Virtual teams have many advantages because you can hire talented people from across the globe that you might not find locally.
In fact, an increasing number of companies are hiring remote employees and freelancers to take on short-term and long-term positions, and a rising amount of companies are letting employees work from home additional days out of the week. Thus, facing the challenge of managing a remote team is inevitable in this day and age — and a challenge manager’s should learn how to tackle right away.
In this article, we cover:
- Virtual team definition
- The challenges of working remotely
- The best ways to manage virtual teams
- A tool for remote teams
Virtual Team Definition
Virtual teams, used interchangeably with remote teams and dispersed teams, are teams consisting of employees, freelancers, and contractors that are dispersed across the world. Often, virtual teams are referred to as “teams in different time zones” as the team members are all around the world and working toward a common goal, even though they are not working in an office together.
The Challenges of Working Remotely
Virtual teams face different struggles than teams that work face-to-face which can impede their abilities to communicate. For one, time zones can create a barrier when setting up conference calls and working on assignments together from virtual environments.
Managing remote teams can definitely take a toll on a manager since you never really know what your geographically dispersed team is focused on. That being said, it is challenging to ensure that members of a virtual team are motivated, and once they are motivated, it is even harder to prevent outside factors from getting in the way of their vigorous drive without interacting with them on a daily basis.
Some other challenges of managing a virtual team are to ensure remote employees and contractors are grasping their workload and staying on track while collaborating effectively, in addition to staying organized and tracking overall progress.
The Best Ways to Manage Virtual Teams
Here are eleven ways for managing remote employees:
1. Define clear objectives
When team members are spread around the country, or even the world, they can easily become disconnected from group objectives.
In managing virtual workers, a manager should take the time at the onset of a project to clearly define goals in an outline meeting with all workers present through a platform like GoToMeeting, Zoom, or Skype. Be sure to personally address each team member to ensure they understand the project and what is expected of them. You might even consider a tool with screen sharing or whiteboard capabilities so your team can see exactly what you are doing and vice versa.
When your team has a clear understanding of the outcome they are working toward, it becomes easier to keep them on track.
2. Schedule Regular Meetings
Frequently check in with your team. Regular check-ins keep everyone accountable and in the know of project progress, major successes or setbacks, and any updates or changes to the project plan.
Getting together virtually not only boosts collaboration capability, but also raises morale and motivation within your team.
3. Remember, Dispersed Teams Have Dispersed Time Zones
In regard to scheduling regular meetings, be sensitive to time differences and set group meetings during a window that is convenient for everyone. To simply find times that work for the whole team, check out the Microsoft Outlook Add-In FindTime which will let each remote team member choose the best times and days for a meeting. FindTime will then send out an aggregated list of the times that work for everyone, and allow the entire team to vote on one of those times.
4. Motivate Your Team
Without seeing an employee face-to-face and looking at their body language, it can be difficult to tell if your remote team member is driven to achieve their full potential.
This is why it is important that you are consistently motivating your virtual team, and making it clear to them that their work is appreciated.
This can be done with a virtual pat on the back by sending out an email that says good job, or even by delivering an online gift card during times when they are working a little harder.
5. Get and Give Feedback
As a manager, you should give moral support and provide useful strategies for efficiently completing tasks. Use setbacks as teachable moments, and give praise where it’s due.
This will create a positive working relationship with your remote team so they feel comfortable coming to you when problems occur, or when virtual working methods prove inefficient.
Team members should also have a way to communicate with one another. When feedback is consistently provided, team members will be motivated to make sure they’re doing their best work.
6. Determine Your Remote Team’s Mode of Communication
It is integral that your team is constantly communicating announcements, messages, and progress in some way, shape, or form, whether through a group chat, a project management software, or by email.
Remember to create some sort of balance between what is to be communicated and in what platform to prevent an overloaded inbox or an off-topic group chat.
Thus, take some time to decide which communication goes where, for example:
- Important and urgent questions directed to one person are communicated through email
- Important announcements directed to everybody go into the work group chat
There are also many remote teams that keep most of their communication in a project management software to keep chats more organized and targeted.
7. Allow Virtual Team Members to Get to Know Each Other
With a team that is dispersed in different locations, building relationships and developing “work buddies” is something that is often overlooked.
Without seeing each other on a normal basis, remote teams can begin to feel isolated. Since it is more difficult to establish a strong company culture where team members feel close ties with one another, it is important to make sure that team members are able to interact, besides during the regular virtual team meetings.
So send a list to your dispersed team including each team member’s contact information, where they are from, their position, and even a fun fact. Encourage your team to collaborate and give feedback to each other.
You can also consider creating a non-work related group chat so that your remote team can get to know each other on a more casual level.
8. Maintain Transparency
Be accessible to your team to answer questions, address concerns, or connect them with needed resources.
Each day make sure you know what each team member is working on and their progress level.
Accountability is two-fold: your team keeps you up to speed on what they are doing, and you stay open and available to them.
9. Ensure Your Virtual Team Still Has Roots in the Company Culture
Successful companies have a strong company culture that makes employees feel like they are truly a part of a team. Often, it is easier to maintain a powerful organizational culture with the office, since they experience this environment directly.
This article from The Balance explains the importance of a company culture on an employee’s productivity:
Company culture is important to employers too because workers who fit in with the company culture are likely to not only be happier, but more productive. When an employee fits in with the culture, they are also likely to want to work for that company for longer. Thus, employers can improve productivity and employee retention through a strong office culture.”
To ensure that your dispersed team fits into the company culture, have them fly into the company headquarters at least once a year. If this isn’t possible, consider trying out some some remote team building activities. This will allow team members to feel more engaged and connected to the company culture.
10. Make Use of Technology
Whenever possible, it’s important to automate or streamline your operations when working with a virtual team.
The tools you use determine how effectively your remote team works. Research and test-run different virtual worktools beyond email. Try priority management software, file-sharing programs, and conferencing software, in addition to any practical tools relevant to your industry.
When the team has the right tools at hand, there is no excuse for them not to be doing their best work.
11. Ensure Workers Stay Productive
Without keeping an eye on each remote employee, it can be challenging to determine each employee’s output to assess how productive they are being in their work environment.
Therefore, it might be a good idea to have employees send in brief weekly reports listing what assignments they have accomplished. For example, at our company, each of our remote interns has an Excel spreadsheet where they list the hours they have spent on assignments and the progress they have made each time they work.
In addition, to gauge how productive a new (or even old) employee is, create a list of benchmarks and regularly evaluate that they are accomplishing what is expected of them.
However, even with systems like the above, attaining maximum productivity really comes down to establishing priorities, creating tasks and projects, and successfully carrying them out.
Finding a tool to help you manage these priorities might be the solution to many of the challenges remote teams face, including prioritization, communication, transparency, visibility, accountability, and more.
Tool For Remote Teams
Priority Management software makes maintaining visibility across your remote team so much easier by reducing the stress involved in managing a team that is dispersed in different locations and increasing overall organization and productivity.
The priority management software, Priority Matrix, helps remote teams work more efficiently by communicating priorities across your team. It also increases visibility in shared projects so that you can keep track of the moving parts of your initiatives.
Here are how some virtual teams use Priority Matrix to create a more cohesive team:
- Remote teams create projects for everything that needs to be done. From there, they add tasks, events, reference material, and more.
- As a manager, you can set task start and due dates on assignments, add notes, upload files, and take screenshots in a task. For example, if I were to assign a task to my assistant, I would describe the details of the assignment under the notes section of the task. I might also upload an example file and set a due date so my remote assistant knows when this assignment must be finished. If my assistant has questions, she can message me using the in-app chat. I can also check in on my assistant’s progress at any time. This way, all information is easy-to-find and in one secure place.
- You can add different team members to projects. What is great about this is that CEO’s and managers can be added to all projects for overall visibility which allows them to see what is going on across the organization so that they can chime in as needed.
- Individuals can also keep projects private to streamline their own workflow. For example, I have created a project that focuses on my specific to-do list.
- The project feed feature allows managers to see real live play-by-play updates across all projects or individual projects so that they know where their attention is needed
- Employees can use the progress bar to update management on their progress for specific tasks.
- Tasks can be delegated to team members with the click of a button.
- Priority Matrix allows you to focus in on certain members of your team so that you can easily gauge employee workload using the filter by team member function, which allows you to check in on a specific team member or team members at any time to monitor their workload and progress. You can also block out what your team members are doing and focus on your own work by clicking on your name.
- Team members and the manager can use the Master List to see key tasks across all projects.
- Without worrying about minute details, managers, project managers, and executives can quickly understand project and team status. With easy-to-understand analysis, graphs, charts, statistics, and texts, Priority Matrix reports will give you personalized productivity insights, activity overviews, information about upcoming projects, what projects you spend the most time on, item activity, when your team is the most productive, patterns of how you and your team work, who is working on what project and changes that they have made, item status by user, and item status by project.
No matter what the distance, Priority Matrix is here to help you and your team be more efficient.
How to Manage Virtual Teams with Priority Matrix
This video shows you how to manage remote teams directly in Priority Matrix.
By incorporating the tips above, your remote team can enjoy greater productivity, communication, and camaraderie, and as a result accountability by incorporating the above practices into your virtual working environment.
Give your remote team a sense of responsibility and ownership for the work they do, and you will see improvements in how they work alone and together.