Virtual teams are the way of the future. For startups and small businesses, creating a virtual work environment helps cut costs and brings in the best talent from around the world. Employees tend to be happier when they work from home, and as a result, they are also more productive.
However, as with leading any team, managing a virtual one comes with its own set of challenges. At Imaginovation, we successfully managed a virtual team for years. If your company is thinking about going global, here are a few suggestions for managing a virtual team:
- Respect Time Differences
When working with people spread across continents, it’s important to not just know the time differences but also respect them. When hiring an employee, set timing expectations that work for both of you and stick to them as much as possible.
It may not be possible to have all members on each and every call, so be sure to share all pertinent information with team members that couldn’t be there. They shouldn’t feel left out because they happened to be in a time zone that was not convenient for you.
- Make clear and consistent communication your priority
Communication is EVERYTHING when you are handling a virtual team, and you are going to have to be extra careful due to a variety of limiting factors.
Text-based communication tends to distort our intended message and when you add cultural differences to the mix there’s even greater chance for misunderstandings.
Here are some ways to communicate effectively:
- Don’t leave anything up to interpretation. State your message clearly and be specific about what you want your team to do. Ask them to sum it up to make sure they have understood you correctly.
- Don’t assume that everyone knows your regional slang terms or cultural references. Communicate with direct language that’s easy to interpret.
- Be specific, but don’t be curt. It’s even more important to be courteous when communicating online since the person on the other side cannot see your facial expressions or hear the tone of your voice, so there’s plenty of room for misinterpretation. Read your message aloud before sending it.
- Hold regular meetings, and not just to discuss work – aim to instil positivity in your team and get to know them better.
- Streamline your communication process with the right tools
Virtual team management has been made a lot easier by an array of excellent tools to streamline team collaboration.
Here are just a few of the many tools available to help your virtual team achieve its goals:
Project management tools
File sharing tools
Instant Messaging tools
We use Basecamp, Skype, Whatsapp, Box and Imagin.Management for our needs. With a variety of tools available for aiding communication every step of the way, it’s a matter of trying out a few and finding what works best for you.
It’s important that you don’t use too many communication channels or you risk causing confusion to your team.
For example, if you mainly use Skype for all business communication, stick to it. Switching back and forth between different channels will lead to confusion and delayed responses.
And finally, remember that communication is a two-way street. You should be as responsive to your team’s queries as you expect them to be to yours.
- Completing projects on time
Conveying urgency is a challenge when handling virtual teams. Becoming agitated or bombarding the team with constant reminders will not work.
The best way to convey urgency would be to do so even before anything important has cropped up. If you build a culture that values time and consistently insists on meeting deadlines, you will not find yourself chasing team members to complete tasks.
Combined with streamlined communication and regular meetings, this is the most reliable way of finishing projects on time. It is said that how you do something is how you do everything. The same could be said for your team, so focus on timely, high-quality work as a rule and all tasks will get done on time.
A well-managed team is a productive team
Managing a virtual team is all about setting clear expectations and establishing efficient channels of communication. All teams, virtual or not, have their own culture you must be mindful of how you are cultivating yours. When people know what’s expected of them, they have an easier time delivering it. This will also make it easy for you to track results and determine the value that each of your virtual employees is bringing to the company.
What challenges are you facing in managing your virtual team? If you have found new ways of working with your international workforce, please share your suggestions in the comments below – we would love to hear about it!