The Art of Virtual Leadership - 4 Keys to Leading Remote Workers and Managing Virtual Teams

Many organizations believe that one of the biggest

challenges they face when implementing a virtual office is managing

mobile or remote workers. It is unfortunate that they let this

perception stop them from reaping the many benefits of a more flexible


Remote management is not radically different from

managing people on-site. The biggest difference is a shift in

management style from "eyeball management" (assuming workers are being

productive because you physically see them at their desks working) to

managing by results.

By learning to mange by results rather than

activity, improving communication, and nurturing trust between managers

and employees the whole organization benefits. In fact, virtual team

managers have reported that their overall management skills increased

for both on and off-site workers.

There are 4 main keys to

leading remote employees. These tips for distance management will help

you work more successfully with your mobile workers and virtual teams.

Basics of managing remote or mobile workers:

  • Managing by results, not activity

  • Improving communication to stay connected

  • Handling meetings and schedules

  • Feedback and support


One of the most common fears that managers and executives have when considering virtual teams is, "How do I know my employees will be working if I'm not there to watch them?"

Well the simple answer is that you won't, not every minute. But

realistically, you can't be sure they are really working every minute

you see them in the office either; it is easy to confuse activity with


A manager's job is to provide specific, measurable,

and attainable goals for the remote employee so that he or she knows

what must be done and when. These can include reports completed, number

of calls made, and number of support issues resolved - or any other

appropriate measure of job productivity.It is important that the

employee and manager arrive upon a shared definition of the

deliverables and timetable together. This ensures that everyone is on

the "same page" and prevents miscommunication. It also ensures that the

goals and expectations are realistic.

A manager's value to an

organization is as more of a coach and mentor, not an overseer. This

move away from "eyeball management," and the resulting clearer

definition of employee job responsibilities, is one of the major

contributing factors to the improved productivity normally experienced

with virtual teams.

Shifting your focus to performance based management will help you build a more productive mobile workforce.



communication is one of the most important elements to ensuring a

successful virtual team. This is one area of remote work that

technology helps make very easy. A variety of tools are available that

allow employees to stay in touch and collaborate.

The most

obvious way to promote ease of communication with remote workers is to

have defined working hours. By clearly setting hours employees need to

be available, you can circumvent a common point of confusion and ensure

timely communication. Recognize, however, that there is a balance

between being in touch and being pestered. This balance must be

developed over time.

When remote workers are not immediately

available, or communication is not taking place in 'real time', another

area that can cause challenges is the timeliness of communication.

Managers and on-site coworkers are often concerned with not being able

to get in touch with remote workers when needed.

An easy, but

often overlooked, solution to this problem is to create a set schedule

for checking and responding to voice messages and e-mail. This can be

hourly, twice a day, or whatever is appropriate for your situation.

This schedule, along with an expected response time, allows everyone to

rest assured that their messages will be received and a response is


There are also a variety of practices managers can

implement that assist remote employees to stay "connected" and still

feel like part of the gang at the office. These include having

regularly scheduled phone calls, including virtual team members in

impromptu lunches and other social events, and routing more informal

information, memos, and FYI items to them.



serve a variety of crucial purposes for any organization or team

project including sharing information, keeping up to date on

developments, making decisions, reporting on progress, brainstorming,

and exploring ideas, plans, and alternatives.

Keeping track of

everyone's schedule and including remote workers in meetings can appear

daunting to an organization investigating virtual teamwork. By being

creative with time management and using technology and tools properly,

these can become non-issues.

There are web-based groupware and

virtual office platforms as well as dedicated software solutions

available that manage group schedules and shared calendars. These allow

both on and off-site employees to access current schedules and

up-to-date information on last minute scheduling changes.


important realization is that not all meetings need to be face-to-face.

If you use technology properly, remote workers can use a combination of

teleconferencing, videoconferencing, web conferencing, and groupware to

participate in meetings and attend presentations in real time without

the additional cost or time requirement to travel. These tools also

allow you to include remote workers in important ad hoc meetings that


For times when face-to-face communication is preferable or

necessary, schedule meetings when mobile workers and virtual team

members will be in the office. A simple approach is to schedule

consistent meetings such as a staff meeting the 2nd Tuesday of every

month or a team meeting every Friday. This type of regularity makes

meetings easier to plan around.



important but basic management technique that is often neglected is

giving employees ongoing feedback and support. Many employees - at all

organizational levels - feel they don't get enough feedback from

managers on their performance. This type of ongoing discussion takes on

heightened importance with virtual teams.

Regular meetings should

be scheduled between managers and remote workers to assess needs, give

feedback, and discuss problems. These are excellent opportunities to

agree upon the scope of work to be done, timelines, and deadlines.


important way to improve the relationship with remote or mobile workers

is to be sure to include them in feedback and praise. Many managers and

executives give feedback and praise to their employees in a very

informal way, often when they see these colleagues or coworkers in the

office. Remote employees don't have as many opportunities to bump into

the boss or a manager, so some extra effort is required to keep them in

the loop.

This doesn't mean a lot of extra work, it's more a

presence of mind. Even using simple, quick ways of letting people know

how they are doing - such as a brief voice message or email, or a quick

note jotted in the margin of a report or memo - helps employees stay

motivated and on target.

Also, don't forget to occasionally make

a pat on the back public, like at a staff meeting. This assures onsite

workers that the remote workers are carrying their load and can

minimize any possible resentment that onsite employees feel toward

virtual team members and their work arrangement.

Fear of the

challenges involved in managing virtual teams and keeping them

connected are two of the most common obstacles organizations face. This

often prevents them from taking advantage of the power and flexibility

that comes with having a more mobile workforce.

Don't let these fears get in your

way. The necessary management techniques and strategies are not new,

they are the same things that good managers have been doing for years

to build trust and clear communication among their team. Using the

guidelines I've shared with you in these four key areas you can

effectively work from anywhere and keep your team connected!


An advocate of working virtually? It would be more precise to say that Phil Montero is an evangelist for distributed work.
He's been the spearhead of the remote work movement for more than a decade: teaching how to work effectively from a home office, the road, or practically anywhere.
The consultant, writer, speaker, and coach is the founder of, a site that assists organizations to lev...

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Have a question for Phil?

Nicholas Hudson
4th October 2014 4:37am
Hi Phil, I just submitted a proposal to work remote in my current sales manager position but in Austria not Australia. Most of my suggested improvements in sales and management productivity have been accepted on a whole with a trail to prove their worth. However my Boss is still struggling with the 5% or less of the time I am required to be the frontline face of the company. Although I have a good team there is no one yet ready to assume this role. Any suggestions on this one? Thanks in ... Read More

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