— February 23, 2019
There are as many leadership styles as there are stars in the sky. As entrepreneurs, we’ve all got our favorite methods for motivating our teams, and preferred ways of keeping the work flowing smoothly.
This is NOT a bad thing! Anyone who tries to tell you there’s “one right way” to lead a team of freelancers is blowing smoke.
Effective leadership is going to look different for each leader and feel different for each team member; in fact, trying to force freelancers to follow a single, rigid management style may backfire spectacularly. So take all leadership advice with a grain of salt, including mine.
That said, I’ve spent many years managing my own virtual team and found that there are a handful of basic-but-vital leadership guidelines that work across styles and methods.
Regardless of your virtual team makeup and management approach, these 5 tips can help you manage workflow and workers more effectively.
Managing Virtual Teams Tip 1: Centralize all correspondence
WHY: Allowing your freelancers to use their preferred systems of communication shows flexibility … but can also lead to endless confusion.
Spreading team correspondence out across different systems – email, Slack, FB messenger -increases the likelihood that things will get lost and projects delayed.
HOW: Use a project management system to keep all correspondence, files, and notes in a single, centralized spot. This will allow all your virtual team members easy access to the information they need to stay on task and move work forward.
Managing Virtual Teams Tip 2: Recap and review completed work
WHY: Ya know that old saying about how people who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it?
Well, team members who aren’t allowed the time and space to discuss completed projects are doomed to make the same mistakes!
As leaders, we need to create opportunities to look back so we can look forward more effectively.
HOW: Make a habit of scheduling a “debrief” meeting after a large project or launch so your entire virtual team can review what worked and what didn’t.
As the leader, it’s your job to make sure this discussion isn’t about blame; keep it constructive and focused on steps and activities that were successful or unsuccessful. Then adjust procedures and project planning going forward.
Managing Virtual Teams Tip 3: Trust your team members
WHY: Freelancers and contractors have their pick of gigs these days. If your virtual team members feel like you are constantly breathing down their necks, they may simply choose to take their skills elsewhere!
Trust is essential to contractor longevity and happiness.
HOW: Aside from keeping correspondence in one shared space (see tip 1!), allow your team to manage their own tasks and projects however they see fit.
Don’t hover or micromanage. As long as the end result is on target, how your virtual team gets it done is irrelevant.
Managing Virtual Teams Tip 4: Be flexible
WHY: Being a strong leader isn’t about maintaining a “my way or the highway” attitude.
In fact, the majority of effective leaders are good listeners, flexible thinkers, and always open to feedback from both peers and team members. Inflexible leaders make their team feel distrusted and disrespected; bad news!
HOW: Ask for (and be open to) input from your virtual team members. They will often have ideas for doing things differently that can make everyone more efficient
Many of their suggestions may save you time and money, too! Stand strong when you need to, but in most cases, be flexible and open to feedback.
Managing Virtual Teams Tip 5: Give positive reinforcement
WHY: All virtual team members need to know they’re valued and appreciated. In fact, some are more motivated by praise than money!
Letting your contractors know when they’ve done stellar work encourages them to do MORE stellar work. (And builds loyalty.)
HOW: Offer praise whenever you can. Don’t heap on false compliments or force yourself to praise shoddy work: constructive feedback is important, too, and should be given whenever necessary.
But positive reinforcement is a much better motivator than negative input. If a project goes particularly well, or a graphic or blog post turns out beautifully, say so! It costs nothing, but offers tremendous value to your freelancers.
Again, your virtual team may need to be managed in very specific ways, and your leadership style may clash with some of these suggestions. Use what resonates, and feel free to leave the rest!
I’m offering these 5 tips because they’ve been absolutely priceless to me over the years, and I wish I’d known them sooner. I hope they’ll help YOU with managing your tasks and the awesome people on your virtual teams more easily and effectively.