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.

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

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 message 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.

Available communication and video conferencing tools include: Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom

Build and maintain relationships within the virtual team

Build and maintain relationships within the virtual team

Social interaction 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, FreeBusy, Google Calendar

Make sure your operational procedures are geared for success

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

Workflow Automation tools can help you to track operational procedures. Some of these include: Zapier, Microsoft Flow, Monday

Be prepared, equipped, and ready for all situations

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 an 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

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