10 Best Practices for Virtual Teams

No one will deny that the way we do business continues to evolve. Remote work has been steadily on the rise over the last decade, showing an 80% increase in “telecommuting” employees from 2005 to 2012. With this shift has come the dawn of virtual teams. Currently, almost half of all organizations utilize virtual teams to improve their businesses. The potential advantages are many. The diversity that often comes with virtual teams can fuel brainstorming and creativity. The varied time zones can be used to heighten customer service. The freedom makes for happier employees. I could go on.

A virtual team can catapult your business, but only if you do it right.

To take full advantage, utilize the following best practices to keep your team running smoothly.

1. Formalize roles and responsibilities. One of the biggest obstacles to managing a virtual team is the lack of built-in structure. Nearly a third of HR professionals reported the distribution of work to be a challenge with virtual teams. Team members need to know exactly what role they play in the group. As a manager, it is your job to formalize roles and responsibilities so that there is no ambiguity about who is doing what.

2. Use dedicated project management software such as Wrike or Basecamp to keep track of projects, goals and to-do lists for the entire team.

3. Use a shared calendar for your team to make sure everyone is on the same page. Deadlines and scheduling can be difficult to manage when team members are scattered around the country or around the globe.

4. Set a schedule and stick to it. Reliability builds trust and your team needs to know they can count on you to deliver when you said you would, as you said you would.

5. Limit emails to sharing information. When you fall into back-and-forth discussions via email, you open the door for misunderstanding, and missed opportunities. Add in the cultural differences of a global team, and you’re almost guaranteed to have issues.

6. Use video conferencing whenever possible to foster group cohesiveness and limit miscommunication. For one-to-one discussions, encourage your team members to use the phone. These also help to build structure and a sense of cohesiveness across locations.

7. Invest in good collaboration tools. While you’re using videoconferences and phone calls to communicate, don’t allow technology challenges to thwart your efforts. You know what I’m talking about–conference calls where people get dropped, video conferences with bad picture quality and every third word muffled. Clearly that’s not the way to pull together your virtual team.

8. Utilize a chat feature as part of your virtual workspace. Personal communication between team members is just as crucial to your success as professional communication. Encourage them to get to know each other better and you’ll find they work together better as well.

9. Meet face-to-face at least once a year. This investment will easily pay for itself. Personal relationships build trust and understanding. Don’t underestimate the importance of this aspect of your virtual team.

10. Rotate your meeting schedule each week to make sure no one person is shouldering the brunt of hard-to-manage hours. Different time zones mean some people are working early while others are stuck staying late. As a manager, it’s your job to keep these extreme hours balanced. A happy team is a productive team.

What best practices have you found successful in managing your virtual team? Share your tips and insights below!

All referenced statistics found via SHRM.org.

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