A recent survey reveals that 83 percent of companies expect to increase their use of virtual teams in the near future. Outsourcing projects to remote teams is a convenient solution to business problems. It can both lower in-house costs and provide access to a global talent pool.
However, managing virtual workers does come with new challenges. Here are some tips on creating an effective team.
- Define Your Needs
Different companies will have different priorities and processes, as will different projects. Before you begin, it can be critical to define exactly what results you hope to achieve and what systems will enable you to accomplish them. By outlining the mission and communicating to the team what systems you have in place, they’ll be able to identify their own needs in tackling the assignment.
This will reduce the number of questions that need to be asked and the speed with which team members become acclimated. By ensuring that there’s a standardization of systems and procedures, you’ll also be able to set more accurate time frames and estimates.
- Set a Meeting Schedule
When you’re working with a geographically diverse teams, one of the biggest challenges can be getting everyone together at the same time. One of the ways to simplify this is to set a schedule of regular meetings. This way everyone knows well ahead of time what meetings they need to take part in, and when.
Scheduling these meetings at the same times helps team members to form a routine they can become comfortable with. Video conferencing will help team members to recognize each other as people and get the sense of personal familiarity that’s hard to come by in remote work.
- Establish a Merit System
Rewarding people based on their skills and accomplishments motivates team members to learn more and work harder. By setting up such a reward system, you’ll be able to identify those who can perform best, and weed out those making marginal contributions. Though you may see providing extra incentive as costing more upfront, it’s a proven method for building a better team.
Some solid workers aren’t comfortable in an atmosphere of competition, or may excel only in certain roles. You might consider providing incentives for groups rather than individuals.
- Implement a Range of Communication Tools
To function smoothly and independently, yet be productive, your team needs to be able to communicate effectively at all times. With modern apps for collaboration and communication apps, technology enables teams and companies to collaborate and streamline their efforts.
The tools you put in place should accommodate both special situations and a sense of unity regarding the mission. Determine which tools should be used under which circumstances, and ensure that everyone is using the same platforms so there are no compatibility issues.
- Clearly Define Deliverables
Be certain that all expected outcomes are communicated and understood at a detailed level. Simply assigning tasks and assuming that even experienced people will do them to complete satisfaction invites error. This leads to wasted time correcting mistakes.
Micro-managing, conversely, is a waste of your own time. You don’t need to outline every last step or constantly check on progress, but you do need to let your team know up front what you want done and confirm that they understand you.
- Prefer Video Over Chat or Email
It’s often tempting to rely on email or chat for one-on-one communication with your team members, since these apps are right at your fingertips. However, text chat is limited, and when people are busy emails can go unread.
Video calls involve facial and voice information that can tell you more than text. As you get to know your remote team you’ll be able to recognize right away when they’re unsure or reluctant. Video can not only help to avoid misunderstandings, but create stronger working relationships.
- Have Differing Schedules Overlap
When remote workers are in different time zones, collaboration in real-time can be limited. It’s a good idea to have them adjust their schedules so that there are multiple people working together at least three or four hours per day. Even if they’re each capable of working independently, it helps to create a sense of camaraderie and confidence to know they can reach coworkers if needed, or even for a little personal time.
Having the whole team offline for 8 or twelve hours at a time, if not more, also might be unacceptable. Work with them to set schedules that will ensure a satisfactory level of productivity and accessibility.
Managing a project that involves remote team members is new to many professionals. But it’s an approach with many benefits, such as access to a wider range of talent. First focus on building the right team, and then ensuring they have the right tools.
BIO: Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate tech enthusiast. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, this incurable tech junkie enjoys reading about the latest apps and gadgets and binge-watching his favorite TV shows. You can reach him @bmorepeters