Managing Virtual Teams: 12 Tips For Effective Team Management
Virtual teams, also known as remote teams or distributed teams, are groups of professionals who work on joint tasks through team collaboration software. The individuals may or may not be based in the same country and time zone.
In this article, we have outlined the challenges of a virtual team, how to build one, and 12 tips on how to successfully manage it.
Building a Virtual Team
Here are some steps that you can take to effectively build a virtual team:
Define the Scope of the Project and Its Objectives
Before you hire people to work on the project, it is important to identify the project scope, milestones, deadlines, and final product you wish to achieve. Once you have outlined the requirements and skills you need, you can start adding experts to your workgroup or company.
Choosing the Right Talent
There are numerous ways to find talented freelancers, but it is important to find top talent who also have the required skills, knowledge, and experience that will help bring your project to life. When interviewing potential group members, you should ask questions that will help you decide if they are the right fit for the job. Here is what managers should look for in potential members when building virtual teams:
- Motivated and self-sufficient
- Occasionally take the time to meet face-to-face online
- Ability to learn using new technologies
Once your virtual team is ready, the next step is effective communication to make sure your virtual employees are also on the same page. Coordinate their virtual teamwork well in advance and introduce them to their virtual coworkers using the best team communication tools.
Establish Team Norms
There are some norms and rules that the team leader must establish from the beginning to avoid problems later during the collaboration. The group norms or rules can include establishing communication channels and coordinating work hours, deadlines, hierarchy, and procedures for accountability.
Challenges of Managing Virtual Teams
A study of 70 virtual teams found that only 18% of them had a successful overall team performance. The remaining 82% felt the team had failed to meet the expected goals. Out of these 70 virtual teams, the performance of 33% was deemed as largely unsuccessful.
Following are some common challenges of virtual team management:
- Not understanding the instructions and expectations related to the given task
- Technical challenges such as connectivity issues and inability to use collaboration tools
- Differences in time zones can drain some virtual employees who are pushed to work at nighttime
- Lack of face-to-face interactions can make group members feel distant and unable to trust coworkers
- Poor performance, slow project progress, and productivity
Virtual teams are managed domestically and internationally. Both domestic and global teams can face a myriad of challenges. However, when managing virtual teams that are geographically dispersed teams, managers face additional challenges due to differences in geography, culture, language, and societal norms.
So, how to build and lead virtual teams effectively?
There is a lot of advice out there on virtual team management, but it all boils down to how you overcome the challenges and steer the virtual team in the right direction.
12 Tips for Managing a Virtual Team
Here are some tips that will help you effectively manage your virtual team.
1. Set Clear Expectations
Setting clear expectations for your group members will help them understand their duties. This will also help you avoid a lot of misunderstandings down the road. Here is how you can set clear goals and expectations for the entire virtual workgroup:
Set quantifiable goals
The goal you set for each team member must be measurable and quantifiable. For example, if you are designing web pages, you must define the number of web pages, details, features, and a deadline for the task.
You can also break down bigger tasks into milestones and set reminders for them. This is easier if you are using project management software.
2. Improve Communication
Remote teams don’t get to have a face to face interaction (at least every day), which can be a reason for poor communication. Managing remote teams requires managers to ensure good task-related communications at every step.
To manage virtual teams, it is a good idea to use multiple communication channels such as:
One way to pass on information and news in a virtual setting is to set up a digital bulletin board, where you and the team workers can easily post the news, have discussions on topics, and brainstorm ideas. It can also promote relationship building and lead to a healthy work environment.
If the task is complicated or you feel that you need to discuss it before the virtual worker starts working on it, you should arrange a video call. Discuss with your coworkers when you need ideas and feedback. Set up the meeting agenda, send them a video link, and set up a time when everyone is available. But when you have to work on an individual’s motivation and development, one-on-one meetings work better. Having frequent video calls will help you understand every group member and their individual virtual work preferences.
A workflow is a sequence of tasks or processes through which a project will reach its completion. Workflows help the group members identify processes and procedures. The group members will be able to stay organized when they have a clear understanding of the project.
Before your team begins working on a task, you can explain the entire project and its process on a video call. Doing this will help the group understand your expectations and will also help you effectively manage different tasks. Sometimes a little social connection can contribute to effectiveness and productivity.
3. Foster Team Vision
A vision is a statement that defines or summarizes the goals and objectives of the team. The vision helps virtual team managers and remote workers work towards a common goal or objective. The vision inspires virtual teams to yield their best output.
The team’s vision must be specific for the type of results you want the members to achieve.
If you don’t have a team vision already, involve your team in creating one. Here are some steps you can take to create a successful virtual team vision:
Purpose of the team
Begin by defining the purpose of your team. What are you trying to achieve? What is the mission of your team? Make sure this purpose is clear and concise.
Identify goals and objectives
Once you have defined your purpose, identify the goals and objectives you need to achieve to fulfill your purpose. Make sure you set SMART goals and objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Before setting goals and objectives, make sure that you understand the difference between goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics.
Communicate the vision
Communicate the vision statement to all group members and types of stakeholders. Use multiple channels and formats to ensure everyone understands and is committed to the vision.
4. Measure Work Outputs
In a virtual environment, measuring individual performance from time to time is extremely important to keep the work groups working smoothly. Communicate to the group how you will measure their performance. When your group understands what you expect from them, they are more likely to perform their duty correctly.
Using the right tools is also equally important when it comes to measuring and tracking work outputs. This does not only mean using time-tracking software that measures the hours your virtual employee worked on a task.
To ensure your group is effective, measure each member’s work output and compare it with others. If you notice someone is falling behind, support them, give them tips on time management and get their feedback on how you can help them improve their performance.
Measuring output regularly promotes a sense of accountability, which ensures that your group members will not be taking advantage of your leniency and friendly behavior.
5. Flexible Work Hours
You cannot expect a member of your workgroup based in Australia to work at the same time as other group members based in California. If you have a remote team that is spread across multiple time zones, you must develop a system that allows all virtual employees to work flexibly.
Here is how you can accommodate your group members’ time zone differences:
Announce team meetings well in advance, or when scheduling a meeting, check what time all your employees will be available.
Establish the work hours of each member
If your virtual worker works for you full-time, ask them what time they start working and when they finish. Establish every member’s work hours and contact them only within their work hours.
When your group members have geographical differences, it is easier to become biased to give more opportunities to the one who shares the same time zone or the one you meet physically. Make sure that if you are receiving the same output from two group members, the compensation is also the same. If they are being treated unfairly, problems such as loss of trust might arise later.
6. Invest in Training
If you are converting your office team into a remote work team, a great way to smoothen the transition is to provide training. Even when you are adding a new member to the group, you must provide some training to the newcomers to help them understand virtual work and adjust quickly.
Here are the types of training that you can invest in:
Train your employees to use project management software and communication tools, as well as how to handle tech-related issues.
Group processing training
You and your workgroup must be able to understand the process of the project and identify each step. Moreover, the remote workgroup must be trained to work in collaboration and tackle challenges related to the project and co-working.
This is especially important if you want your cross-cultural team to stay together in the virtual world for a long time or if the workgroup has already been together for a long time.
To keep good relationships, invest in cross-cultural training. Conduct online meetings and training sessions to train them on how they can overcome their cultural differences, overcome prejudices, and avoid stereotypes.
When virtual communities develop a shared understanding of creative topics involving different cultures, they are likely to produce better designs, products, or work output.
7. Appreciate Workers
More than 40% of American workers feel that if their bosses or company recognized their effort, they would put more effort into doing their work. This is equally important for leaders managing virtual teams.
Successful virtual teams have one thing in common, they value and appreciate their employees. Managing virtual teams is not only about getting the job done. It is about building a group of professionals who trust and support each other.
Productivity at work increases by 31% when employees are happy. And one way to make your employee feel happy is appreciation. When all the members of your workgroup working from remote locations feel they are valued and appreciated by the leader, they feel encouraged to perform even better.
8. Reward Team
Here are some interesting tips on how you can reward your remote employees:
Offer small perks
Send small tokens of appreciation such as gift cards, care packages, or company swag to show your appreciation.
Celebrate important milestones like birthdays, work anniversaries, or major accomplishments. This helps build a positive team culture and shows your virtual employees that you value them as individuals.
9. Benefit from Tools
Technology can help you feel closer to your online workgroup. For effectively managing people in virtual teams, there are plenty of online tools for project management that you can start using. Here is a list of tools that might be helpful in virtual team management for you.
- Time-tracking apps measure the amount of time your employee spends on getting every task done.
- File-storage services let your virtual team members access the information files they need.
- Online Collaboration tools allow team members to share files, assign tasks, and collaborate on documents in real time.
- Project management tools allow members to view the status of projects, see who is working on what, and track progress. Project management tools streamline information sharing, which makes it easier for the team to get things done efficiently.
10. Prioritize Work-Life Balance
If you bombard your employees with calls, emails, and messages all day, they will start to feel the boundary between their own work life and personal life is fading. To avoid this, contact them only during their work hours. If they are located in a different country and have a different time zone, ask them during which hours they are comfortable being contacted.
11. Build Relationships
Your remote team members can also begin to feel isolated and stressed at times. As a good leader, help them overcome this and foster informal communication. Choose a day during the week when you and your employees talk to you about everything except work during face-to-face meetings. Connect through virtual meetings or meet at a restaurant if they live near you. You can talk about their hobbies, family, and if they like pineapple on pizza.
This will not only help them think of you as a cool boss but will help you build a strong relationship with them. They will begin to trust you more and give their best shot at every task you ask them to work on.
12. Receive Feedback
Team members can provide valuable feedback about working with a virtual team. According to this feedback, leaders can adopt different leadership styles or rearrange work procedures.
You can send the group members online forms to get their feedback. Ask questions like:
- What task did you enjoy working on in the past month?
- How do you feel about your performance feedback and professional development opportunities?
- Do you feel valued and appreciated by your whole team or manager?
- What changes would you like to see in teamwork?
Getting feedback from dispersed teams helps managers improve team cohesion, workflow, and communication.
Recruiting for a Virtual Team
Recruiting people for a virtual team requires a different approach than traditional hiring. Here are some steps you can take when hiring people for a virtual team:
Define the job role and responsibilities
Clearly define the job role and responsibilities of the individuals. This will help to attract candidates who are suited for the role and understand what is expected from them.
Use virtual recruiting tools
Job search sites can help to reach a wider pool of candidates and make the recruiting process more efficient. You can also ask people from your social circle to recommend freelancers or choose to work with a freelancer you have worked with in the past.
Conduct virtual interviews
Virtual interviews can be conducted through video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet. During the interview, evaluate the candidate's communication skills, ability to work independently, and technical capabilities. Also, give them the liberty to ask questions related to the job position.
Assess soft skills
It is important to assess soft skills such as teamwork, adaptability, and problem-solving skills when recruiting for virtual teams. Virtual workers need to be self-motivated and able to collaborate effectively with colleagues who may be located in different time zones.
Incentivizing and Rewarding Virtual Teams
In a 2017 survey by Achievers, respondents were asked what motivated them to keep on working with their company or remote teams. Approximately 74% of respondents mentioned it was interesting to work, and 69% said recognition and rewards. According to the survey, it is the second most important factor employers should keep in mind if they want to retain talent.
Here are some ways you can reward your virtual team:
Recognize and celebrate achievements
Celebrate achievements and milestones by recognizing the efforts of virtual employees. Recognition can be in the form of a simple thank-you email, a public shoutout, or a reward program that acknowledges outstanding performance.
Offer bonuses and incentives
Bonuses and incentives can be used to incentivize virtual team members to achieve specific goals or objectives.
If your virtual full-time employee has been performing quite well and always meets deadlines, give them some time off work and a bonus. Let them spend some time with the family or go on a short vacation. Giving paid leave to the top performer semi-annually or quarterly will also encourage other employees to work hard and get paid vacation.
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