Managing a virtual team isn’t all roses along the way. Actually, it may be quite tough to work with people whose faces you’ve probably never seen. The remote collaboration model is just entering the market, so the remote and distributed teams need to learn from their own mistakes. However, the good news is that this model is becoming more and more popular. And who knows, maybe it’ll even push out the office work one day.
To stay up to date with the new trends, you need to know how to interact with your remote employees efficiently and painlessly. In this article, we’re going to give some tips on managing such teams. We’ll be assuming that your team is 90 % – 100 % remote and distributed across different time zones.
Tip # 1: Break the ice.
Communication issues can arise even if your employees are co-located, but things can get even worse if you are far away from each other. And even worse if your team is culturally diverse. Different cultures have different expectations of business communication. Sometimes this can lead to the escalation of critical issues that were just hushed up. But the solution to this problem is quite simple: break the ice and speak to each other. For example, you can organize team buildings to bring the people together in one location, as Zapier does. If you have a centralized office and an offshore development team, you can arrange their visit to your office so that they can meet their colleagues in person. As a result, the team members will become more relaxed, and be no longer afraid of talking about work issues.
Tip # 2: Treat remote workers as local.
If you have headquarters and a virtual team, do not delimit the local and remote employees. Let everyone know that you are one team and make your remote workers feel like they belong to your company as much as the locals do. Include them in all meetings and give them the same interesting tasks as you would give the locals. For example, some companies can treat their offshore developers as a cheap, secondary workforce to which they can offload the tedious, routine tasks where the legacy technologies are involved. Don’t be like them – otherwise, you may lose your remote workers, and this can hamper the project as well.
Tip # 3: Use specialized tools.
There are apps that were built specifically for remote teams (and by remote teams as well – for example, the Doist app). These tools can be divided into time zone management, asynchronous communication, video conferencing, project management, time tracking tools, etc. All of them take into account the specifics of remote collaboration. Such apps help the distributed teams stay in sync across different time zones, remain productive, and organize the working process more effectively. Besides, they are optimized to work faster than their predecessors. For instance, virtual teams do not use Skype and prefer Zoom instead. This is because the speed of Skype is not enough for seamless video connection between a bunch of people around the world. Other examples of remote team management tools are Timezone.io, Time Doctor, I Done This, Trello, and much more.
Tip # 4: Assign roles.
Make sure that each remote employee knows both their own role and roles of other teammates. This will make them more autonomous and give them directions to whom to speak when they have questions or issues. Vague, ambiguous roles can lead to frustration and confusion. No one would want such an outcome both for the employees and the project.
Tip # 5: Hold regular virtual meetings.
Co-located teams often hate meetings, but they are a must for remote teams. During these meetings, try to use as much video as you can. It’ll help you to catch any non-verbal signals and give you a clue about some hidden issues. As we’ve already mentioned, being far away from each other can lead to miscommunication. Therefore, it’s important to have such regular checkups and even “overcommunicate” the most important moments. Each member should keep pace with what’s going on at work and which tasks everyone has.
Tip # 6: Standardize the onboarding process.
Just like with the in-house teams, you need to onboard each new member of your remote team. To make this process smooth and painless, prepare all of the required documents and guides beforehand. Have all of these documents written in a friendly and welcoming tone. Give your new worker a couple of days to study them all and ask questions. Note that, according to statistics by O.C. Tanner, 69 % of employees are more likely to stay with the company for several years if they have a great onboarding experience. It also refers to distributed teams, so do not lose your new employee already at the onboarding stage.
Tip # 7: Set clear goals.
It is crucial that not only you as a team leader but also the team members know your common goals. Make sure that you clearly communicate those goals in the form of team meetings, 1 on 1 meeting, and regular performance reviews.
Tip # 8: Hire the right people.
Working in a distributed environment requires certain personality traits. The candidates should be able to work independently as well as be autonomous and self-organized. At the same time, they should not forget that they are a part of the team but be ready that their remote workplace will be less social than the co-located one. Your perfect candidate should already have experience working remotely and be aware of all those challenges.
To summarize, you should treat your virtual team and workflows as seriously as you would when working with a co-located team. You should put more emphasis on communication and specialized tools as well as hire people who are 100 % ready and suitable for remote work. We hope that our tips will help you be more efficient when managing remote workers. Good luck!