences can heighten a person’s awareness when sending an email, placing calls, or scheduling meetings. Gaining this level of understanding can take some education; however, it is a demonstration that all colleagues’ realities matter.  One of the biggest frustrations on the part of your remote staff may be the inability to reach someone at a time when and where of their choosing (meaning when they need the connection).  Eliminate this contention and frustration by requiring all to embrace the international nature of their team and their work.
  • Clarity of role and expectations is always a manager’s primary directive. When leading a team of people in far-flung locations, this function becomes even more critical.  Invest the time with each staff member to review expectations.  Discuss their jobs in terms of deadlines, actual deliverables, requirements for collaboration, and approval or buy-in.  Do not make the age-old mistake of assuming people understand what you need and want because they have tenure in the role.  New managers come with new leadership styles and expectations evolve.  Don’t assume – review carefully.
  • Celebrations are usually a highlight when people work in the same physical environment. While virtual holiday recognition must adapt to the team’s lack of a central physical location, they are nonetheless important.  For example, ask your staff members about local holidays.  Note on the team’s calendar the dates important in each region, adding whether this is a company holiday as well.  Have each person explain the nature of the holiday for you and their colleagues, along with details on how they will be observing the occasion.  This information sharing can heighten sensitivity on others’ traditions along with their meaning.  Consider this a way to embrace diversity – and share experiences.
  • Personal acknowledgment and recognition are also valuable opportunities for deepening connections. Babies are born, funerals held, marriages celebrated in different ways, recognizing different traditions, religious beliefs, and preferences.  In some cultures, death rituals are initiated immediately; in others, there are specified grieving periods.  In the United States, we often send flowers on behalf of the team to the grieving family.  Check out what is appropriate and meaningful.  Be sure to identify local service providers (e.g., florists, meal delivery services, balloon vendors) when you assume leadership for the team.  Having these vendors on tap when you need them will eliminate a great deal of hassle.  This is another example where knowing your team members and their traditions will enhance your ability to connect or share occasions.

It is also vital that you consider the impact of managing a worldwide team on you and your schedule. Getting and keeping passionate about creating and maintaining the team’s and your calendar will be an essential element in understanding how your new role will impact you as well.  And while your leader rightfully expects that you will do whatever is necessary to manage this team, take necessary precautions to minimize late-night meetings, schedules which interrupt sleep or preclude family time.  Let your team know you as well as you come to know them.  The shared understanding will take you miles towards becoming a highly productive workgroup.

Congratulations on the appointment!

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