Over the last few months, as a result of Covid-19. thousands of companies have been forced to start working remotely. Workers across the globe have adapted to turning their homes into their office and working within virtual teams, which has led to much discussion of the evolution of conventional office practice and the future of team working.
A virtual team is defined as a group of individuals who work together from different locations towards a shared common goal and collaborate via communication technology.
There are advantages for both businesses and employees. Employees enjoy greater freedom and flexibility. They are able to work from their homes and with no rush-hour commute, experiencing an improved work/life balance. Businesses have the advantage of being able to hire from a geographically dispersed pool of talented people, with lower overhead costs.
However, it is important to consider the challenges of virtual teams. Businesses must be able and willing to adapt to changing workplace dynamics.
A business must be able to create strategies for effective communication and ensure the team has access to what they need to work effectively. Working remotely can feel isolating, so a business should strive to cultivate a genuine and consistent work culture. In doing so, they need to recognize that virtual teams may be lacking the special factors only an in-person team can provide.
Virtual teams require technology to facilitate collaboration. There is a range of tools and software available to aid communication, file sharing, project management, and design. Not every tool will be useful, so spend time researching and trialing before rolling them out to the team with training.
For example, if you’re considering online training for remote employees, you may consider some best alternatives to TeamViewer to provide remote support and facilitate collaboration.
If the structure isn’t managed correctly, the lack of trust can undermine everything that the team is trying to achieve.
There is much to consider for successful remote team management. This article created by our team at TMS offers five steps to follow and the top tools for consideration, to ensure your virtual team is the best it can be.
Five steps for managing a virtual team
Hire the best people for the role, and for your team
The ideal candidate to welcome into any team – remote or not – is somebody who is accountable, trustworthy, and reliable. Strong communication skills are fundamental and should be assessed from the very first step of the recruitment process.
It is important that the candidate suits the structure and culture of the virtual team. A recruiter may consider inviting a candidate to shadow a daily meeting, or has the opportunity to speak to an employee to ask questions about the role and work environment. This would allow the recruiter to observe compatibility, productivity, work style, and quality.
Establish the expectations for communication and provide different options for each
As part of a virtual team, morning coffee breaks are replaced with quick instant messages as files load in the morning. It is more challenging to have all team members available for a quick discussion, and long emails often replace fast meetings.
Leaders should set expectations of how the teams will communicate, by outlining which tools to use and when. Employees must understand how to approach each other depending on the urgency of a matter and the follow-up requirements. For example, you may decide to use instant messaging for quick questions, and video conferencing for morning meetings. This will provide more structure, trust, and productivity.
Remember, messages can be interpreted differently when the context is unclear. Working on email or instant messages alone can cause misunderstandings and feelings of isolation. Video conferencing makes the message feel more personal and participants can benefit from visual cues and social interaction.
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It’s now easier than ever to schedule meetings on Zoom or on any of the other platforms that create good engagement.
Build and maintain relationships within the virtual team
Social interaction (with maybe a water cooler game?)is the most successful way to build and maintain trust. In a conventional office setting, teams can see each other for eight hours a day, five days a week. The time that they spend together allows relationships to flourish more naturally than it does virtually.
Companies should also understand that everyone benefits if topics other than work are discussed on occasion. Allow colleagues to interact as a team or in smaller groups and have informal conversations, thus boosting morale and the rapport between colleagues.
Virtual team members build trust based on ability and collaborative tasks. They seek reliability, responsiveness, and consistency from their peers. Leaders need to be trustworthy so that their teams follow suit. This could be accomplished by ensuring deadlines are met when agreed, and by following up calls. This will demonstrate that you are genuine and available.
Scheduling tools allow a leader to set time aside to devote time to individuals within the team. Some available tools include Amelia, Calendly, Doodle, Google Calendar. However, business leadership needs to ensure effective and secure communication channels as well. For that purpose, they can use board management software solutions.
Make sure your operational procedures are geared for success
A code of conduct should be established and adhered to by all. A leader should determine housekeeping rules, including interaction with other team members, attendance, punctuality, and how to track and submit work. Ideally, these should be agreed upon and recorded by the virtual team. This will allow a company to build a structure and also measure accountability for individual performance. Be sure to follow them sincerely and consistently.
Other ideas that you may wish to include within your operational agreement:
- Submitting annual leave requests
- Working hours
- Assigning work and how it should be submitted
- Updates on progress
- Procedures for conflict resolution
- Training and support resources available
- Employee training and development
Be prepared, equipped, and ready for all situations
If 2020 has taught workplaces anything, it’s that preparation is key. Almost overnight, businesses had to set up their teams to work from spare rooms and dining tables. Those that were not prepared experienced delays and disruptions to business. The virtual team should be well equipped to work remotely. An employee should be able to have the tools to do their job to the standard that is expected and to be comfortable whilst doing so, factors that are usually taken for granted in a virtual office space.
The equipment required could include:
- A high-speed internet connection
- A webcam and microphone
- A mouse and keyboard
- A second screen
- A suitable desk space and chair
- Wrist and back support
Project management and collaboration tools can also aid workflow access remotely. Available tools include Asana, Trello, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Internxt, and also a time tracker with screenshots like WebWork.
FAQs about virtual teams
1. What are the benefits of having a virtual team?
A broader talent pool, lower overhead expenses, more flexibility, and the chance to collaborate with team members from various places are just a few advantages that virtual teams can provide. Moreover, virtual teams enable more efficient global collaboration.
2. What are the challenges of managing a virtual team?
Building trust and rapport with team members, managing multiple time zones, and ensuring that team members are remaining productive and accountable are some of the major problems of managing a virtual team.
In addition, the absence of physical teammates and a sense of separation from the wider corporation can make virtual teams feel lonely.
3. How do you build trust among virtual team members?
Consistent communication, unambiguous expectations, and frequent check-ins are necessary for establishing trust among virtual team members.
Establishing a sense of team identity and fostering a collaborative culture are crucial. Building rapport and increasing trust can also be accomplished by encouraging team members to share personal experiences and tales.
4. How do you ensure effective communication in a virtual team?
Clear communication routes and protocols, frequent updates and feedback, and the use of video conferencing to enable more intimate and meaningful interactions are all ways to promote effective communication in virtual teams.
Making sure that team members are using the same communication tools and technology is also crucial.
5. What are the best tools and technologies to use for virtual team collaboration?
Virtual whiteboards, chat and messaging apps, project management platforms, video conferencing software, and other tools and technologies are all accessible for virtual team communication.
The team’s unique requirements and the kinds of work being carried out will determine the appropriate tools to use.
6. How do you manage time differences and scheduling in a virtual team?
In virtual teams, managing time zones and scheduling demands careful planning and collaboration.
Respect for various time zones and the setting of clear expectations on work schedules and availability are essential. Apps for scheduling and tools for converting time zones can both speed up the procedure.
7. How do you handle conflicts among virtual team members?
It takes direct and honest communication, attentive listening, and a willingness to compromise to resolve disputes among members of a virtual team.
It’s crucial to establish a clear procedure for resolving disputes and to motivate team members to do so promptly and respectfully.
8. What are the best practices for onboarding new virtual team members?
Clear instructions and expectations, regular check-ins and feedback sessions, and pairing new team members with a mentor or buddy for extra support are all examples of best practices for onboarding new virtual team members.
It’s crucial to give new team members access to pertinent tools and technology and to acquaint them with the larger company.
9. How do you ensure productivity and accountability in a virtual team?
Setting clear objectives and expectations, scheduling frequent check-ins and feedback sessions, and offering ongoing coaching and support are all necessary to ensure productivity and responsibility in virtual teams.
Project management tools should be used, and a collaborative and transparent culture should be established.
10. How do you measure the success of a virtual team?
Establishing precise metrics and benchmarks, monitoring progress over time, and routinely requesting input from team members and stakeholders are all necessary for measuring the success of a virtual team.
Evaluation of quantitative and qualitative data is crucial, especially when it comes to project outcomes, team member satisfaction, and productivity measures.
If you enjoyed reading this article on virtual teams, you should check out this one about too many meetings.