by Sebastien Boyer, Director of Products at Nutcache
With businesses expanding and going global, working virtually with teams operating from different geographies is becoming more and more common. But it is easy for ideas and work to get scattered in the virtual world. One question that immediately comes to mind is how a manager is going to keep track of such teams and their activities?
While there are several advantages of having a virtual team strategy in place, managing them is easier said than done. Here are 3 tips on managing virtual teams and keep everything on track:
1. Define Your Work Systems.
Although they are working remotely, your team members still need to follow the work system. You need to set a standard workflow to achieve the desired result. This standard will define the repeatable work systems so that your team members are already aware of the workflow, the system and how long certain things will take to complete and will therefore ask less questions. This, in turn, will shorten the time required to complete a task/project.
Standardizing your work systems allows for maximum effectiveness and at the same time provide enough freedom to your team members to complete the given task to their best ability. But to do that you must ensure that each of your team member knows and understands what is expected of them individually and what they need to deliver as a team.
When you standardize your work system, you also need to define a set of common behaviors which is acceptable. And each member needs to exhibit them, without any exception. For example, you need to set proper work hours for all team members during which each of them is expected to be working. Similarly, you can set lunch times, meeting times and communication turnaround times, etc. Setting such ground rules along with your work system is one of the most important factors to manage your virtual successfully.
2. Make Everyone Feel a Part of the Team.
As said, your virtual team is still a team. If your team members work as individual contributors, doing only their own work and performing their own role, you can hardly make them work together as a team. While acting independently is a good thing in terms of accountability, your team members must know and realize that they are part of a team and have common objectives and deliverables. This is one of the best ways to encourage them to collaborate with other team members.
Also, as a manager, you need to be available always as working virtually is often isolating. Make sure your team members don’t feel that you are absent when they need you. This means, you need to establish regular contact with them and establish communication beyond work and day-to-day duties. Be genuinely interested about their day and social life. Connect with them via social media and also conduct video conferencing or have a face-to-face Skype call once in a while. Your virtual team members are not faceless employees and you need to make it clear to them.
Establishing informal conversations between team members is also important. Encourage them to talk to each other, apart from work. Always have a chat room open where team members can leave messages for each other and discuss important issues. Also, encourage them to have non business related chat so that they can talk about anything they like. This is a great way to create a social connection between your team members. This will also help build trust and relationships between them, which in turn will benefit your team’s collaborative efforts and productivity.
3. Develop a Communications Management Plan.
In order to establish a free flow of conversations between team members, you need to first establish a proper communication management plan. This also helps to set clear expectations and improve the team’s understanding of the interactions – both are key to the success of your virtual team. In fact, teams that communicate effectively have more successful projects that are delivered on time and on budget.
According to Project Management Institute, “among those organizations considered highly effective communicators, 80 percent of projects meet original goals, versus only 52 percent at their minimally effective counterparts.”
Developing a communications management plan helps you outline what communication you need to focus on, what is the intention of the communication, who needs to participate, what must be the medium and how frequently you need to communicate. In addition, select the type of communication channel that works best, based on your needs. Some of the common options include:
Email: This ensures quick interactions and can also be used for assigning tasks. However, it is often challenging to track tasks and previous conversation on email. Email communication can be easily replaced with a collaborative project management system that allows you to assign tasks as well as collaborate on files and documents.
Instant Messaging: As mentioned, Skype or Google Hangout are great options for sending instant messages, although some of the collaborative project management tools also allow similar features.
Video Conferencing and Phone Calls: While emails and instant messaging tools are effective for team communication, also keep a room for phone calls and video chat in your communications management plan. There are certain communications best handled only over the phone. For example, if there is a performance issue, it is better to talk things out over the phone. If you want to get more visual cues about a team member, a video chat is a better option.
Video or Visual Communication: If you want to explain something visually such as a product training, a webinar or a podcast, make sure you have a proper plan for the same. You can use video sharing platforms like YouTube, Vine and/or a screen capture tool to explain things visually.
Managing a virtual team is all about managing your team members’ expectations and motivating them to perform both as individual contributors and team players. You need to establish a proper understanding with them and communication plays a significant role here. Also remember that communication and collaboration have an inordinate impact on your team’s performance. It is therefore essential to have a communications management plan in place along with team operating agreements that define how they work together daily. If you can achieve this, nothing can stop your team, virtual or otherwise, from achieving success.
Sebastien Boyer is the Director of Products at Nutcache, a smart and simple collaborative project management tool for all sizes of businesses with time tracking, invoicing and expenses.