Remote work comes with multiple benefits that have made it increase in popularity over the last few years. For employers, it’s a great way to gather top-notch talent from all over the world and cut down on costs. For employees, telecommuting equals flexibility and independence. But how do you keep tabs on a scattered virtual team? Communication is undoubtedly at the core of virtual team management. Making good use of technology to establish effective communication is a good start so that virtual teams can achieve team-building excellence, but there’s a lot more to follow.
Are you curious to find out? Here are 7 ways to build and manage an effective virtual team.
Equip your team with the right people
Working remotely presents unique challenges and, therefore, requires certain personality traits. So when you’re trying to equip an effective virtual team, you need to look further than the standard job skills and work experience.
Starting with soft skills. Time management skills, for instance, are essential for remote employees. Virtual team members should be able to manage their time and organize their workflow efficiently. And they should do so with minimum supervision.
Effective communication skills are also a must-have. Communication is, in fact, one of the greatest virtual team challenges. Virtual teams mostly communicate in writing, which makes it (scaringly) easy to misinterpret what the other person is saying. The different cultural backgrounds of remote workers only add to the problem.
Previous work experience in a virtual office environment is also a big plus. It shows that the candidate is familiar with the practices and peculiarities of remote work. Therefore, they’re more likely to stay with you than someone who is still experimenting with the idea of freelancing.
Although it’s not exactly a skill to be in the same time zone with your colleagues, try to equip your virtual team with co-dependent tasks with people that share the same or a close time zone. Otherwise, it will be hard for the team to meet and streamline their workload.
So how can you tell whether a candidate is a good fit if you can’t get to meet them in person? Your best shot is to interview them over Skype preferably with another team member they’ll be working with. They might be able to spot something that you can’t or vice versa.
Create better onboarding material
Onboarding is an important step toward successful virtual team management. The lack of physical premises and direct interaction makes it hard for virtual team members to form a connection with you and their remote coworkers. An effective onboarding process can turn that around.
Start with informing new hires about your company vision and history. This way, they’ll have a clear picture of who they work with and, most importantly, what they’re working towards. A sense of purpose is essential to keep remote employees focused and dedicated.
A new job is always stressful, even when you don’t have to go through the typical first day at work. Make sure to arrange a Skype meeting so that your new employees meet the rest of the team and receive a warm welcome. It’s a great way to alleviate their stress and make them feel included.
As for the more practical staff, new employees need to familiarize themselves with job duties and work processes. Since they won’t always be able to reach you, be sure to create detailed video tutorials and manuals that they can access at all times.
Provide training on the digital tools you’re using, too. All your work processes will be handled through your PM platform and communication tools, so it’s important that everyone feels confident using them.
Miscommunication and lack of coordination can kill virtual team effectiveness. It’s easy to lose track of what everyone’s doing when there’s no day-to-day interaction. Mistakes and mix-ups can go unnoticed for weeks. The result? Frustration and loss of productivity.
Regular meetings establish accountability, and transparency, and safeguard the workflow. They allow you to stay in the loop and address any issues timely before they become a roadblock. Therefore, it’s best to have a fixed schedule to check in with your employees. This way, they’ll all attend the virtual meeting prepared with their ideas, questions, and updates at hand.
On a more human level, frequent virtual meetups also help your team members bond, get to know each other better, and feel part of a community. Routine has its benefits, apparently.
Make good use of digital tools
Project management and communication tools are the glue that holds your virtual team together. Tools like Slack, Trello, Asana, Google spreadsheets, or Hangouts will facilitate your work processes tremendously.
Project management tools, for starters, are essential to keeping track of the projects and managing their workflows efficiently. This is how deadlines are met, and everyone works peacefully.
An effective virtual team also needs to work closely and in real-time. That means workplace chats and video conference tools should be in place to facilitate communication and real-time collaboration. Team-building for virtual teams is really tough, so technology should always be there to make their interaction easier.
The choices for PM and communication tools are plenty and cover different needs, so take advantage of free plans/trials to find the tool that works best for your team.
In addition to these tools, Elorus’s software suggestion poses a steady road toward accurate time tracking. Especially when your team members get paid at an hourly rate. Time tracking will also help you spot productivity issues and handle them accordingly. You may notice that someone is suddenly taking too long to complete their tasks, for example. That could be a sign of exhaustion. So perhaps you should delegate tasks differently or set looser deadlines.
Don’t let your team in the dark
Establishing accountability is critical in virtual team management. But it’s a two-way street. You can’t expect your team members to report back to you when you consistently fail to communicate changes and project updates.
Keeping your team in the dark will inevitably result in mistakes and unnecessary do-overs. And it sends a very clear message that says you have no respect for them and don’t mind wasting their time. It won’t be long before your virtual team starts falling apart.
When you keep everyone updated, on the other hand, your team collaborates better and meets the deadlines. What’s more, everyone feels valued and respected. Which gives them an extra incentive to bring out their best effort and stay with you for the long haul.
Reward remote work. It is still hard work.
They say, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Well, we say, “no good deed should go unrewarded.” You don’t want to be one of those bosses who are more than happy to share negative feedback and point out mistakes but fail to express gratitude. Remote employees work just as hard as office-based. And they need the occasional (virtual) pat on the shoulder to stay motivated just as much, if not more.
Don’t use the lack of physical space as an excuse. Use the workplace chat to let everyone know how a certain employee did a great job and prompt your team to congratulate them. More tangible rewards, like a gift card, will also be well received. Has your remote team accomplished something big? Like a project that you’ve been working on for a year? It’s a bummer you can’t take them out to celebrate, but how about a special Skype session with (light) drinks?
Promote socialization among employees
Did you know that loneliness is the biggest struggle for remote employees? The lack of shared physical space and face-to-face interaction unsurprisingly makes remote workers feel isolated. When your team members feel like they’re part of a team of strangers, there’s no sense of trust and belonging. Plus, an impersonal working environment gives employees no motive to stay, even when it’s virtual.
So, don’t be a stranger. Birthdays, celebrations, and other similar events could work as team bonding opportunities. If bringing them all together is not an option, try one of the many activities that promote team building for virtual teams. You can create a channel in Slack, for instance, where everyone shares a list with 10+ fun/interesting/just-a-touch-embarrassing facts about themselves. Then create a quiz where employees will try to match the facts to the …culprit!
Virtual team management is challenging, but which part of running a business isn’t? Follow these steps, and you’ll manage to build a highly efficient virtual team that works like a clock – despite the time difference.