A globalized economy isn’t a trend anymore. It’s a permanent and evolving reality, one that today’s companies have to adapt to if they’re to remain viable. The necessary adaptations take on a variety of forms, but none are more important than managing virtual teams effectively.
There was a time when an occasional video conference and a few mass emails sufficed to bring people from different locations together, but those days are long gone. As most HR departments and managers have already learned, today’s global companies have to go much further.
That’s why we’re presenting this comprehensive guide to managing virtual teams effectively. A remote workforce is now the rule and not the exception, and this sea change has forced companies to navigate previously uncharted territory. This guide provides HR departments and management teams with a blueprint for doing just that. By examining a wide variety of the complexities involved in managing virtual teams, this guide will give company leaders the tools that they need for long-term success.
What is a Virtual Team?
A rich understanding of the relatively new term ‘virtual team’ is essential to managing a remote workforce. Typically, the term refers to a group of employees who collaborate on projects from different geographic locations. Unlike traditional work groups, virtual teams might never meet in person. Instead, they rely on a variety of digital technologies to communicate, exchange ideas, and work toward common goals.
Virtual teams differ from traditional teams in other ways as well. Contrasting traditional and virtual teams will go a long way toward helping HR departments and management teams understand this constantly evolving term. But first, let’s have a look at the types of virtual teams and the different ways they work to achieve their goals.
Types of Virtual Teams
Broadly speaking, there are two distinct types of virtual teams:
- Localized Virtual Teams: These are teams whose members usually work for the same company. The size of these companies varies, as does their employees’ degree of geographic distribution. But the word ‘local’ can be a little misleading. While some localized virtual teams might work in the same city or building, others may collaborate from locations all over the world. Whatever the case, companies use various forms of telecommunication to cross physical and geographic barriers and maximize productivity.
- Globalized Virtual Teams: Globalized virtual team members usually work from remote locations all over the world. The key difference between global virtual teams and local ones is that members often work for different companies. This collective effort allows these companies to pool their resources to work toward shared goals.
Virtual teams can (and often are) divided into further subgroups, but the local vs. global distinction makes for an excellent starting point. It’s important, however, to understand that virtual teams aren’t only distributed across geographical locations. In fact, there are several criteria by which virtual teams can be divided into further subgroups. The simplest way to understand these criteria is by looking at a quick list of the typical subgroups and their functions.
Further Divisions of Virtual Teams
Here are six of the most common subtypes of virtual teams:
- Management teams: These are groups that work for the same company and collaborate on a regular basis. The membership of virtual management teams is relatively stable.
- Production teams: Production teams have a firmly defined membership and collaborate on regularly occurring and continuous tasks, usually within a specific company department.
- Project Development teams: These teams carry out specific company projects for a finite period of time. The projects or products these teams work on are variable and membership is usually quite fluid.
- Service Teams: These are customer or user support teams. They provide internal or external support for a given set of products or services, usually on an around the clock basis.
- Parallel Teams: These teams are usually short-lived and have a well-defined membership. Typically, they work in conjunction with other teams, reviewing processes and making recommendations for improvements in quality or efficiency.
- Network Teams: One of the most common types of virtual teams. Networked teams are comprised of members who collaborate to achieve a specific shared goal. The membership of networked teams is often widely distributed and very fluid.
As you can see by these fine-grained divisions, companies typically form virtual teams around a specific purpose. This presents a stark contrast to more traditional workgroups, which usually have a fairly stable membership and perform multiple functions within a company. A closer look at these divisions demonstrates how effective virtual teams can be in terms of the division of labor. Instead of asking team members to play constantly changing roles, managers can form (and dissolve) virtual teams according to the members’ area of specialization.
This leads naturally to the advantages and disadvantages that are inherent to virtual teams and the employ of a remote workforce in general. We’ll explore these in the following sections.
Pros and Cons of a Remote Workforce
Like any organizational structure, a remote workforce has both advantages and disadvantages for companies that utilize them. Understanding these will assist HR departments and management teams to organize and run their remote staff in optimal ways. Here are a few of the most significant advantages of working with and managing virtual teams.
- Physical cost savings: This is perhaps the most significant advantage of using a remote workforce. Companies that employ virtual teams can eliminate large expenditures in a variety of traditionally costly areas. These areas include travel expenses, real estate costs, and utility bills. Additionally, the lower wages paid in certain geographic areas allows companies to reduce their overall salary costs.
- Wider Talent Pool: With virtual teams, companies can utilize talent from all over the globe. This allows them to gather the various forms of expertise necessary to a given project in a single virtual space. Once this happens, there is a marked increase in information sharing and innovation. Collecting this level of talent in one place also helps companies implement best practices more easily.
- Higher Productivity: By assembling a virtual team, HR departments allow members to sharpen their focus and stay on task. And because many virtual teams have decision-making power, they don’t have to navigate the difficult waters of complex bureaucracies before taking action. Taken together, these factors lead to increased productivity and higher profits.
- More Rapid Product Development: The geographic distribution of virtual teams means that members often work in different time zones. This allows teams to work on projects around the clock and speeds up product development significantly. With this faster project development, companies can bring their products to market much more quickly and respond to changing market demands in real time.
- Improved Opportunities and Employee Retention: For a variety of reasons, remote jobs are appealing to many talented people. Usually, these talented employees are restricted in terms of mobility for one reason or another or are reluctant to relocate. Companies that rely on a remote workforce can retain these talented people by allowing them to stay closer to home without barring them from advancement opportunities. Employee retention is a huge factor in a company’s success, and those who rely on a remote workforce can maximize the benefits of keeping good people.
Disadvantages of a Remote Workforce
In order to maximize the benefits of their remote workforce, HR departments must understand the inherent disadvantages of operating and managing virtual teams. This is because it allows them to adopt optimal hiring practices and organizational strategies. Similarly, management teams need to recognize these disadvantages as well. Here are a few of the most salient disadvantages of relying on a remote workforce:
- Technology costs: Managing virtual teams effectively requires the use of highly advanced communication technologies. These technologies are constantly changing and can include anything from specialized intranet systems, instant messaging applications, and advanced modes of video conferencing. The upfront cost of these technologies can be very high, not to mention the expense of maintaining and upgrading them.
- Conflicts and Poor Collaboration: Face to face encounters are an important factor in communication. Therefore, it’s not surprising that virtual teams can run into problems in this area. The wide geographic distribution of a remote workforce often exacerbates these difficulties. Among other things, this is due to cultural differences and certain language barriers. But whatever the reasons, these breakdowns in communication and lead to counterproductive conflicts and mistrust. These conflicts clearly run counter to the purpose of working on virtual teams, so it’s imperative that HR personnel and managers work to preempt them as much as possible.
- Social Isolation of Team Members: Working on a virtual team can lead to feelings of social isolation, which can decrease morale and overall productivity. Studies have shown that non-work related contact with co-workers can improve the quality of collaborative efforts, so managers should create opportunities for these types of interaction as often as possible.
- Reduced Team Cohesiveness: For a variety of reasons, virtual teams often become more fragmented than their space-sharing counterparts. This can lead to redundancies, inefficiency, and unresponsiveness. This lack of cohesion can be especially problematic when an emergency or crisis arises. It’s not as though you can easily call an impromptu meeting when your staff works in five different time zones, so this is another situation that managers must plan for in advance.
Fortunately, these potential difficulties can be overcome. With proper hiring practices, effective communication, and specialized management techniques, the downsides of virtual teams can be greatly diminished. In the next section, we’ll have a look at how to communicate effectively in the virtual workplace.
Communication is Everything
Communication is key to every company’s success and this includes those who rely on a remote workforce. In fact, clear communication is even more important when you’re managing employees who are spread out all over the world. There are several reasons for this increased importance:
- Virtual team members tend to communicate with one another less frequently
- Virtual communication is less nuanced than face-to-face interaction
- Virtual communication doesn’t provide context clues or convey body language
- Gauging employees’ emotional states and degrees of engagement is more difficult in virtual settings
Although this list is far from exhaustive, it should still give you a good idea of the communication difficulties that are inherent in virtual settings. More importantly, it should motivate you to put mechanisms in place to reduce or eliminate these difficulties before they arise. Let’s have a look at some ideas that have worked for other remote companies.
Improving Communication Within Remote Companies
Here are six strategies you can implement to facilitate good communication within your remote workforce:
1. Formulate a set of guiding principles to start everyone off on the same page.
These principles should show everyone how the team will operate and clarify the team’s goals. And while it’s important that everyone understand their individual roles, this document should clarify processes and tasks as well. In short, your guiding principles should leave as little as possible to chance.
2. Establish a ‘communication charter’ and stick to it.
Consistency and discipline are crucial to good communication, especially in virtual settings. A pre-established agreement on how the team will communicate is the best way to bring these qualities about. The exact nature of the charter will depend on your team’s specific needs, but it should instruct everyone on what mode of communication they should use in varying scenarios.
3. Utilize the communication technologies that best fit your needs.
Today’s virtual teams have a staggering array of technologies available to them, including email systems, dedicated chat platforms, and web/video conferencing. Every company’s communication needs differ, so choose from these options wisely. Go with simplicity, reliability, and ease of access over bells, whistles, and other features you may never use.
4. Bring the team as close together as possible as early as possible.
If at all possible, it’s best for your virtual team to be in the same physical space at some point early on. This will give them time to get to know one another in a non-work environment and help clear any clogged lines of communication beforehand. If sharing a physical space isn’t feasible, then invest in virtual team building workshops that focus on building relationships and trust.
5. Schedule regular tele-meetings that all members attend.
Regular meetings will go a long way to maintaining your virtual team’s cohesion and maximizing productivity. You can use this time to problem solve, exchange ideas, and explore alternate strategies. These meetings are also a great way for your team members to reconnect and to assess group performance.
6. Meet with individual team members often.
One on one interactions between managers and team members are essential to any successful team, so don’t forget to schedule meetings with your individual staff. It goes without saying that you can use these meetings for performance reviews and feedback, but the best virtual team leaders also utilize one on one time to get to know their people and keep them connected to the larger plan.
These guidelines are merely a start, but by following a particularized version of them, your team will be in a great position to communicate at optimal levels. They’ll also keep your team’s communication open and inclusive, two qualities that help spark innovation and improve collaboration. Good communication also plays a huge role in creating a positive workplace culture, something every virtual team needs to reach its potential. Next, we’ll find out what a positive workplace culture looks like in the virtual setting.
Remote Companies and Workplace Culture
With remote positions becoming more and more common, there is an increasing need for employers to establish positive workplace cultures in the virtual setting. While companies with co-located teams can pretend– at least for a while– that a positive work environment will happen all by itself, virtual team leaders can’t afford such simplistic delusions. Virtual team managers– in conjunction with HR departments– must make a pointed effort to develop and maintain a workplace culture that fosters success.
The question is how to go about it. How can an employer possibly create a positive culture when their team members are separated by thousands of miles and might never meet in person? Although it’s not easy, it’s definitely something that can be accomplished. The specific elements of a given workplace culture vary depending on your company’s makeup, but here are four things to keep in mind when trying to build a productive virtual work environment.
1. Workplace Culture is About a Mindset
It’s important to understand that workplace culture is pervasive. This means that it’s active throughout your virtual setting, but not localized in any particular area. For comparison, think about a more traditional office setting.
Though many have tried simplistic tactics like this, you can’t just institute ‘Casual Fridays,’ or stick a fancy espresso machine in the break room and call that a workplace culture. Company culture is a concept that runs much deeper than that in every setting, virtual offices included.
To put it briefly, workplace culture is something you have to take seriously and be intentional about. Building a productive work environment takes time, patience, and responsiveness. The particulars are sometimes difficult to know in advance, but if you take this fine-grained approach, they’ll be that much more likely to fall into place.
2. Workplace Culture is About Values
Sometimes, even the most carefully assembled virtual teams don’t perform up to expectations. You have talented people, top-notch technology, and streamlined processes, but something just isn’t right. After assessing the individual components of your team, you realize that they’re just not on the same page somehow. They’re working at cross purposes with one another, missing important deadlines, and going in every direction at once.
This situation can seem very mysterious, but it often boils down to lack of direction. In other words, less than optimal team productivity often stems from a lack of shared values. Shared values are a great way to lead a team in the right direction, largely because they lend meaning and purpose to your staff’s daily work. Sounds great, right? Imagine how effective your team could be if they valued the same things and were invested in your company’s vision.
Well, imagination won’t be necessary if your company’s values are spelled out explicitly and you can get everyone to ‘buy in.’ It’s at this point that you have to ask yourself some tough questions. Does your company operate on the basis of explicit corporate values? And if so, what are they? Are the well-defined and transparent? Lastly, does your staff understand and share these values?
If the answers to these questions are unsatisfying, then your path is clear. It’s time to work with your virtual team members to formulate company values that are clear, authentic, and capable of being put into action. Every company will end up with different results, but the goal is to spell out a half dozen (or so) principles that fuel and act as a barometer for your daily work. And because these values are the result of a collaborative process, it will be that much more likely that everyone will buy in.
3. Workplace Culture is About How You Work
Again, your virtual workplace culture is operative in everything you do, whether you realize it or not. It’s present in how your team members communicate with one another. It’s in the way you speak to your customers, vendors, and other associated entities as well.
Put simply, workplace culture is largely defined by the relationships that exist within your organization. Fostering good relationships can be a bit tricky in the virtual workplace, but it’s still management’s responsibility to facilitate them. Making space for these relationships begins with knowing your people. You can’t fulfill someone’s personal or professional needs until you know what they are, so take the time to get to know your people individually.
Equipped with this more intimate knowledge, you’ll be in a much better position to establish trust between you and your staff. And once you bring them into frequent contact with one another, this trust will spread and grow between your individual team members. And as a result of this trust, team members will become much more invested in your company’s success. They’ll start to understand that their own success depends upon the achievements of the group.
4. Workplace Culture is About Inclusion
When managing people in remote positions, you have to work diligently to make sure everyone feels appreciated, respected, and included. To a certain extent, this positive vibe will arise naturally from already established components of workplace culture. We’ve already mentioned the positive effects of collaborating on company values and facilitating good relationships. But for optimal levels of morale and productivity, remote managers have to go even further to make everyone feel at home.
People work better when they feel included. It helps them to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves and gives their work life meaning. One great way to increase your staff’s feelings of inclusion is simply by paying attention. Pay close attention when they tell you who they are and what their goals are. Listen when they vent their frustrations or share their ideas. Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers.
It also helps to ask for them to participate in important company decisions. This lets them feel like they’re in control of their work destiny and that their experience matters. Obviously, there are times when you have to act unilaterally, but take your employees ideas into consideration as often as you can.
To sum up, your virtual office has a culture whether you’re aware of it or not. But it’s not a good sign if you don’t know what that culture consists of. In fact, this lack of awareness practically guarantees that your workplace culture is less than ideal. A positive workplace culture can only happen by design and through consistent effort. And this is as true in the virtual workplace as it is in more traditional settings.
Building Your Virtual Team
Now that we’ve explored the most general characteristics of the growing remote workforce, it’s time to look at some specifics. And that means we’re going to be talking about human beings. Despite the marvelous new communication technologies remote companies require, a company is only as good as the people who work for it. And although character traits like honesty, integrity, dedication, will always be highly prized, finding ‘the right people’ for your remote workforce uses a very different yardstick.
In the following sections, we’ll discuss the specific challenges remote companies face when building their virtual teams. We’ll also suggest methods that can meet these challenges into 2019 and beyond.
Finding the Right People
Not everyone is cut out for working on a virtual team. Although some employees thrive on the independence and flexibility virtual work offers, others will shut down because of isolation, aimlessness, or discomfort with certain technologies. Due to a variety of unfortunate circumstances, some of this latter type end up doing virtual work despite their lack of fitness for it. It may or may not be possible to replace these people, but improvement is always possible.
In some cases, you might be fortunate enough to build your team from the ground up. But whatever your constraints are, it’s imperative that you control team membership as much as you can. Before you can exert this control in a productive way, you’ll need to know what qualities your people should embody and what talents play well in the virtual setting. Here are five keys to building the ideal team:
- Team members must have excellent communication skills. This means they have to be precise in a variety of media and willing to adapt to others’ communication styles when the need arises. Communication is always a two-way street, but the best virtual team members assume more than their share of responsibility.
- To be an effective part of a virtual team, an employee has to be well disciplined and a self-starter. If an employee needs a great deal of supervision or oversight, they probably won’t mesh well with a virtual team. Too much of the team’s success hinges on meeting deadlines, so there just isn’t room for employees who can’t stay focused on their own.
- The ideal virtual team member has a high emotional IQ. Forming highly productive relationships is difficult even in a face-to-face setting, but it’s even more so when staff members don’t share the same physical space. Therefore, finding flexible, mature people is crucial to the success of your virtual team. Although every team has different needs, it’s usually best to look for people who work well under pressure, resolve conflicts generously, and demonstrate sensitivity to varying needs.
- By definition, virtual teams rely on a variety of advanced technologies to do their daily work. Obviously, this means that you’ll want to choose people who have a certain level of technical proficiency, especially with the tools your team will be using most often. Make sure to assess prospective team members’ technological competence before making any decisions. But keep in mind that someone who’s teachable can be just as valuable as an employee that has advanced tech knowledge right from the start.
- Keep your team as small as possible without making it impossible to achieve your goals. Smaller teams tend to be more motivated and productive than larger ones, especially in the virtual setting. As the size of your team increases, the already difficult task of communication becomes even harder, and it’s much easier to build positive relationships within a smaller group.
If you inherit an already existing team, you’ll need to make adjustments wherever you can. Although a small number of employees simply refuse to change, most will respond to positive leadership in kind. These five keys will also prove to be helpful when you have the luxury of building your team from scratch, a topic we’ll address in the next section.
Building Your Virtual Team From Scratch
Sometimes, managers are asked to head up product development teams, improve upon an outmoded process, or to solve a much more specific problem. And some of these managers are given more or less free rein when it comes to choosing their team members. The guidelines listed above will be helpful in this regard, but here are three tangible ways to build your ideal virtual team from scratch.
1. Research the technical skills and personal characteristics you’ll need beforehand.
We already know that some employees are a better fit for virtual teams than others. The general guidelines above outline the types of people that tend to do well in such groups. But while they’re an excellent way to begin, consulting with colleagues inside and outside your industry will also be greatly beneficial. You can also access written reports about selecting a virtual team to beef up your knowledge. These sources will give you insights that are specific to the type of team you need to create.
After gathering this information, use it to draw up a very specific list of the skills, training, and personal qualities your team members will need to maximize your chance of success. You can then use this list as an assessment tool for prospective members.
2. Locate prospective team members who possess these desired skills and personality traits.
This is where experience and networking skills come to the fore. Remember– you’re looking for the best possible people for a very specific type of project. So this is the time to bring every resource you have to the table and locate the best people out there.
Use the network you’ve developed over the years to search for people who meet the requirements on your list. You’ll need to search both inside and outside your company to locate the very best, but do keep in mind that some geographic restrictions may still apply.
3. Begin recruiting your remote team.
By this time, you should have a fairly sizable list of appealing candidates. The way you approach these candidates will depend on the situation. You’ll contact many of your prospects directly, but it’s probably better to work through a fellow supervisor or other colleague if you’re considering someone who works for your company already.
If the candidate is someone outside your organization or someone you’ve never worked with before, your first contact should be as personal as possible– an in-person meeting if possible, or at least a phone call instead of an email. This will accomplish multiple goals at once. First, it will show that you value meeting them. Second, it will better demonstrate the importance of your project and the opportunity you’re presenting them with. Lastly, a more personal encounter will give you a much better feel for how they might fit your needs and vice versa.
There’s another important thing to keep in mind as well. The prospects you’re sizing up will be sizing you up as well. If they’ve satisfied the criteria you’ve drawn up, you can bet they have other attractive remote employment opportunities as well. This means that you should come prepared. You should be able to answer any questions they have quickly and firmly. This includes information on compensation packages, expectations, and the kind of teammates your prospect can expect to be working with.
Choose Technology Wisely
As we’ve already said, people are still the key drivers of your company’s success. But let’s face it– even more traditional teams need access to advanced yet accessible technology. And it should go without saying that the right tech is even more important in the virtual setting. Here are a few guidelines to follow when considering your team’s tech options.
Consider your needs in advance: If you’ve been selected to head up a virtual team, you probably have a pretty good idea what tasks you’ll need to perform. Prepare a list of these tasks while forming your team, making sure to consider any possible subtasks. Then, write down the technology you’ll need to perform each of these tasks. You can call this your ‘wish list.’ Once you’ve completed the wish list, compare it to the resources you already have and decide what gaps need to be filled, if any.
Stick with what’s worked in the past: There’s a reason we continue to use phone calls and emails so frequently, despite the fact that neither technology has changed much over the past several years. And this reason is quite simple– we rely so much on this pair of technologies because they work. There’s no need to fix what isn’t broken, so default to using email or the phone as much as you can.
Aim for the communication hat trick: Other than the fact they haven’t changed much, what qualities do telephone and email systems have in common? The answer is that they’re all simple to use, reliable, and easily accessible. Hopefully, you see the lesson here. Look for these three qualities in every piece of technology you consider.
Create a mesh between your technology and your team’s level of competence: If you do end up needing to make significant additions to your stash of fancy technology, make sure your team is able to use it efficiently. If everyone’s already up to speed with the added technology, great. If not, some negotiation is in order. In this scenario, you essentially have two choices: 1)settle for a lesser piece of technology, or 2)get your people up to speed with appropriate training and practice. Most likely, you’ll do a little of both. But either way, try to create a mesh between your technology and what your people know how to use.
Steer clear of feature-creep: Let’s face it– most new versions of a given technology offer little beyond what is called ‘feature-creep,’ a largely meaningless drift towards slick features don’t add much (if anything) in the way of real value. Unless something truly earth-shattering comes along, let your people spend their time working on company stuff instead of endlessly navigating what amount to technological baubles.
As you probably noticed, no specific brands or platforms are mentioned above. Why? Because any suggestion we offer would be surpassed by three upgraded versions by the time this post gets uploaded. Perhaps more importantly, your tech choices should revolve on the tasks involved in your daily work– from the ground up and not the other way around. The gadgets are out there, but you’re the only one equipped to choose between them.
Managing Virtual Teams
No matter how spread out your employees are, managing virtual teams comes with a specific group of challenges. How do you maintain proper accountability if you don’t see your staff on a regular basis? How do you get them to follow protocols or keep them focused on shared goals? And this is just to name a few. The reality is that there are a host of barriers the effective virtual team manager must overcome to achieve long-term success.
But not to worry– it’s not an impossible task. Companies adapt their managerial styles to a remote workforce successfully all the time, and there’s no reason you can’t do so as well. We’ve covered a lot of important ground already. We’ve discussed the ideal composition of virtual teams, suggested ways of improved virtual communication, and emphasized the importance of workplace culture.
But managing virtual teams involves an almost dizzying array of complexities, and there’s a lot left to learn about this newly emerging set of practices. And needless to say, you’ll want to be as prepared as you possibly can for what might be the most substantial hurdle your company will face in the next several years. Toward that end, we’ve compiled the following ten tips for managing virtual teams effectively.
1. Clarify expectations
Everyone on your team needs to know what is expected of them, both at the individual and group level. Each person needs to understand the role they play on the team across a range of project types, as well as who they should ask for what. Additionally, everyone should know what to expect from one another and from you.
This includes company protocol for common situations and for professional conduct. Be clear and very detailed right up front. It’s also wise to allow your staff some degree of input regarding these matters, especially after they’ve collaborated with one another on a sufficient number of projects.
Perhaps most importantly in this regard– be present and available. Your team is certain to follow the examples you set, so it’s crucial that you demonstrate your commitment to the group’s success by responding to their questions and concerns in a prompt, thorough manner.
2. Utilize well-defined work systems
Everybody has a different way of going about their daily work. This is natural enough, but vastly different methods can slow projects down significantly. You can counter this tendency right off the bat by establishing clear standards and defining work systems in a way that is easily repeated.
In addition to reducing conflicts and lag time, well-defined work systems reduce confusion and help people with time budgeting. Of course, these systems should not be so rigid that they curtail creativity or force a round peg into a square hole. Instead, strive for a balance between maximum efficiency and productive freedom.
3. Ask for detailed deliverables
Micro-managing virtual teams is always a bad idea, but your team does need to have a clear idea of what the final deliverables should be. Therefore, the tasks you assign should always come with detailed descriptions of the end results that you want, as well as examples of similar projects. This balanced approach avoids the confusion that so often comes with excessive instructions while allowing your team the freedom to complete the task in the most efficient way possible.
4. Meet regularly
Just like co-located teams, your remote staff will benefit greatly from regularly scheduled meetings. These meetings should be scheduled at the same time every week, if possible. Attendance should be mandatory, and team members should be required to dress professionally, just as they would in a more traditional setting. In addition to keeping team members on the same page, these weekly briefings will help create some semblance of the routine that virtual teams typically lack.
Video conferences are ideal for these regular meetings because they increase efficiency and duplicate the ‘togetherness’ that co-located teams experience routinely. The actual content of these meetings will depend upon your team’s specific needs, but many companies use them as individual and group ‘check-ins.’ They also provide an excellent forum for group discussions and for conveying general information.
These meetings don’t need to last very long, but everyone should be afforded ample time to participate. All in all, regularly scheduled meetings have a very salutary effect on virtual teams. Their importance cannot be overemphasized.
5. Facilitate ‘water cooler’ time
Non-work related social interaction between co-workers is crucial to building trust, camaraderie, and productive relationships. Traditionally, much of this interaction has occurred in the employee break room or while ‘standing around the water cooler.’ Obviously, virtual teams don’t have the luxury of sharing the same physical space, but you can still provide a suitable forum for the kind of non-work interaction your people need to bond with one another and keep up morale.
One way to facilitate ‘water cooler’ time is to reserve a channel on your company chat platform for it. Typically, these chats will be casual, free-form conversations about sports, current events, movies, etc. But while you should be as hands-off as possible during these interactions, you will want to establish a few rules of decorum and content.
6. Encourage and reward resistance
This might seem strange at first glance, but the dissenting voice is often the most effective engine of progress. Yes, you want everyone to stay more or less on the same page, but disagreement often leads to the best ideas. Unfortunately, pushing back against one’s teammates is difficult enough in person, much less during a video conference or while talking on the phone.
That’s why it’s important for you to be quick to praise people for speaking their mind in group settings. You never know where the next great idea is going to come from, so go out of your way to create an environment that encourages expressiveness and dissent.
7. Encourage shared leadership
Keeping your virtual team members engaged with their work is hugely important. There are many ways to accomplish this, but creating leadership opportunities is definitely one of the most effective. Create useful projects and let one or more team members spearhead them. You should also allow this temporary leadership to make progress reports to the rest of the team. This will increase job ownership and engagement, as well as bring out the best in everyone.
8. Have a Recognition Program
Feelings of isolation and anonymity are a constant threat to the well-being of your virtual team, so it’s very important for managers to go out of their way to acknowledge their staff’s achievements. While this sort of validation should be woven into your daily operations, recognition programs are an excellent way to reinforce this routine practice and provide extra motivation.
There are many ways to institute a recognition program, but they should always have clear and achievable goals. The guidelines for your recognition program should be accessible to everyone at all times. They should also spell out the behaviors you want to encourage, as well as the rewards staff members receive for executing them.
9. Operate as a transparent meritocracy
Just like in any other enterprise, your virtual team members need to believe that their efforts and achievements will be rewarded. They also need to believe that these rewards will be based on skill levels and achievement. In other words, your virtual team should operate as a meritocracy.
But remember– perception is everything when it comes the workplace dynamic. That’s why it’s crucial that your reward system– your meritocracy– should be easy to understand and completely transparent. A transparent meritocracy will help keep everyone engaged, motivated, and better equipped to track individual and group progress.
10. Maintain access to a variety of communication tools
As we’ve said many times, clear communication is crucial to a successful virtual team. Establishing multiple channels of communication is one of the best ways to achieve this necessary clarity. Your virtual team members should have easy access to several communication tools. They should also know which tool to use for their various communication needs. The exact set-up is up to you, but this is another area where staff input can be very helpful.
Having access to multiple communication tools is beneficial in several ways. First, it gives your team a way to convey urgent messages to the right person in a timely fashion. It also helps streamline work processes and reduces the ‘virtual clutter’ that can accrue when people use a single tool for multiple purposes. Last but not least, multiple communication tools help to create a feeling of togetherness.
This list could probably go on forever, but these tips provide an excellent starting point for both new and already established teams. By combining these tangible tips with the general information this guide has presented, you and your virtual team can build an excellent foundation for future success.
Your Remote Workforce Going Forward
It’s not a saying yet, but perhaps it should be– office walls ain’t what they used to be. Saying or not, the truth remains clear. The traditional workplace– bounded by four solid walls and containing all relevant personnel in one space– is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Certainly, office walls don’t signify the same type of boundaries that they did in the past. In fact, you might even say the traditional office itself has become a barrier that modern day companies must overcome to be successful.
This is where a strong remote workforce comes into play. In the coming years, the economy will become even more globalized, not less. And as this expansion continues, an increasing number of companies will be searching every nook and cranny in the world for cheap, high-end talent. To put it bluntly, it’s a virtual guarantee that your company will face intense and nonstop competition for customers and talent alike in the coming years.
As you can see, further economic globalization is a sink or swim proposition for even the smallest of companies. Those companies who can continue to adapt with the times will have a chance to endure, while those who can’t (or won’t) will fall by the wayside. If your company is to remain afloat, building a great remote workforce is an absolute requirement.
But your work certainly doesn’t stop there. Assembling a talented and effective team is only the beginning. Once that work is (temporarily) finished, the challenge of organizing and managing your virtual team begins. There’s little question that managing virtual teams will be one of the most significant challenges your company will face. This guide has presented a dual purpose blueprint. You can use it to assemble and manage the ideal teams, teams that will carry your company toward success into the next few years and beyond.