Technology continues to evolve and become more popular every day. Virtual teams are becoming a fact of life and management is being forced to adapt. Virtual teams require different management styles than the typical office team. Team members may be across the state, across the country, or even across the world. They will still need managed closely to ensure everyone is productive and accountable, but the methods that work in an office environment will not all work in a virtual world.
You can build strong virtual teams that accomplish big results with a little creativity and a lot of communication. Follow these guidelines to build and maintain a successful virtual team.
Communication Tips for Virtual Teams
Just as with any team, communication is key. When your team members are not working closely, productivity will take a hit if communication fails.
- Create opportunities for team members to chat with each other (professionally and informally). Team members will not get the chance to catch up with each other in the break room or over lunch in a virtual environment. They also won’t be able to pop into each other’s office to ask a quick work-related question. So give them the chance to have these same interactions long distance. Set up chatting capability for your team and encourage them to use it to talk to team members both personally and professionally. Teams work better if the team members know each other on a personal level.
- Choose multiple communication styles for your team. One form of communication just isn’t going to cut it with a virtual team. Depending on what needs to be discussed, one channel might work better than another. Email, chat, phone calls, and video chats are all important. Don’t assume that email will work for everything. For some things (such as conflict resolution or collaboration), video chats are very important so that emotion is conveyed instead of just words.
- Collaborate on documents and spreadsheets within your team. There are so many tools available – many of them free – such as Google drive or Dropbox that allow multiple users to work within the same document or spreadsheet. Your virtual team can collaborate together without creating multiple files and wasting time sending them back and forth. There are also several project management tools online that can be used to manage an entire project online. Do your research and experiment with different programs until you find the best fit for your team.
- Provide feedback often. If you do not provide feedback (both positive and negative), how will your team know how they are doing? You will fail your team if you do not let them know your thoughts often. This applies to work as well as attitude. Both need to be high quality.
Cultural Tips for Virtual Teams
Even though your team is not sitting together in an office, everyone needs to uphold the same company culture. It can be challenging to grow culture in a virtual team, but it is necessary.
- Meet in person. Get to know your team. Allow your team to get to know each other in person as often as you can. Whether it is once a quarter or once a year, make the most out of the in-person meetings. Share your vision, celebrate accomplishments, track progress, and set goals.
- Create consistency, but allow for some degree of flexibility. Consistency is important to every team, but compromise is key, especially when team members are not sitting together. A virtual team may not be in the same time zone or even in the same country. Be willing to find times that work for everyone, or take turns staying late or waking up early for a meeting.
- Share your vision for the company often. Keep the team informed of changes and progress as often as you can. Send out emails and schedule periodic meetings. It requires more work to keep the team up-to-date in a virtual environment, but it is even more important. No one likes to hear information through the grapevine.
Productivity Tips for Virtual Teams
Your team will need metrics to show that they are being productive. You won’t be there to see how they perform on a daily basis. Metrics will allow you to look for areas of improvement and assess each team member individually. Data collected through metrics is a fair and equal way to measure performance. This is especially important for a virtual team. As a manager, metrics are a lifesaver for performance evaluations.
- Track work output for both teams and individuals. Track hours worked versus output. This will let your virtual team members know that they are being held accountable as an individual as well as a team member.
- Track attendance just as you would in an office environment. Trend the data and provide feedback.
- Perform monthly or quarterly reviews and share the results with your team.
Hiring Tips for Virtual Teams
Not all workers are a good fit for virtual work. Some are not disciplined enough to work remotely and some will simply not enjoy it. Here are some tips to ensure you hire the right people for your virtual team.
- Give new employees a trial run. Give them a short term assignment to see how they perform in a virtual environment. If it works out, extend a full time offer.
- Offer competitive pay. A productive virtual team is worth good money. Don’t try to skimp out on pay just because your employees can work from home. You will end up with less than stellar workers that won’t perform to the highest standards. If you want the best people, pay them that way.
- Look for qualities in candidates that are right for your specific team. Not all jobs are equal. If your work is heavy in data analysis, you may not need people who are good at public speaking. However, all virtual team members will need certain attributes like communication and working well in a team.
Successful virtual teams are popping up in all industries all over the world. Global companies depend on them. With a virtual team, you are not limited to the people living in the same city. You will be able to find the best talent from across the globe. With a few simple tips and tricks, you will be able to get the most out of your virtual team and take your company to the next level.