There are 2.9 million full time virtual workers in the U.S., a 61 percent increase since 2005. Plus, 44 percent of U.S. companies plan to increase their virtual workforce. As virtual teams grow, the issue of how to manage, communicate, broker issues, collaborate and integrate team members becomes increasingly difficult. Without a cohesive team, the result may be duplicated effort, or incomplete tasks.
- Recruit the right people – Not everyone can work independently in a virtual environment. If not, they will be frustrated, and you will be disappointed.
- Recognize conflict when it appears – There can be conflict in any team, but it’s harder to recognize and react to when people work virtually. As a manager, you need to be hypervigilant to the signs of discord.
- Understand time differences – If you have people working not just in different time zones but around the world, you need to be sensitive to time differences in scheduling a group meeting. People may have to wake up early, or stay up late. Be aware and flexible.
- Use Video Conferencing – It’s hard to overstate the importance of reading non-verbal cues. In a text message or email, it’s nearly impossible to catch the emotional overtones in words. If you can see their faces, or hear the emotion in their voices, it’s much easier.
- Employees need to feel connected – Working remotely makes it hard to feel like your work contributes to the overall goals of the team. It’s difficult to get regular feedback when you’re working independently. Positive feedback for your team becomes even more important. Keep everyone current with changing priorities and organizational results.
- Build trusting relationships – It’s hard to build relationships without the normal conversations that occur in an actual office environment. If communication is only work related, your team members will have a hard time getting to know each other. Familiarity builds trust. Or else, trust can also be built from consistency and reliability. Provide that level of leadership, and it will trickle down to the team members.
- Ensure high performance – Set clear expectations about deadlines, what is expected and what tools are available to accomplish their tasks. Managers should check in with new team members frequently to review progress and give feedback.
- Team building exercises – Be sure that your team understands the purpose of these, so that they don’t consider them time-wasting activities. Fun activities can provide a reward and be an incentive in themselves, if it helps your team get to know each other.
- Encourage social networking – for non-work purposes only.
- Have everyone give a virtual tour of their workspace, complete with pets and kids, if applicable.
- Set up a virtual “happy hour” encouraging team members to get to know each other.
- Attend training, or brainstorming retreats together.
- Set up fun quizzes for everyone to take.
- Encourage group virtual game playing – Words with Friends, Trivia Crack, etc.
- Set up contests like a virtual coloring contest, or some other real or virtual challenge.
Having an effective team is just as important in a virtual environment as it is in a real office. Making sure that your employees know and interact with each other will promote a sense of togetherness, which will assure greater productivity and enjoyment of working together.
Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2013/06/making-virtual-teams-work-ten
Forbes Magazine https://www.forbes.com/sites/fastforward/2018/05/08/running-a-virtual-team-avoid-these-5-mistakes/