How to manage virtual teams?
Working in a virtual environment is growing phenomenon, and it is no surprise, that many executive directors are confident about the benefits that outsourcing brings to their businesses. It not only provides an opportunity to work with the most talented people from all over the world but also gives them a chance to improve company’s productivity and competitiveness while reducing the cost of their products and/or services.
“People think of virtual working as new and fashionable, and it sounds like fun, but actually, in a virtual team, there’s much more to manage and you need more rules to govern some of the team processes,” says Roderick Swaab, assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD.
Therefore, moving away from a traditional work setting also means that traditional management methods and operational procedures may not bring the same value or results, as they usually do. Thus, managing virtual teams not only requires a particular set of tools, clearly defined work systems, excellent hiring skills but mostly an evident talent to leverage transparency and constant information flow between the teams or team members.
In fact, successfully leading virtual teams from a distance, as well as, arising misunderstandings from language and cultural differences are likely to be one of the biggest challenges that managers have noticed during their experience. And let’s not forget the obvious issue of building trust within remote employees, who work from various locations. Therefore, knowing the difficulties, that outsourcing brings to existing work environment, Baltic Assist team has decided to share with you 10 lessons, we have learned over the years of practice while working with different companies in Europe.
10 IMPORTANT LESSONS TO LEARN FOR MANAGING VIRTUAL TEAMS
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” – George Bernard Shaw
- Build trust within your team. In teams, that members work face-to-face, they build trust after spending quality time while socializing outside of the work, sharing meals during the lunch time or simply discussing the personal matters. However, in a virtual setting, the trust is growing through colleagues consistency, reliability, predictable performance, as well as, responsiveness when dealing with certain situations or customer related issues. In order words, it is known as task-based or ability-based trust, which continues to grow consistently with clear expectations set by managers and met by the team.
- Create a feeling of transparency within your team. On a larger scale, visibility and transparency working towards the same professional goals is essential to track the progress at any stage of the project. Therefore, remote teams tend to use project management applications and create shared systems, in Google Drive or Dropbox, where they can update any task after it’s completion. In addition to this, managers can identify the upcoming challenges before they cause unnecessary difficulties in the future. Besides, when remote employees can see how their efforts are contributing to the bigger picture, it allows them to feel more relevant and connected to each other.
- Build the channels of open communication. The best thing a manager can do apart from building the trust within his team is to foster excellent communication. What is more, it is important to communicate as proactively and frequently as you can, while not focusing on time gap, language barrier, the distance and many other factors. Furthermore, Baltic Assist team advise you to take advantage of the instant messaging platforms, such as Viber, Slack, Yammer, eBuddy to be sure that essential information or any urgent updates are not missed in a pile of unread e-mails.
- Clearly define & implement work systems. It is important to know, that by creating repeatable work systems and setting standards, your team generally will have fewer questions. Also, you, as a manager, will get a feeling of how long a particular task should take, therefore, it will be easier to follow your team performance and quickly identify if anyone is off track or behind schedule. Besides, this allows you to spend less valuable time on useless meetings or repetitive conversations.
- Set clear rules for responsiveness & inner communication. It is well-known that in a virtual setting, everything gets emphasized due to the lack of vocal and visual references. Thus, it is vital during the planning stage of any project to agree on evidently small things, such as a standard for e-mail responses or instant update notifications, etc. Once the required rules are in the right place, regular inner communication within the team in necessary to assure a smooth workflow on a daily basis.
- Clearly outline tasks & set achievable goals. In our previous blog post, “How To Assure a Successful Communication With Your Virtual Assistant?”, we have mentioned, that it is essential to be as informative as you possibly can while working in a virtual environment. Therefore, you should be very accurate with your expectations, requirements, and deadlines, while assuming nothing about the VA’s knowledge and previous experience. That means, never leave any requests open for interpretations, but always ask a virtual team to confirm the understanding.
- Set deadlines for everything. Parkinson’s law claims, that work tends to expand to fill the time frame available for its completions. To be more specific, if you establish a deadline for 10 days to complete a certain task, then be patient, because it will take 10 days to complete it. In other words, it means that any assignment, that doesn’t have a deadline for it, actually will never be done. So to avoid this, make it a habit and set deadlines for everything your team does on a daily basis, even you don’t think it requires it. This way, your virtual team will be as productive and efficient, as they potentially can be.
- Assign tasks individually, not to the whole group. Are you familiar with the expression, ‘everyone’s responsibility is no one’s responsibility’? To be more specific, if you are working in a virtual environment, there is a possibility, you have already experienced this social phenomenon. Because when you assign a certain task to the group of people, there is a chance, that no one is going to take that responsibility. It also happens, when virtual staff tends to avoid general conversation channels, so the tasks can be buried under the pile of irrelevant information and never be done. Therefore, to prevent this problem, always assign the duties to particular VA.
- Manage results, not the activity. In a traditional office, busy work usually is mistaken for real work. However, in the virtual setting, when you are not able to see, what your team is doing, the key is to manage results. So as we have mentioned above, first, set clear expectations and deadlines, then monitor results, not the daily activities of your team. Besides, if the time frame is clearly defined and everyone knows their roles and responsibilities in particular project, there is no need to micro-manage the performance.
- Set up a reward system & motivate your team. And finally, don’t forget to recognize every persona, that works for you, based on his/her skills, while taking the time to celebrate team success and performance. Also, from time to time, ask your team, if they are experiencing any issues related to technology or communication, what expectations they have for their virtual teammates, how they enjoy their work environment, etc. By doing so, you will show your team, that you are open for a conversation and willing to make improvements to create an efficient and pleasant work environment.
Baltic Assist is a trusted partner for small and medium-sized enterprises, that want to relocate their business operations to a lower-cost environment. Contact us to have a free consultation on creating a virtual team for your business.