Across the globe, virtual teams are becoming more and more popular. Whether it be small businesses hiring freelance employees via online platforms, large corporations collaborating with international departments, or even digital startups employing fully remote teams, organizations of all types and sizes are finding ways to use virtual teams to their benefit.
The growing popularity of virtual teams is surely due to its many impactful benefits. According to several research studies, virtual teams can increase employee productivity and satisfaction levels and even save a company more than $10,000 annually. Plus, with access to a now-global talent pool, today’s organizations can hire the best-fit candidates for their organization, regardless of their location.
However, like many arising practices and strategies, managing virtual teams comes with its own set of new challenges. Maintaining proper levels of communication, creating complementary workflows, and exchanging performance expectations may be difficult when deploying virtual teams—but with the proper strategies and tools in place, these challenges can be avoidable. If you’re looking to form your own virtual team, here are a few essential resources to offer to your employees.
1. Communication Suite
Communication, above all else, is the key to success when managing remote teams. Without daily face-to-face communication, it can become difficult to ensure that all members of your team are consistently on the same page and up-to-date on all relevant work. Communication suites, like Slack or Google Hangouts, have become an essential tool for many workplaces for this reason.
The key benefit of all-inclusive style communication platforms is that they bring together all types of communication channels into one centralized hub. Instant messaging, teleconferencing, video messaging, and more become accessible on a single interface, which means your team members have a number of communication methods available at their fingertips. This makes communication and collaboration with employees working from various geographical locations much simpler, especially because they can often be modified or sorted by team, discipline, or topic of conversation.
2. Designated Workspace
Although it may seem contradictory to encourage virtual teams to also meet face to face, regularly holding in-person meetings or giving your employees the resources to do so on their own can be beneficial. As Paul Axtell, corporate trainer and author of the book Meetings Matter, once said, “In-person meetings provide a sense of intimacy, connection, and empathy that is difficult to replicate via video.”
Consider having a few in-person obligations for your virtual employees. This strengthens their connection to the company, makes them feel more a part of the team, and increases the likelihood they stay engaged and communicative with the group. An annual remote conference or smaller meetups throughout the year are good solutions. This serves as a great opportunity to boost team camaraderie, kick off a new project, or host a brainstorm or workshop session.
If your organization encourages virtual team members to meet in person from time to time, it may help to use a coworking space. This type of workspace typically has a wide range of work, meeting, and presentation environments that can provide whatever type of working session your team might need.
3. Cloud-Based ERP System
It’s unlikely you’ve gone through an entire workday recently without using a service supported by the cloud. Whether it’s editing documents on Google Drive or recruiting new employees through LinkedIn, today’s professionals rely on cloud-based platforms to conduct their daily responsibilities.
Cloud-based tools become even more beneficial when you incorporate virtual teams into your workforce. In particular, a cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system can store your organization’s data in a centralized database, which keeps information flowing across all lines of business, regardless of employee location. Such data sharing cuts down communication time across departments, while also ensuring employees have access to the data they need when they need it.
Although many businesses already use some form of ERP system or similar software offering, ensuring your solution is truly made for the cloud can make a major difference when managing virtual teams. Legacy solutions, like Infor Lawson for example, often run on outdated technologies, which means your virtual team won’t reap the full benefits of the cloud.
4. Project Management Process
Keeping projects and tasks organized and delivering them on schedule is often a difficult feat of its own, but when team members are scattered in many locations, project management becomes even more difficult. When working with virtual teams, it’s crucial to have a set process and standards in place that employees can refer to when conducting their day-to-day activities.
Be sure to create a project plan that’s accessible to your team and also outlines task details, due dates, and the proper procedures to deliver any completed work. The more detailed your project plan is, the easier it will be for your team to understand it and stick to a unified process for completing work. This both holds your virtual team accountable to specific deadlines and objectives and improves team communication.
You may also find it helpful to use an online project management tool like Trello or Asana. These web-based and interactive tools can be used to plan your entire project from beginning to end, manage the schedule, and collaborate with your virtual team. Project management tools are key for virtual teams, because they offer a simple solution to keep everyone on the same page.
5. Progress Reports
Performance reviews are a critical component of the manager-employee relationship, but they can be trickier to navigate when the two work in separate locations. When you don’t see an employee around the office every day, you don’t have opportunities to help them make course corrections through casual observations and conversations.
It’s vital that remote workers have clearly stated objectives as well as an understanding of how you will measure their success in meeting those goals. That way, when performance review time rolls around, everyone will be on the same page. It may be helpful to provide your remote team members with a written version of your performance feedback after discussing it via teleconference or video chat. Because you may not be meeting with your virtual employees as regularly as your in-person employees, preparing a progress report may be valuable for both parties. It offers both you and the employee a point to reference in your next meeting and helps to assure you share the same expectations.
Successfully managing a virtual team can offer your company huge benefits, but overcoming the associated challenges takes time, practice, and patience. Try implementing the above resources, but be open to trial and error and creative problem-solving in order to find the solutions that suit your particular managerial style, company, and virtual team.