Working with a virtual team is not the easiest thing. For all the advantages it offers, such as flexibility and lower employee costs, interdependent online working has several challenges too.
Virtual teams leave more room for misunderstandings and miscommunication, decreased productivity and accountability, and team members often don’t feel like they are part of a “real team.” Despite these issues , virtual teams have become an integral part of modern business, so what can you do, as a leader, to better manage them? What steps can you take to make sure that productivity and efficiency are not compromised?
Here are some of the best practices for managing virtual teams that every leader can make use of:
- Have a face-to-face meeting early on
Just because it’s a virtual team doesn’t mean you never get to meet the people you work with in real life. Face-to-face communication has a lot of advantages that your team will surely benefit from, even if it cannot happen every day.
If you get your team together for a face-to-face meeting early on at the start of the project, it can help foster trust in each other and build better and healthier professional relationships.
Actually, meeting the people you work with online can help you make you feel more like you are working in a team and establish that all of you are working interdependently towards a shared goal. If possible, schedule in-person meetings annually or semi-annually.
- Invest in the right communication and management tools
Today, virtual teams are made possible thanks to the availability of a plethora of communication and management tools. While it is easy to get carried away and choose the latest tools, remember that it’s smarter to pick tools that work for everyone on the team, and these may not always be ones that have the most features or are the most expensive. There is no point in investing in communication and management systems if you are sacrificing reliability and efficiency.
Also, establishing multiple communication tools is essential. For example, which should you use for urgent messages? Which should you use for your daily, regular exchanges?
- Build some form of routine and structure for the team
Working remotely from different places means that it can be easy to be disconnected from team members and work at your own pace. While giving team members enough freedom is important, it is equally critical to remind them that you are a team collaborating on a shared vision.
So, to instill some sense of routine and structure, make sure to have regular online meetings, preferably video conferences, the same time and day every week. This gives the team something they can be familiar with even when working remotely, and this can significantly reduce stress. Remember to share the meeting agenda, timings, and communication protocols before each session.
- Check-in with each other at the start of every meeting
To ease into your gathering and give your team members time to catch up with each other, have a “virtual water cooler time” at the start. In an office, gathering around the water cooler is a saying that indicates informal communication between workers so that they have time to bond personally and professionally.
So, in the beginning, give team members time to check-in and share what they have been up to, how their work is going, and what challenges they are facing. This is a simple virtual team-building exercise that can strengthen the bond between team members.
- Clarify tasks and processes
You don’t need to be reminded that you have to clearly communicate the role of each team member and the goal that you should work towards as a team and as individual team members. However, you may need to remind yourself that in the same way, you should clarify the tasks and processes that each person must follow.
Your team needs to be certain of who does what, what needs to be done, how it must be done, and when. Give clear instructions about the processes to follow, and don’t hesitate to be specific in your directions. Remember to include after-action reviews so that you designate time to evaluate how the work is going and whether any changes are required.
While it is necessary to clarify roles, responsibilities, goals, tasks, and processes, make sure you don’t micromanage. There is a fine line between being transparent and detailed on your deliverables and virtually micromanaging your team.
- Create a guideline for communication
Coordination between virtual team members can be a bit of a challenge. Still, you can make your virtual meetings much easier for everyone involved if you create a communication guideline and all adhere to it. This means that all members will have to follow these agreed-upon norms of behavior and communication so that your virtual meetings can go smoothly with less room for miscommunication and more scope for coherence.
For example, these guidelines may include staying in a quiet room with limited background noise during virtual meetings, actively partaking but not dominating the conversation, listening attentively to others, etc.
- Encourage shared leadership
Find ways to have your team members involved in managing projects and leading the team. Fostering a healthy professional environment where shared leadership is encouraged is an essential part of virtual teams as it makes workers feel more like they are actually part of a team.
For instance, you could assign responsibilities for special tasks, ask members to coach and guide others in their area of expertise, or put them in charge of team building.
- Have one on one interactions with team members
As a leader, you must assign time for one-on-one interactions with each of your team members. This a time to get to know your team better, manage their performance, and provide valuable feedback and coach them in areas they can improve on. So, remember to make such interactions a regular part of your team rhythm.
With these simple, actionable, yet effective tips, managing virtual teams is a whole lot easier, and you can see the results for yourself.
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