The rise of the flexible workforce and advancements in technology have made virtual teams a common practice for businesses across the globe. However, just because virtual teams are prevalent does not mean they are always successful. It is important to identify the challenges inherent in managing virtual teams in order to lead effectively.
Recruit the right team.
While technical skills are a fundamental component of any team member’s success, there are specific soft skills that are important for people who work remotely. As you build your team, look for individuals who are meticulously organized, as they will have to maintain their own workspace and schedule. They should also be disciplined and self-motivated, since they are working independently; when managing virtual teams, you don’t have time to worry if team members are doing their jobs. You should also choose team members who are focused and articulate communicators, as you will primarily have to rely on virtual communication tools. Lastly, hire people you trust.
Create a blueprint.
A healthy, functional team, whether working together in an office or remotely, not only has shared goals and objectives, but they also have clearly defined individual roles. Strategy drives successful performance, and when you are managing virtual teams, a clear plan of attack is even more important. Establish expectations up front to avoid inefficiency.
For example, while flexibility is a perk of working remotely, it may prove beneficial to decide (as a team) certain hours of the day when everyone is expected to be available for discussion and collaboration. It also may be helpful to talk through timelines for deliverables so the team understands all of the moving parts and how missed deadlines can bottleneck a project.
Once the strategy and benchmarks are determined, save them in a central place. Although your team may not be co-located, the road map should always be easily accessible to all.
Provide the necessary tools.
Project management systems are critical to managing virtual teams. In lieu of sitting around a conference table to brainstorm and troubleshoot, leverage a robust suite of communication tools that allow you to collaborate in real time. Invest in technologies that streamline workflows and track progress for assigned tasks. These types of tools help develop accountability and transparency. The more your team understands each other’s responsibilities and work styles, the more productive they can be.
As far as messaging and chat platforms go, ones with video capabilities are often most effective, as face-to-face communication helps develop camaraderie and reduces the chances of misunderstanding written text.
If possible, hold an in-person meeting with your team right away, and use that time to get to know each other on a personal level. This is important for multiple reasons: One, the shared experience creates common ground for team members who otherwise have unique approaches to work. Two, it “humanizes” each person. Real-life interactions provide context and help team members develop empathy, which ultimately makes it easier to work together in a virtual setting.
In addition, consider creating a virtual watercooler space where team members can talk about anything, whether it’s work-related or not. Platforms such as Slack offer space for group chats, direct messaging, file sharing and calls. This provides an outlet to help your group stay connected and may lead to stronger relationships and more creative brainstorms. Encouraging this environment demonstrates your commitment to a healthy, dynamic team.
Another way to build trust among your team is to trust them. It sounds simple, but it often proves to be a challenge when managing virtual teams. Micromanaging can disrupt the rhythm of a team, and it can send the message that you doubt an individual’s competency. American automobile executive Lee Iacocca said, “I hire people brighter than me and I get out of their way.” Empower your team to make decisions and shift leadership to different members throughout a project’s lifecycle.
Develop a feedback loop.
Making virtual teams work depends heavily on your commitment to honest communication. An “open-door policy” plays out much differently when team members are not co-located, so you need to be proactive in your approach. In order to keep a pulse on your team’s vibe and effectiveness, create structured opportunities for feedback.
One-on-one meetings with virtual team members are best done over the phone or video chat, and they should be conducted at regularly scheduled times. These meetings can be used to track benchmarks and discuss performance, but they also provide focused time for team members to ask questions and address any challenges. Additionally, it’s important to host group forums to discuss issues that impact the team as a whole, and focus on working together to find creative solutions. Keep in mind that every meeting should have clear goals and structure in order for it to be productive, and be respectful of team members’ time.
Work hard, and play harder. Don’t allow distance to limit the fun you have as a team. It is important to acknowledge and celebrate when you meet benchmarks and achieve goals. Beyond that, engage the entire team in finding creative ways to highlight personal milestones. Although in-person celebrations may not be possible, you can still build a culture that values team members for who they are and not simply what they contribute.
Learn more about how to manage virtual teams effectively with OneSpace’s freelancer management platform. Whether you have existing remote talent or need to amplify your workforce with our on-demand network of more than 100,000 independent professionals, OneSpace can help you complete projects more efficiently and at scale. Sign up for a live demo below.