What Is a Virtual Team?
A virtual team is a remote, geographically separated group of employees who communicate exclusively or primarily through virtual means. Remote or virtual team members are often spread out across time zones and use technology to communicate and collaborate. Virtual teams were around long before the COVID-19 pandemic required teams to work from home for their own safety, and remote teams will continue to exist as our work environments change and adapt for the future.
Managing a Virtual Team
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work forever. Businesses have gone from face-to-face lunch meetings and watercooler chats to video conferencing and Zoom happy hours. Keeping remote workers engaged and productive in a virtual environment is vital for business success in 2021.
Luckily, communication technologies have made real-time problem solving and virtual teamwork more accessible than ever. According to Gartner, 41% of employees are likely to work remotely at least some of the time after the pandemic. Follow the tips outlined below to find out six ways your organization can manage virtual teams more effectively.
1. Collaboration Across Time Zones
Collaboration across different time zones can be a difficult task when teams are used to face-to-face interaction. Trying to sync work hours with one team member in L.A. and another in North Carolina can make remote employees feel frustrated and unheard, or even cause them to miss essential deliverables.
To solve this problem, schedule regular check-ins with the whole team to ensure team leaders and co-workers are all on the same page regarding project management and future goals.
These team meetings can be weekly, bi-weekly, or daily depending on the size and nature of your teams. In these all-hands meetings, set a plan, ensure all virtual team members know who is responsible for what, and let them know where they can ask questions. Team performance across time zones depends on effective communication.
Although virtual meetings may not offer the same face-to-face interaction as formal meetings, cohesion is still possible with remote work. Be mindful of your team's time zone differences when creating meetings and deadlines. Ensure remote teams know how best to reach each other and what hours they are expected to be available. Try to ensure that team working hours overlap to avoid confusion.
2. Prioritize Team Building
Virtual Team Building and Virtual Watercooler activities may seem unnecessary or a waste of time, but making time for team building is vital to business success. A study from Atlassian found that 94% of workers felt mutual respect and connection were critical to their team's success, and 19% said it's the most crucial factor in their sense of well-being at work.
To promote this, set aside time for teams to participate in a group lunch hour, consider including a small gift card for remote workers to order their favorite takeout, and spend time catching up on Skype — no work talk allowed. If your team management wants to spice things up a bit, try playing some virtual games on your video conferencing software. These team-building exercises can help bridge cultural differences and create a more effective virtual team and positive work environment.
3. Nurture Remote Teams
Utilize communication tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or other popular tools to keep communication channels open. Slack has over 10 million daily users, and individuals stay signed in for an average of nine hours. However, don't fall victim to the remote work time-stretch — set clearly defined work times and avoid messaging employees after hours unless it is an absolute emergency.
Remote employees often report feeling undervalued and overworked; ensure your team management sets clear communication boundaries and offers positive feedback and constructive critiques to remote workers. Encourage employees to add each other on LinkedIn and share updates with the team over social channels. Prioritizing the mental health of your workforce is a crucial concern for businesses today.
4. Utilize Project Management Tools
Project management tools like Trello, Asana, or Monday are a necessity for remote teams. Project management software ensures that remote employees, in-person team members, and management have a clear view of the tasks they are working on and who owns what responsibilities.
To better organize teams, keep track of deadlines, set up automatic reminders for remote employees, and set up periodic reports for completed tasks. However, you shouldn't just assign team leaders a to-do list and leave them to the wolves. Ensure you provide detailed instructions for any vital projects to avoid miscommunication with remote team members. Clearly describe the deliverables you need and the process you want teams to follow if you need specific steps completed.
5. Encourage Self Direction
Managers and team leaders should encourage remote employees to follow more self-directed work if capable. Gartner found that two-fifths of remote employees want more self-directed work. One of their insights was that “managers must trust their employees and shift away from directing their work to coaching them to success. To do this, managers should focus on employees’ work product and outputs rather than processes.”
Organizations must then find a balance between micromanagement and a laissez-faire attitude. This doesn’t mean leaving remote employees to their own devices completely, but allowing your experienced team leaders to take charge in situations they have proven themselves capable of handling.
6. Always Appreciate Your Team
There are many challenges to master when managing virtual teams. The past year has been challenging for many employees, and remote teams have done all they can to remain agile while balancing various deadlines and responsibilities. Consider showing some extra appreciation to your virtual colleagues by offering educational opportunities, Zoom hangouts, using rewards and recognition software, or coming up with unique ways to help employees engage with each other while allowing them to advance professionally.
What Are the Advantages of Managing a Remote Team?
We know managing a team virtually is very different from managing workers face to face. Managers of globally distributed teams face a wide variety of challenges on a daily basis, including time zones, language hurdles, cross-cultural interactions, and the worry of low participation among teams. In today's world, every organization must master the use of virtual teams to succeed on a global scale.
What Are the Advantages of a Virtual Team?
1. No rent payments: One advantage of virtual teams is your organization's savings on office space rent. Your company no longer has to spend thousands each month on rent, heating, cleaning, and other hefty costs of running an office. According to one study by consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, employers can save an average of $11,000 if employees worked remotely for at least half the week. Even if your organization chooses to keep one or two hub offices and maintain virtual satellite teams across the country, your business will see savings.
2. More flexibility: With a virtual team, your organization can provide flexibility for both clients and employees. Employees can work flexible times, scheduling meetings around childcare or other obligations while still meeting their goals. Eight out of ten employees report a desire to continue working from home even after the pandemic.
3. Increased productivity: Over half of respondents surveyed by Colliers International said they felt more productive, more focused, and better able to complete their tasks working from home. This is especially true for financial services, professional services, and technology industries. Your employees no longer need to waste precious time commuting to and from the office.
By implementing virtual teams, your employees can work around their own schedule and avoid outside distractions. However, it is essential to implement some ground rules when it comes to remote work. Remote work is not a replacement for childcare, eldercare, or an excuse for a vacation.
Employees should be aware that even though they are working remotely, they must remove distractions and dedicate their time to the work tasks at hand. Employers should remain flexible, understand the challenges their remote workers face, show grace, and accommodate when available.
4. Work across time zones: If your business operates over the globe, you need more than a typical nine-to-five workday to satisfy all your clients. By stationing employees in shifts across time zones, you can cover more ground and meet deadlines faster.
As our global supply chain expands, it is more important than ever before to have a globally available company.
This also benefits employees who are more inclined to be night owls or, on the other hand, early birds. Employees can work in a shift that suits both their needs and their preferences.
5. Find talent anywhere: Possibly the most significant advantage of virtual teams is the ability to hire great talent anywhere. Your organization is no longer limited to hiring talented people in your city or even your state. You can hire anyone anywhere so long as they are qualified and willing to work virtually. Compensation planning can be complex when your organization is limited to hiring in a high-cost-of-living area, while your organization could hire instead from underserved and underutilized areas, keeping profit margins high. This revolutionizes the state of work in America and across the world.
Balancing a worldwide business with individuals working from various countries across time zones can be difficult for organizations to manage. However, a well-designed remote work culture with clearly defined expectations can propel your organization to success and put you ahead of competitors still stuck in the office.