This is the first post in an ongoing series where we interview experienced leaders of virtual teams and share their insight with you. First up, is Stan Kimer, founder and president of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer and a long-time leader at IBM, where he managed virtual teams. Below we share four pieces of advice he wants every remote leader to take to heart: 

Focus on building relationships

It is easier to build a close relationship to on-site team members whom you see working hard everyday, because you can stop by their office, ask them out to lunch, or chat by the water cooler. I think the biggest mistake remote leaders make is not taking the time to develop the same depth of relationship with their virtual staff. Make time to develop those relationships with remote employees. Schedule time to call them to talk about their lives and families, and get to know them outside of work.

Additionally, if you manage a hybrid team, create opportunities for your remote employees to connect with on-site employees and one another. At the beginning of meetings, take 10 minutes for team members to share how their week has been or to tell stories about their families or hobbies. Share photos with one another, too. Those things make people feel familiar with and connected to one another, and that is the first step toward building trust. At IBM, I managed remote teams, but we still felt close like family.

Trust all your employees, even the ones you can’t see

At times, you may have doubts about whether they are working or question how they spend their day. It’s important that you believe they are working hard. Yes, you may not know what hours they are working. They could be playing golf every afternoon. They could be doing chores or shopping or watching T.V.  Still, you have to trust them. If you don’t, you will end up micromanaging their work and driving both you and them crazy in the process. That’s why it is critical that you …

Evaluate them based on results, not hours logged each day

They may not be glued to their desk from 9-5, but they could be working at night or over the weekends. As long as they are meeting their goals, making a solid contribution to the team and making themselves available when needed, grant them flexibility. After all, remote workers tend to be more productive than their on-site coworkers, anyway, so unless they fail to meet your expectations, focus on the outcome of their work, not how they get there.

Hire people you’ve “worked with” in the past

It’s not always possible, but one of the best hires I’ve made was someone I never met in person. We had served on some virtual teams together. He was always helpful, positive and knowledgeable. So when I had a job opening, I interviewed and hired him without ever meeting him face-to-face. Interestingly enough, he reported to me for two years, and during that entire time, I never met him in person. However, he was always a top contributor who turned out excellent work. I finally met him face-to-face for the first time when he traveled from Indiana to North Carolina for my retirement dinner!

When you have worked with other companies or freelancers, who brought up the best ideas? Who volunteered to do a task for the group? Who really stood out to you as a team player? Who communicated well? Reach out to those people first and invite them to interview. Or put out fillers in your network for potential candidates. A fantastic resume doesn’t always mean that the person has what it takes to work virtually, so when possible, start with people you know can handle the challenges.

Stan Kimer is Founder and President of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer, a boutique consultancy formed in 2010 after his diverse and successful 31-year career at IBM.  Stan worked in staff and management positions in sales, marketing, finance, and human resources, with his final position being Director of Global Sales Operations for IBM’s consulting practice.  Total Engagement consulting offers services in the areas Stan was the most passionate about while at IBM:  diversity with a deep expertise in LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), career development, and general management/leadership.

Stan holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Georgia Tech and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. When he is not working, Stan is training as an adult competitive figure skater, a venture he started at the young age of 59!

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