Nowadays, more and more businesses are embracing the potential of a virtual team – where some or all team members live and work remotely. Moreover, virtual teams are an especially big draw for small businesses, as they both reduce the overhead costs associated with a traditional office and create a much larger pool of potential applicants. Additionally, remote working allows small businesses to offer the flexibility that many big firms may not.
Virtual teams can take many forms. Your team may live in the same geographic area yet work from home all or part of the time. In some cases there is no centralized office at all, with remote employees working, living and traveling around the globe while still carrying out their role. Moving away from a traditional workplace model also means that traditional management advice and operational procedures may not apply. Managing virtual teams requires a specific set of tools, best practices and a laser focus on strong communication.
Here’s a breakdown on the tools I would recommend for your team’s efficiency and how to choose the best one:
Online task tracking and project management tools. Use online Project management (PM) to provide a centralized location to manage your projects and the tasks, conversations, deadlines, documentation and resources within the them. Of all your collaboration tools, it’s important to choose this one wisely. It can take substantial time and money to implement a PM tool and train staff to use it. Making the wrong decision can lead to adoption problems within the team, actually exacerbating the very problems the product is meant to fix.The top PM tools I would recommend are Trello, Jira, Basecamp,Asana, and Podio.
Virtual Meetings and Collaboration. In-person exchanges are special, allowing people to be fully in each other’s presence, and communicate with voice, facial expressions and body language. These nuances usually get lost in email and text communications, which can lead to miscommunications and disagreements if not handled correctly. However, modern communication tools enable easy and seamless voice and video calls, which means we can approximate in-person meetings with regards to what we hear and see in people’s faces. As a bonus, many tools also enable other forms of collaborative features such as screen sharing, which makes passing around print-outs and huddling around a single computer a thing of the past. The prevalence of these tools is making their costs as low as zero in some cases, freeing teams and individuals to spin up ad-hoc meetings to resolve issues or discuss a topic. Meeting and collaboration tools: Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Skype, appear.in, Room.
Slack brings your virtual team’s communication together and creates a shared workplace. The platform integrates with thousands of apps like WebEx and Google Drive and syncs across devices so your virtual team can effectively communicate, collaborate, and productively work together.
Billed as a virtual water cooler, Hipchat works to seriously eliminate a number of email messages that can threaten to bury a remote team. Like Slack, Hipchat also syncs across devices so your office travels with you.
Scriblink is an online whiteboard that can be used by up to five people at one time.
Twiddla is a whiteboard that allows text and audio chat for real-time collaboration. You can review websites within the application, and no registration is required.
RealtimeBoard is a new online whiteboard that seems like a decent tool for real-time collaboration. It’s easy to use, and lets you upload images from your computer or by its URL address.
Whiteboard Genie is an online collaborative virtual whiteboard.
Here’s an online word-processing applications that allow multiple users to work on the same document simultaneously Zoho Writer.
Show Document couldn’t be much easier for uploading a document and then having multiple people — in real time — editing it and using a chatboard to communicate. No registration is necessary — just upload, get a code number, send it to others, and then you’re all working together.
QikPad is a similar nice online collaborative writing tool that has an embedding feature.
Slideshare, the popular online slideshow site, just added a new feature called Zipcast. With a simple click, it allows you to create a public or private video and text chat next to the slideshare presentation you’re viewing.
Concept Board is very easy to use screen sharing tool. After registration, you can create up to twenty-five Concept Boards for free. You click on “new Concept Board” and you have one — you can upload presentations, make comments, draw on it, etc. All you have to do is its URL address to others so they can gain access to it, too.
Join.me lets you your screen with up to 250 people and provides text chat.
Screenleap allows as many people as you like to see your computer screens at once without needing to set up an account.
Working independently and accountability are key elements to working remotely. During your hiring process, make sure you understand your candidate’s communication and organizational skills. How do they feel about communicating with others with video conferencing and instant messaging? Make sure to determine their comfort level with virtual team communication. It’s also important to uncover whether they take a proactive approach to problem-solving. You will need remote employees who are willing to speak up when they need assistance. And without a manager looking over their shoulder, you need an employee you can rely on to get the job done. Determine if your candidates are on top of deadlines and have a history of completing projects on time.Once hired, take the time to ask questions and learn about each of your remote employees personally. This sets the stage for a successful virtual relationship. By creating this personal relationship, it’s easier to believe in the person working for you remotely.
Now, it’s time to jump on the main strategies in terms of managing your reamote team:
Trust toward your remote workers doesn’t come out of nowhere. To make sure that you’re dealing with the right team, you can:
Official work hours may vary from person to person, but spell out what you expect. Are there particular hours the employee must be available? Or is it completely flexible as long as they meet deadlines or complete a certain number of tasks? How should illnesses or absences be reported and handled?
Does your business have clients spread all over the world? It might make sense to have remote teams staggered to collectively work around the clock, especially when it comes to people in support. Your customers will feel valued if you take care of their questions and problems in a timely manner.
It’s also worth pointing out that whatever you choose, you should have some overlap. Enough to enable you to get the whole team together for a video conference for 10-15 minutes every other day. This meeting will help make them feel part of something and combat a feeling of isolation. So what if the meeting happens at the start of the work day for some, and the end of the work day for others? With staggered schedules comes the need to choose an official business time zone. Even if not everyone works the same hours, set a standard for scheduling meetings and deadlines.
It’s easy to gloss over security—it’s a super annoying topic! That is, until a hacker kid steals your user database and you have a PR crisis on your hands. Then it’s not boring at all; it will be a super exciting time in your life! But not fun. The amount of security that you’ll want each member of your remote team to adhere to will depend on their position, and the access they have to core business systems. The guy writing on your company blog doesn’t need to be as careful as the person who handles banking. But that’s not to mean he should use the unsecured Wi-Fi connection at the corner pastry shop. At the very least, insist that your remote teams use secure internet connections, and steer clear of free wireless hotspots.
To keep team memebers engaged, reward your employees for a job well done. Have employees set goals and earn points as they reach milestones. For example, you might reward your team for completing a certain number of projects, making a sales goal, completing training courses, or attending events.
Employee recognition can help remote employees feel less isolated and more motivated. Once a team member meets a goal, you might offer incentive pay, merchandise, or another perk.
For smaller teams you might be tempted to wing it and handle everything via email. This is dangerous. Project management systems are helpful in managing virtual teams because they help to organize documents and conversations into projects, making it easier to find them later. They also help with organizing and storing shared files. If you run your business purely with emails it can quickly become an unmanageable, disorganized mess.
One of the issues with working from home is that people can feel lonely and isolated. Not everyone copes well with this style of working. Most people do not have this issue and love the freedom that comes with working from home, but it’s important to check in from time to time and make sure everything is working for them.