Work from home: How to lead when you’ve never met your team in person

September 7, 2020

Terry Collins, Special to USA TODAY Published 5:02 a.m. ET Aug. 24, 2020 | Updated 3:33 p.m. ET Aug. 24, 2020

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Janice Lin has a unique role. She supervises a team that’s she hasn’t met in person yet. 

A manager of Strategic Account Management at WalkMe Inc., a San Francisco-based enterprise software company, Lin’s main interaction is through videoconferencing. Lots of videoconferencing. 

In addition to making sure her account managers meet their goals, Lin also has to make sure she’s doing her share of team building and fostering collaboration – mostly across a screen.

“What’s important for me is to create a very focused and engaging environment,” Lin said. “It’s definitely challenging.”

As working from home continues, that shifting environment also brings with it some new realities. A recent study found that the workday was longer, there were more meetings and, yes, more emails. But when you’ve never met your team in person, these work-from-home tools are a lifeline to building connections. 

Janice Lin, manager of Strategic Account Management at WalkMe Inc., supervises a team that’s she hasn’t met in person yet.

Janice Lin, manager of Strategic Account Management at WalkMe Inc., supervises a team that’s she hasn’t met in person yet.

 (Photo: Courtesy of Janice Lin)

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Lin may have an advantage in her leadership position with her team. She previously spent three years at WalkMe before leaving the startup and coming back in May. However, that wasn’t the case for her colleague, Andrew Casey, who joined the company two months prior. 

Bonding without meeting face-to-face

As WalkMe’s first chief financial officer, Casey said he came on board shortly before the company decided that all of its employees would be working remotely from home for the foreseeable future. That move also coincided with WalkMe’s clients concerned about a shaky stock market, an economic downturn, and plans for WalkMe’s potential initial public offering.

Initially concerned that he didn’t have the benefit of building strong relationships more traditionally, including face-to-face interactions, Casey said he had to pivot quickly. His introductions with WalkMe’s investors, auditors, and key players were through videoconferencing. He also had to introduce himself virtually to the 85 people who report to him in several departments, including finance, legal, information technology and operations. 

A challenge that Casey, who has served in finance leadership positions for nearly 30 years, said he was ready to meet. Casey said he wanted to make sure his personality came out during his introductory presentation via videoconferencing. 

Andrew Casey is WalkMe’s first-ever chief financial officer. He has had to introduce himself virtually to the team as well as investors.

Andrew Casey is WalkMe’s first-ever chief financial officer. He has had to introduce himself virtually to the team as well as investors.

 (Photo: WalkMe)

As he discussed his priorities for WalkMe, including meeting the needs for its 2,000-plus corporate clients, a refocus on cross-functional capabilities between departments such as finance and IT, and its quest to go public, Casey shared his personal side. He told them he’s a family man who is proud of his son going to college.

“I want to show that I’m not just a figurehead,” Casey said. He noted that continues to make that a point during the half-dozen scheduled videoconference meetings he averages daily. And, he’s noticing that having the virtual cross-team meetings is fostering good communication, and fewer emails and calls. 

“If you have a group that’s engaged and passionate, it’s not hard at all,” said Casey about the increased participation during team meetings. “They start jumping in and talking and contributing to the conversation.”

Casey recalls that bonding occurred during a recent videoconference meeting between the finance, IT, accounting, and legal teams about pricing for its clients. 

“You need all of those constituencies working together to make sure the client understands,” Casey said. “We avoided any breakdowns in the process by having the interaction. If you give them that level of trust, they show it back in return.”

Casey also believes in having those “unstructured conversations” with his colleagues to find out how they are doing to draw a level of trust. 

Creating a space for brainstorming

Lin shares a similar sentiment. While she also misses the face-to-face interaction, and her account management team is pretty independent workers, they are forming a bond through videoconferencing.

In addition to having hourlong weekly team meetings, they also meet every two weeks for brainstorming that Lin calls “our Creative Corner” sessions.

Lin, who averages about five videoconference meetings a day, said she’s also made sure to exercise good screen time without exhausting her team. She said during meetings, members on the team take turns giving presentations to break the monotony. 

There are also team-building activities, including asking, “What’s one thing you bought in the last three months under $100?” Lin said she brought a mini-trampoline that she uses outside in between her meetings.  

Lin also thinks that her team appreciates working from home and being productive. She said having that autonomy will likely make them “happier, and do their jobs better.”

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