How to manage remote teams

My interview with Peter, keynote speaker and executive coach

In our Nomads Profiles series we feature interviews with digital nomads and nomads entrepreneurs with interesting profiles, from all over the world. We hope they will inspire you as much as they inspire us! This month we talked to someone special, who once was remote employee himself and later on became keynote speaker, executive coach and the author of the book Virtual Power Teams, Peter Ivanov. Peter has developed a great method called “10 big rocks” designed to manage virtual / remote teams. So if you are in a virtual team yourself, or an entrepreneur with remote teams, you’ll want to hear from Peter Ivanov, who is sharing his tips for leading remote employees.

Interview conducted by Kate Hubchyk (business development manager at

Hi Peter! Tell us all, how did the idea of coaching virtual teams come up?

It came quite naturally actually. During the beginning of my career as a project manager, I was part of a team of 20 other project managers. I was craving collaboration between us, but the management style at that time was more directive rather than inclusive, and I was somehow frustrated with this approach.

My turn came to lead this team of 20 project managers, and as the team grew, I toyed with the idea of creating a common culture for our remote team, though they were spread across various locations in Europe. That’s how the idea was born.

Later on in my career, I became head of IT services for EMEA (Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa) which meant bigger teams in different regions, and in some places the infrastructure was poor, so people were desperate for communication. And that’s how over the course of ten years in several management roles I developed a method, the Ten Big Rocks, that essentially encompasses 10 key success factors for making distance an enabler in a remote team, rather than an issue. You can work with the best talents in the world spread geographically if you know how to manage them.

In your opinion, in what situations do you consider it’s necessary to understand how to manage remote teams?

First scenario is when you are hiring external experts for specialized roles in different fields, such as web designers and web developers, PR consultants, but also in the digital and graphic industry like video producers or graphic designers.

Another scenario where you’d need to understand how to manage virtual teams is the case of global corporations, that have teams in matrix organisations spread globally, as well as growing mid-size businesses that have for example — production in China or marketing office in Berlin or the Silicon Valley.

These people need to work as a team so it’s important to understand how to set up a team culture when that team is virtual.

And what are the best strategies for uniting such teams?

I think the method I’ve developed, the Ten Big Rocks, can give you some insights. There are 10 success factors and I won’t talk about all of them but they are essentially focused around 3 main groups.

The first group is about Goal Setting, and knowing your teammates. The key factor I’d like to emphasize on here is “Let the personality shine and provide time and space for personalities to unfold.” I’ve seen many managers not pay attention to the personalities and only recruiting skills instead. Since you are working with human beings and personalities if you let them shine you can unleash incredible potential. There are easy formats to achieve that, let people present their lifeline and what makes their hearts sing. Once you get to know the team, use that as the basis for goals setting, set goals in a bottoms-up interactive format, instead of using a top-down approach.

The second group is about Structured Communication. Make sure you don’t fall in the trap of being a manager who talks at his team, instead of with them. Structured communication is about everyone having a slot in a meeting, to be able to present their personal highlights, but also discussing issues that need to be addressed.

The third group is about Virtual Cultures.Research has shown that people leave bosses and not companies and the main reason is a lack of recognition It’s even more true in virtual teams, so the idea is to create a culture based on recognition and reward, working with an appealing prize that is not of monetary value but rather a team experience, upon completion of the project. It could be a trip somewhere for example if the project is completed before deadline.

What challenges do you most see in virtual teams?

I think the main one is that people don’t see each other, and as such are perceived as anonymous carriers of skills instead of coworkers, and that perception can lead to a diminished performance. Since there are no coffee machine that can act as a social interaction point, it’s important to create an online session where people get the opportunity to present themselves, and present their highlights on a regular basis. This keeps the people-to-people connection and helps forming relationships, not just one to one but everyone to everyone.

The other challenge is around communication, and I often see a management centric communication, related only to the corporate goals and issue. It’s really important to empower the teams and decentralize communication. Simply give them clear goals, manage time and budgets but for the rest, empower the people let them decide on how to achieve their goals and let them shine.

The third challenge is again incentives and rewards. Because people don’t see each other doesn’t mean that they cannot celebrate together. I’ve seen examples within NGOs of virtual pizza celebrations, everyone is gathered online and pop up the same wine at different location. You don’t need a big budget to create a team culture, you just need to be creative and bring in the fun factor.

Let’s talk about the future of work. We’ve been hearing more and more about Digital Nomads and Remote Work. What does the future of work look like to you?

I think there will be more virtual working because technology is developing and you can do many things online. You can conduct proper team meetings with breakout sessions in virtual rooms and in shared white boards, so collaboration is made easy with the proper tools.

These online tools will enable virtual working and Digital Nomads, who are primarily experts, will take part in exciting projects all over the world.

Regarding small entrepreneurs, sourcing experts all over the world has been made easier thanks to tools like LinkedIn, Fiverr etc. So I believe there will be more and more flexible work ; it’s much more cost-effective, and presents lower risk in terms of employment costs. I really foresee more startups getting developed with virtual teams in the future.

And as for big established companies, it’s very likely that they maintain key strategic units collocated, but ongoing support and operations will definitely go remote.

From a geographical point of view, what trends do you see in terms of locations? Are there interesting statistics you’d like to share?

I think one number that is key in the current global environment, is that 81% of teams are virtual, meaning that your coworkers are likely to be in more than one locations, across different time zones. And that’s a 2 year old statistic, meaning it has grown since. 60% of teams are in more than one time zone, so that’s a real geographical spread. And these trends are only growing.

In terms of locations, the 2 key ones are India and China that are both used for outsourcing purposes.

In terms of virtual assistance, Eastern Europe and the Philippines are key locations and they are establishing their reputation and I see from my location in Hamburg that many people in Western Europe opt for a virtual assistant in the East, either more near shore like Eastern Europe or South-East Asia.

And finally, you have many IT companies that normally have one office in the Silicon Valley or somewhere in the US, one office in London and then have their head office in Western Europe or Eastern Europe ; they would have some footprint in Asia and the locations I’ve been hearing about during my coaching sessions are Valley, London, Berlin, Beijing and Shanghai.

What advice would you give to big corporations, organisations who are thinking of working with digital nomads or setting up remote teams?

I think they shouldn’t shy. They can make it work. Some people think that being virtual is associated with a loss of productivity but the opposite is quite true. Virtual teams could be even more productive than local ones because you have access to the best resources worldwide, providing you can unite them despite the distance.

My second advice is to focus on creating a team culture by using the three groups I mentioned earlier: focus on the personality, don’t neglect it; allow some structured time for people to present themselves as unique human beings and then make sure you have a regular structured communication; give rewards and celebrate together.

Finally let’s talk about you Peter. You have been a sportsman and you’re a father of five girls. You push yourself a lot in life also so what does motivate you everyday?

As a keynote speaker and coach, it’s extremely rewarding to see the transformation in virtual teams. During seminars or workshops, I see the audiences lighten up in front of my eyes, committing to change and transformation and that’s the real reward and motivation, when you actually see it happening over time. I’m by nature somehow motivated by performance, and that’s probably true for most of the champions: they are intrinsically motivated by giving their best.

I also do a lot of visual mind work, I feel how success looks like with all my senses: what I see, what I hear, how it feels, and so on. I would use affirmations and visualisation as a part of my daily routine, not just for sports, but also for business targets and for family fun and happiness.

Another thing that helps me is getting feedback. Sometimes it’s painful and hurtful but you need to have feedback in order to develop and grow.

And finally my motivation is being able to spend time with my family. As a remote worker I work mainly from home and I travel to do speeches and workshops, but I have time to spend with my five little daughters. We have recently taken a four-days ski trip thanks to the flexibility I have, which is not necessarily the case when you are employed or working in an office.

I found Peters’s interview really interesting because it showcases many aspects of a remote working lifestyle. Time spent with family and loved ones is definitely an advantage. Peter’s method is showing that virtual teams can be as productive as other ones, if you know which tools to use and how to enable your teams. Virtual does not equate with loss in productivity. And finally, Peter is also an entrepreneur and his work in coaching virtual teams allows him to travel for his workshop while maintaining a flexible work schedule. If you want to read similar stories, make sure to come back often or sign-up to the newsletter.

Thank you ​Peter for sharing your experience with the DN:m community and Kate for conducting the interview!

All images are Peter’s and used with his permission.

This article was originally published on on April 4— Find more about Peter and his coaching in the full article.

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