The rise of remote work has brought with it several challenges, chief among them being how to manage a virtual team. Virtual teams have been growing steadily over the last couple of years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 38 percent of employees worked from home some of the time in 2021 compared to 24 percent in 2019.
However, the way we worked changed when the pandemic culture took over, forcing many of us to experiment with working from home.
It’s every manager’s, employer’s, or CEO’s goal to build and manage a group of high-performing professionals. But in this type of work, teams are connected via computer screens and separated by different time zones, making it difficult to achieve uninterrupted communication.
To build a strong team, you need to adopt a specific set of tools, virtual team management best practices, and have a laser focus on strong communication.
What Is a Virtual Team?
A virtual team is typically a group of individuals who work primarily from home, with the help of communication and collaboration tools like Slack, Skype, and email. A virtual team can take many forms. Your team may be composed of people living in the same geographic area who do all or part of their work from home.
Some companies operate fully remotely, with no physical offices. Such teams enjoy the flexibility of living and traveling around the world while still fulfilling their work obligations.
Virtual teams are especially of great benefit to small businesses. For one, they lower the overhead costs associated with renting an office. On top of that, having a remote team gives small business owners a much larger talent pool of workers from all walks of life.
Challenges of Managing a Virtual Team
That said, managing a virtual team presents a unique set of challenges for managers:
- Communication complications: Unless you choose the right communication tools and set proper guidelines, you and your team will be grappling with information overload, delays, errors, and poor delegation.
- Isolation and loneliness: Humans are social creatures and can’t thrive in a detached environment. Loneliness is one of the greatest challenges that most remote workers face, and finding ways to address this issue will work wonders for your virtual teams.
- Poor performance: Some people do not work well in a remote setting. Some may not be able to meet deadlines, while others may delay communication by not responding to chats or emails on time. This can lead to a drop in performance, and hence, productivity.
- Poor work-life balance: Working remotely blurs the line between work and home, which can lead to employee burnout.
- Lack of trust: Trust between employers and employees is essential for collaboration and engagement. Micromanaging remote workers makes them feel like you don’t trust them, and this can hurt their performance.
These are just some of the most common challenges that virtual teams face. The good news is that there are solutions to these obstacles, and we discuss them in detail below.
9 Ways to Effectively Manage a Virtual Team
At first glance, a distributed team may seem overly complicated to build and manage successfully. However, with these best practices, you’ll realize that you can lay the proper foundations that will steer your team members toward success.
1. Start with the Right Team
It all starts with the right team composition. If you put the right people, of the right size, to work on the right projects, then you’ll build one of the most effective virtual teams out there.
What do we mean by:
- The right people?
- The right size?
- The right projects?
The Right People
A team that works in unison is more productive. Therefore, when onboarding remote employees, emphasize the company culture that defines the traditions, behaviors, and systems that employees must uphold.
You will be working with people from all over the globe, and ensuring that coworkers are aware of and sensitive to other cultures is a crucial part of the process. Therefore, consider conducting behavioral interviews and personality tests to screen for such qualities.
Keep in mind that each team member is unique. Find their strengths and weaknesses, and pair them accordingly for projects. In addition, consider organizing training and coaching to sharpen their skills. Most importantly, assess team members constantly to identify those struggling and help them overcome their challenges.
The Right Size
Working with large teams presents more complications when managing teams, whether local or virtual. For improved efficiency, consider grouping teams into the right size. Evidence suggests that the best-performing teams have fewer than 10 members.
You see, when team members work in a large group, “social loafing” – the phenomenon where team members do less in a group setting – kicks in. What’s more, misunderstandings and miscommunications are prone to come up every now and then.
With a small team:
- communication is more effective
- there’s increased engagement
- there’s better innovation
- members receive stronger support and better collaboration
Therefore, strive to keep your virtual teams in small groups for effective management.
The Right Roles
If your organization tackles complex projects, you may want to create subteams that focus on one specific part of the project. That means you need to assess the expertise of each team member when assigning tasks.
By breaking down teams, you enable them to narrow their focus on the specific tasks at hand, which is likely to improve their overall output.
2. Improve Your Leadership
Behind every successful virtual team is a great leader. As a leader, you must strive to understand the unique challenges of leading a distributed team. here are some areas to focus on:
- Create psychological safety. Not only will this boost the collective confidence and creativity of your virtual team, but it also improves productivity.
- Rethink systems. Doing things how you’ve always done them in a traditional office setting won’t work in a remote setup. You need to rethink systems like onboarding, training, equipment, documentation flows, accountability, and decision-making.
- Build trust. In essence, hire a great team, set them up for success, and then get out of their way!
- Practice empathy and patience. Having some measure of patience and compassion in your communications and actions as a leader can make a huge difference in your team’s dedication to working. Remember, not everyone will adjust well to working virtually. Some folks just need the social interactions of an office to thrive. Therefore, dedicate some time to ensuring that everyone on your team is doing well in their jobs.
- Promote constructive criticism. Once you’ve established trust, you’ve promoted an environment of open dialogue. Regular employee feedback is necessary for personal and career development and is, especially, helpful in remote management. It’s also the key to identifying any potential issues before they snowball.
3. Invest in Software
We live in a digital world, and no virtual teams can succeed without investing in the right technology. Virtual teams work with more flexible schedules, and by providing them with the right software, you’ll ensure smooth workflows.
While the type of tools you’ll need for your organization will vary, most of them will fall under three categories. These include:
Communication is the biggest hurdle to overcome when managing a virtual team. One way to facilitate effective communication is to be clear about how, when, and where to communicate.
It is, therefore, encouraged to implement multiple communication channels. Text messaging tools are ideal for clarifying small matters or asking quick questions. Video conferencing tools come in handy when video meetings are necessary. Email, on the other hand, is great for official communication with clearly determined messages and deliverables. Leave live chats to time-sensitive communications.
As a manager, you also want to keep an open line of communication. To make it more organized, block certain times of the day and let your employees know that they can reach you during those blocks. You can then have a calendar, so that team members know which blocks are taken.
Virtual team collaboration tools:
Collaboration for on-site workers comes more naturally compared to a team of people working in different time zones. For optimized workflows, you must implement additional tools, such as document management software.
Collaboration platforms like Google Workspace, Nifty, Chanty, and many more empower team members to work together on projects from anywhere around the globe.
Project management tools:
Project management tools are necessary to keep track of project progress and get an overview of what needs to be done, by who, and when. Trello, for instance, provides incredible flexibility when it comes to planning, monitoring, and communication. Jira makes it easy to track projects and increases transparency.
4. Allow Some Degree of Flexibility
According to a Gartner survey, working hours flexibility is among the top reasons for increased productivity. The study further reveals that 64 percent of employees are more likely to consider a role that allows flexible hours.
Considering that most of your team members work from different parts of the world makes it difficult for your entire team to work at the exact same time. Therefore, you’ll need to be more flexible with your employees’ work hours. When you allow team members to function of their own will, they will be happier, which will result in more productive work.
That said, work with set structures. Develop a clear timetable for meetings and all other company events to avoid inconveniences and confusion. This way, teams will remain focused and purpose-driven, knowing where they fit in the process.
5. Help Promote Cohesiveness Among Workers
Creating strong connections between individuals separated by thousands of miles isn’t easy. Without the physical presence, you’ll need to conjure more creative ways to cultivate some sense of belonging and boost engagement.
One effective way to achieve that is to build a sense of purpose. When people don’t work in an office, it’s easy to forget their purpose. Reminding teams of the shared goals and how each member plays a significant role in the realization of these goals is crucial.
You can do so through the weekly status updates or quarterly meetings. That way, everyone will be acquainted with the shared goals, and this will improve virtual team collaboration.
In addition, you may consider elevating team spirit by sharing company-branded gifts, such as coffee mugs, work devices, notebooks, t-shirts, wallets, etc. These little acts of kindness go a long way in building strong relationships and culture for virtual teams.
6. Recognize and Reward Achievements
If you want to retain top talent at your company, consider implementing a recognition and rewards program. Offering incentives based on employees’ performances and achievements can make a huge impact on their productivity levels.
Each company has a unique reward system, some of which include:
- Cash rewards to the employee of the week or month
- Days off for best performers
- Giving praise to an employee’s efforts on a shared platform
Whatever reward system you use, consider requesting feedback from employees on its effectiveness and make changes accordingly.
7. Organize Virtual Team Events
Team building activities for remote teams can help with bonding and developing trust. But that’s not all. They also play a significant role in boosting employee engagement and establishing company culture.
You can try various team builders for your remote teams, including:
- Virtual coffee breaks, where you decide on a set time for virtual teams to bond outside of work. Choose the most appropriate communication channel to connect through video conference, chat, or phone. Consider sending coffee gift cards ahead of the company-funded event.
- Organize group learning opportunities, such as webinars, online classes, discussions, coaching, and mentoring.
- Organize social networking events that allow team members to interact with each other via social media platforms. This is to encourage friendly chats where they can share pictures, funny stories, personal stories, and so much more while building connections.
8. Check-in Regularly
When team members are co-located, managers can easily see who’s overloaded, burnt out, or showing signs of stress. For example, an employee may start reporting late or leaving work late every day.
You don’t have this kind of insight with remote teams, making it difficult to tell if someone is struggling to cope. That’s why it’s important to check in often, especially when assigning employees an urgent task.
Inquiring about how it will affect their other deadlines allows you to determine whether to go ahead and assign the task or find someone else.
9. Create Well-Documented Procedures and Policies
Managers, you’ll agree that nothing makes working with teams, local or remote, easier than having well-documented procedures in place. These documents cover almost everything, from goals to expectations to responsibilities.
When everyone knows what they are supposed to do and how to do it, work will flow effortlessly.
Some of the things you can touch on include:
- How often do teams meet, and on which days?
- What hours during a work day a team member is expected to be available for virtual team meetups.
- The various communication channels used by the company.
- Monitoring tools used and how they are implemented.
Most importantly, the company procedures and policies must be updated regularly to address changing workplace trends.
Simplify Virtual Team Management with Traqq
The last thing you want is to micromanage a virtual team. While you must keep an eye on everything they are doing and monitor their progress, it will only work in your favor if you invest in the most effective technology. If you pay by the hour, you will need a reliable system that tracks how many hours each person works.
Traqq automates time tracking and performance monitoring so that employees don’t have to waste time on mundane administrative tasks. The time tracker has a robust reporting feature that allows managers and supervisors to glance at individual or group time-tracking reports and make a quick analysis.
Traqq works in real-time, capturing which websites team members are accessing, applications used, and time spent on each. It makes it easier to detect time wasters and discuss potential issues in a timely manner.
That’s not all. Traqq time tracking software offers a clock-in clock-out feature to monitor employee attendance, and hence instill accountability among employees.
Something to consider when implementing a time-tracking solution is that some remote workers may perceive it as an intrusion of privacy. Therefore, be sure to get your team fully onboard with matters of time tracking and employee monitoring. Explain the importance of time tracking and how they stand to benefit (accurate payments, increased productivity, better project planning, etc.).
Most importantly, always seek employee feedback regularly to ensure that time tracking is working for them and serves the intended purpose.