How to build a successful virtual team

The trend toward remote work was already well established before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed companies to use distributed teams. In recent years, workers of all ages have gravitated toward jobs that offer this flexibility.

The increasing difficulty managers face in recruiting talent is also making remote teams a more practical choice. A 2019 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found 83 percent of recruiters had difficulty finding qualified talent in the previous 12 months.

Embracing virtual teams can fill that talent gap by widening your available pool of candidates. But how do you successfully manage a remote team once you’ve assembled one? This post will show you how to leverage technology and build a culture that keeps virtual team members motivated and productive.

Technology

Develop a digital strategy

With the onset of the pandemic, most schools have had to move all their curricula online. Of course, flaws emerged. One key takeaway is that good technology can facilitate online learning, and bad technology will cripple it. The same is true for the productivity of virtual teams.

A digital strategy consists of more than just a list of communication tools. It’s about getting the most out of those tools. Regardless whether you use Google Docs, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and/or Zoom, there are some core things to remember.

Use video

The majority of communication isn’t what comes out of your mouth. It consists of facial expressions and body language. Video conferencing is the best way to communicate in the absence of in-person, face-to-face meetings, but don’t be draconian about it.

Employees should have the option to turn the camera off. But if you as a team leader make sure the people you lead can see your smiling face, you’ll get that hold-out to turn their camera back on.

Have the infrastructure to support your virtual environment

Having an internet connection is as ubiquitous as having a microwave, but not all internet connections are equal. The same is true for PCs, laptops, etc. Ensure every member of your team has the hardware and connectivity needed to communicate easily. Webcams, microphones, and streaming capability are rapidly becoming as vital as the internet itself.

Culture

Never has something so hard to define become so important in business and team success. Culture has gone from a topic studied in sociology class to a measurement of a company’s worthiness on a “Best Place to Work” list, or an item candidates look for when deciding which businesses to send their resumes to.

Building a culture of collaboration and communication was always a challenge, and that hasn’t changed with the new normal of working remotely.

Effective collaboration and project management

Each team member has their individual tasks, but there are times when the team comes together via virtual meetings to work collaboratively. In a conference room, distractions are minimal and manageable. Remotely, not so much. The yelling kid, the barking dog, and the noisy vacuum cleaner are a few of the things that seem out of a manager’s control. The good news is they’re not.

Establish ground rules

Setting a foundation for collaborative sessions or conference calls is essential. Create a set of expectations for how sessions should run. Include things like addressing background noise, phone use, sidebar conversations, etc.

Respect time zones

There’s a three-hour time difference between New York and LA, while Sydney, Australia, is 14 hours ahead of New York. Nobody likes being the only person who has to be up at 3:00 a.m. or go to bed past midnight. Manage time zones by rotating virtual meeting times to be respectful of every team member.

Track commitments

Tools like Sharepoint, Google Docs, and others have helped people make smooth transitions to virtual work by letting all team members view and make changes to documents in real time. Posting a document that shows all action items and each team member’s responsibility for those items makes accountability easy for managers and remote workers.

Effective communication

Remote teams are an advantage

Consider the message you’re sending to new hires about virtual collaboration. Make it clear your organization views remote teams as an advantage, not an obstacle. Communicating this to a new team member enables them to participate in their first team meeting with enthusiasm about their job alongside people who share the same vision.

Build trust

Leaders build trust when they bring their teams together with clear expectations. During one-on-one meetings, managers can get a perspective from individual team members simply by listening to them. At a subsequent team meeting, leaders can bring that insight to the group, allowing them to better lead the team.

Manage deliverables

Managing deliverables means managing results so that “busywork” isn’t confused with the work that contributes to the objective. It lets managers assess employee and team performance based on what they contributed to that goal. Successful virtual workers are self-motivated problem-solvers. If you’re managing their deliverables correctly, it feeds into the success they may already be achieving.

Leverage the advantages

Remote teams increase your available talent pool, and allow companies to invest in innovation by saving them significant money on facilities and other infrastructure.

This article is originally published on Jun 11, 2020, and updated on Jun 15, 2020.
AUTHOR
A journalist and digital consultant, John Boitnott has worked for TV, newspapers, radio, and Internet companies for 25 years. He’s written for Inc.com, Fast Company, NBC, Entrepreneur, USA Today, and Business Insider, among others.

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