The increased cost of commercial rents, growth in the number of diversified and international projects and impact of time constraints on all businesses are only a few reasons why the use of virtual teams is on the rise and becoming super heroes for their employers!
However, there are challenges. With virtual teams having the ability to work from anywhere, across multiple time zones and countries, how does one go about managing such a team and extracting their best work?
Given, the benefits to virtual teams are countless and can drastically increase a company’s work flow, efficiency and in the end, bottom line, lets delve a little deeper and look at how best to manage a virtual team.
There is something to be said for ‘saying what you mean and meaning what you say’ in life and nothing rings truer than this line when it comes to settings expectations of your team.
With an open, honest and to the ‘T’ explanation of what you expect as an employer, what you can offer and what your overall vision is, you can start off on the right foot when it comes to managing a virtual team.
Essentially you want to set expectations early and make sure your virtual team understand how you expect them to work. Given the flexible nature of virtual teams this means setting expectations for the hours they are “online” or available during the day, days they will work and most importantly how they will provide feedback during the day to keep you up to date on the status of each project or task they are working on.
This is important because one of the core reasons a virtual team performs poorly is because employee/employer expectations are not aligned. On one hand the employer may be expecting a certainly level of consistency in hours worked each day. Meanwhile, the employee is thinking that they can pull a few 12 hour days and complete their work week early. This is just one example of why setting and managing expectations in a virtual team is important.
Find A Communication Channel That Works For You
Don’t shy away from people’s differences when it comes to communication. Some individuals may prefer the face-to-face real time nature of Skype, whilst others may find email or text based communication more beneficial.
In today’s world there is no one way fits all and nor should it be that way. We have a plethora of communication options at our finger tips and readily available for all.
The trick is finding an option that fits all and this is a whole lot easier than one may think. There are plenty of platforms available, including free consumer orientated applications like Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger, to commercially minded apps like Slack. Essentially, the only job you have is finding the tool that works best for you and your virtual team.
Take An Interest In The Lives of Your Virtual Team Members
Just because one does not share that all too lovely morning coffee break with their workers, as is standard practice in a traditional work setting, does not mean that the small talk and general back and forth banter that creates relationships and strengthens bonds should not be undertaken.
People want to feel that they are valued and not just reduced to a screen name where clicks and highlighted word markers have replaced common gestures, general interest and enthusiasm for one’s life outside of the working sphere.
By remembering names of your employees loved ones, noting their birthdays and keeping up to date with their hobbies you’ll be showing that you’re interested in building a long term relationship and at the same time showing a caring and interested side that will pay dividends with better work performance and better attitudes towards you and your company.
It is no secret, it just takes you to begin!
Use A System that Makes It Easy To Create, Assign and Manage Work Across Your Team
Do you have a team with varied skills sets from content creators, marketers, developers and sales executives?
Or are you delegating specific tasks to individuals with deadlines, time constraints and the need to keep an eye on what’s happening in your business?
Well, the wheels can quickly fall off the bus when you don’t have an efficient system to keep tasks, deadlines, submissions and content safe, secure and available for all within your team. The key is to have something at your disposal that you can rely on, is user friendly, quick, efficient and obtainable for all of your team.
In the past one may have settled for emailing tasks between team members or noting them on a calendar. But each of these options provide a less than satisfactory user experience.
It’s 2019 and we now have far more superior applications that you and your team can use. One such application is Task Pigeon, a system that contains a team’s work, keeps a lid on who’s doing what and when, and at the same time provides an interactive and ease to use interface that’s packed with features.
Ensure There is a System for Feedback
We’re not talking about emoji’s here and we sure aren’t talking about the two most blasphemous words in business relations – Good job “insert name”! What we are talking about however is making sure there is a system in place to both reward, and hear feedback from your virtual team.
This can take many forms and depends on both the size and business relationship you have with your team. I.e. are they employees or on demand contractors you engage for one off projects.
For employees simply setting up a weekly one to one call can be an ideal solution. It allows you to provide feedback on their work, and for them to ask you questions outside the public chat or group call you may run with the whole team.
Also making sure that you are approachable directly via email and private message is another way to ensure that open channels of communication are maintained.
For contractors the process can be a little more difficult. However, in this instance having a system for providing feedback really comes back to the first point in this article. Setting and managing expectations. As long as you are clear on the project time frame and deliverable, then it is quite easy to provide feedback. When you aren’t clear on the deliverables then can you really argue why the project was overtime or not completed as you desired?
Build a company culture
Building a strong company culture is important in any business. Even if you run a virtual team.
That said, it’s not something that is necessarily easy to do. Many managers skip out on “culture” and think it is merely adopting a casual Friday dress code or making sure everyone has the same background on their Linkedin profile picture.
However company culture is much more nuanced than that. And learning how to build a great company culture takes time and effort. But at a high level you want to find common ground with your team and build a culture around shared values in what your organisation is trying to achieve.
Sure, there also needs to be an element of fun to the process and something for people to relate too. But this doesn’t have to be the normal “corporate culture” ping pong table you heard about in the media. In fact, I’ve worked in a virtual team setting where we had our own gaming clan. Now that won’t suit every team but it was very much in line with the interests of the company and people I was working with at the time.
Motivate, Inspire & Reward
After all is said and done, never forget you are the strongest and brightest flame responsible for guiding the activities and effort of your team.
You have the responsibility to encourage the best from your people, to inspire them and lead by example.
Being in another city or country as a manager and leader of a virtual team does not exempt you from the core basics. Foundations are in place for a reason and they set the tone for everything. So as the manager you need to ensure that your team remains on track and is aligned with the company’s vision.
Managing a Virtual Team has its challenges but it also has its fair share of excitement, uniqueness and fun! Don’t be afraid to be a little different, after all, isn’t this how virtual teams came to be?