New managers and supervisors have more than ever to learn if they are stepping up to manage a virtual team. Great upboarding can have a tremendous impact on their success, and on the productivity and satisfaction of the virtual teams they lead.
While onboarding refers to preparing employees to join the company or team, “upboarding” refers to employees staying in the same company but stepping into a new role, usually in a leadership capacity.
Unless there is a big lateral move involved, the new supervisor or manager probably already knows the company’s culture and general practices, but they know them from the perspective of an employee, not a supervisor or manager. To be effective in their new role, they need new knowledge, skills, and practices. If most of their work experience has been in face-to-face environments, leading a virtual team is a double whammy. Worse, in an organization that has undergone a sudden shift from face-to-face to working remotely, the new manager may not personally know any mentors who can advise them on the virtual aspects of their job.
Good upboarding can make all the difference for new supervisors and managers, and through them, for the teams they lead.
So, how do you make great upboarding?
Tip #1: Update Your Manager’s Playbook Specifically for Managing a Virtual Team
There’s more to working successfully in a virtual team than learning how to join a Zoom meeting. Every human interaction is different to some degree in a virtual environment, which means the manager’s “playbook” needs a global update.
Put yourself in a new manager’s place and ask yourself: What, specifically, is different about managing in a virtual environment in your company? Or maybe the better question is, what’s not different? It won’t take you long to start tripping over gaps between practices taught for face-to-face management and what works in virtual interactions.
For example, most companies skill up supervisors and managers for sensitive tasks like conducting performance reviews. But if your existing “how to” resources don’t consider the virtual work environment, they leave gaping holes such as:
- If the team has shifted recently from face-to-face to virtual work, are performance expectations and requirements in the new environment clear? If not, how do you conduct an equitable performance review?
- How do you gather performance data when the vast majority of work hours are unobserved?
- How do you provide performance feedback, especially negative feedback, in a virtual environment?
- What accommodations does the company provide for employees who have hearing difficulty or other barriers to online communication? How do accommodations, their lack, or their lack of success factor into evaluating performance?
- When, if ever, should virtual conversations be recorded? Is the reviewee’s consent necessary? If the reviewee wants to record the conversation, should the manager consent?
Other commonly overlooked areas where the virtual work environment has a big impact:
- Social connection, especially sense of belonging and trust
- Employee motivation, including self-motivation
- Running different types of online meetings (brainstorming, milestone celebrations, etc.)
- Integrating new/reboarded employees
- Training/coaching employees remotely
- Sustainability and succession planning
Upboarding new managers with systematic training on the typical virtual interactions they are likely to encounter, and ways they can make their virtual meetings run better, is not only reassuring as they face new challenges—it can also yield big results for them, their teams and the company.
Tip #2: Provide Extra Support Around Building Social Connection on Virtual Teams
As we’ve discussed in other contexts, people who work remotely tend to feel less connected to their team and their company. This can impact motivation, morale and basic mental health, which in turn has real financial impact in reduced productivity, increased missed work and higher employee turnover costs. Social connection impacts every area of team performance. It’s good for humans, and it’s good for companies. But it doesn’t happen by chance.
Building social connection on virtual teams requires regular, intentional action. Yet most people come into management with neither formal training nor informal experience in building social connection in a work environment.
- In your company, is social connection seen as something that should happen after hours, or as a regular part of work interactions?
- Are there any successful models for virtual social connection team activities in your company?
- Are there teams in your company that exhibit strong social connection? What attitudes, structures, and practices make them work? Could they be a success story/case study to teach new managers and teams?
- Do you offer courses and other resources for building social connection on virtual teams? Do they provide specific practices for managers and teams to use?
The gap between knowing something and being able to do that thing is often vast, and social connection is no exception. Many people have never experienced a regular sense of social connection in a virtual work setting. A manager will find it easier—and also be more motivated—to increase social connection on their team after experiencing it themselves. Look for ways to include experiential elements in any social connection learning program you create or implement.
Tip #3: Make Your Management Training Super Accessible
By its nature, upboarding often means employees are juggling balls from both their old and new positions while climbing a steep learning curve. Anything you can do to make their training more flexible is a boon.
Your company likely has at least basic training in place for people stepping into management for the first time. If at least some of that training is not available online, then get it online, in fairly small chunks, so trainees can learn on their own schedule. Give them a learning map or portal for their new role so they can see everything they need to learn in order, or choose the topic they need most today. eLearning and microlearning are particularly great for this.
Don’t overlook the value of real humans as resources in upboarding. A buddy who is going through, or just went through, the same transition keeps the new manager from feeling alone in their challenges. A strong mentoring relationship may last for years. But even if it just provides support for the first 6-12 months, those can be crucial for a new manager or supervisor. Consider implementing a buddy or mentoring system if you don’t already have one. Nothing replaces having a trusted person outside the situation to turn to for perspective and advice.
Upboarding managers and supervisors specifically to lead virtual teams can make all the difference for their success and satisfaction, and for the virtual teams they lead. Remember these tips to make your upboarding program impactful.
- Tip #1: Update your manager’s playbook specifically for managing virtual teams.
- Tip #2: Provide extra support around building social connection on virtual teams.
- Tip #3: Make your management training super accessible.