Managing virtual teams requires a set of special skills, flexibility, innovation, and the right tech support – here’s what it’s all about, including a “managing remote workers” toolkit with 9 quick and easy tips.
But first, a short intro explaining virtual teams:
→ What is a virtual team? What is virtual team management?
A virtual team is a group of individuals who work together, but live in different geographic locations – they rarely meet face-to-face and carry out all their work by collaborating and communicating with the help of various communication, collaboration, and tracking tools.
The advantages of managing virtual teams include:
🔹Lower business costs – you don’t have to pay for office supplies and space for virtual teams.
🔹Reduced commute time – remote workers don’t spend hours stuck in traffic on the way to work.
🔹Bigger talent pool – you are not limited geographically, so you can hire experts from all across the globe, and find the ideal fit for a position.
🔹Access to a larger market – you don’t have to open an official office in a country to operate there.
🔹Better productivity – studies show that employees who work remotely are as much as 13% more productive than other employees.
Virtual team management includes all the activities a manager undertakes to manage a virtual team – just like with standard team management, you’ll need to:
🔹Set objectives and goals
🔹Track the teams’ progress
🔹Make sure they stay on schedule
As evident, a remote team arrangement can greatly improve the success of your business – and virtual team management can make sure you maintain a successful virtual team.
→ How do you create a virtual team?
Virtual teams work the same as regular teams, in the sense that both require you:
🔹Define the basic dynamics of your business – What tools do you use to facilitate work?
🔹Define the ground rules of your business – How do people report to you? When are they obliged to work? How many hours in a day are they obliged to work? How do you handle task delegation and setting deadlines?
🔹Define objectives and goals for your new team – What are you looking to accomplish in your business?
The answers to these questions will clarify what type of people you’re looking for your team.
→ What are the challenges of a virtual team?
Challenges of virtual teams are various – they include:
🔸Causing or being a victim of a misunderstanding – because of a problem with your chosen communication system.
🔸Occasional poorer performance – because of a lack of clarity and direction in your work.
🔸A feeling of detachment from other people working in the team – because you get caught up in your own work and the lack of face-to-cafe interactions makes you forget about the other people in your team.
However, all of the listed challenges have a solution – you’ll just need to be patient in the execution of these solutions and experiment a little to find what works best for your team.
→ How do you overcome the challenges of virtual teams?
The short answer is – gradually and methodically.
Here are the 9 tips on how best to overcome the challenges of managing virtual teams:
🔷 Tip #1 – Allow flexible work hours
Working from different parts of the world means that your entire team will rarely be able to work at the exact same time.
After all, your UI designer from Warsaw won’t be able to work at the exact same time as your back-end developer from California.
So, you’ll need to be more flexible with their work hours – both to accommodate different time zones and help your team strike a work/life balance. They’ll be happier for it, and, as a result, more productive with their work.
So, have your team work according to their natural predispositions, and instruct them to track time on tasks and projects they work on during their work hours.
This way, you’ll be able to see:
✅ When each individual team member likes to work
✅ Who is working on what at any moment
✅ Who is currently available to take on a new task
As a result, you’ll be able to pinpoint the times when your schedules overlap and arrange real-time group activities accordingly – for the times when your team absolutely needs to work together.
By tracking your flexible work hours, you’ll also be able to measure productivity levels – and identify bottlenecks and potential time-wasting activities you’ll then know you need to eliminate in the future.
🔷 Tip #2 – Undergo virtual teams training
If you want to master anything in life, chances are you’ll have to work on it. The same goes for managing virtual teams – sometimes, it’s best that you undergo training before tackling it.
There are several ways of managing virtual teams, so managing virtual teams training courses also involve three separate types of training:
- TECHNOLOGY TRAINING
Your team will have to be well-versed in the tools you’ll all be using in your work.
So, you’ll need to cover:
✅ What types of tools to use? And when?
✅ What specific tools to use?
✅ How to choose the tools to fit your individual needs?
✅ How to handle tech issues – including tool issues and having no Wifi
- GROUP PROCESSING TRAINING
Your team will have to be able to tackle various project-related challenges.
So, you’ll need to cover:
✅ Proper goal-setting
✅ Problem-solving skills
✅ Building trust among remote team members
✅ Collaboration exercises
- CROSS-CULTURAL TRAINING
This type of training is vital if you work in a multicultural team – your team will need to understand how best to function in a cross-cultural team.
So, you’ll need to cover:
✅ How to overcome cultural differences
✅ How to work according to each culture’s customs and work routines
✅ How to overcome prejudices and ignore stereotypes
You can join in on an official “Managing Virtual Teams” course to learn the best strategies for managing virtual teams. Or, you can do your own research on how best to conduct the training.
🔷 Tip #3 – Organize meetings according to different time zones
We touched upon this in an earlier point – you’ll need to take into account your teams’ time zones for the times you’ll want the entire team to “get together” and work together.
And, this especially includes group meetings of any kind.
When it comes to the process of finding the ideal time slots for meetings, it’s best that you:
- List all your team members on a paper 📃 🖊️
- Add in their time zones 🗺️
- Add their clock-in clock-out times you’ve gathered from their time tracking results ⏲️
- Find the ideal time slots for meetings through comparison ☑️
You can use an online time zone converter for this purpose.
Once you’ve decided on the time, you can then handle remote meetings by holding Skype video conferences or through a communication system like Google hangouts.
🔷 Tip #4 – Ask for progress reports
You don’t want to micromanage your team – but you’ll still have to keep an eye on what they’re doing and whether they’re making the planned progress with their tasks.
You can do this by:
📜 glancing at their time tracking reports
☀️ establishing and carrying out regular daily meetings
🤝 arranging occasional one-on-one meetings
As a result, you’ll be able to spot and discuss potential challenges and deal with hold-ups in a timely manner.
Clockify pro tip
For more about team management, check out our other team management guides:
🔷 Tip #5 – Use communication tools
When it comes to tips for managing virtual teams, nothing beats efficient communication.
Of course, virtual team communication can best be handled with the right communication tools:
🗨️ Chat tools – they are great for asking quick questions and clarifying some matters about your work.
💻 Skype – it’s great for carrying out video meetings and video conferences with your team.
📱 Phone calls – they are great for the more involved conversations, as well as lengthy discussions you don’t need to carry out through Skype.
📧 Email – it’s great for the more official correspondence, like arranging the time for group reports and one-on-one meetings.
Using a number of different communication tools ensures you handle discussions, comments, questions, and answers quickly.
🔷 Tip #6 – Use management tools
There are plenty of tools for managing virtual teams you can try out – most of them help you cover virtual management of virtual projects:
📝 Project management tools – they are great for keeping track of project progress “from afar” and keeping an eye on deadlines.
🔄 Task management software – it’s great for defining and tracking tasks, as well as storing documents you need for work.
🙏 Team management tools – they are great for facilitating collaboration among team members.
🖥️ Screen sharing tools – they are great when you need to help a team member set up a new program you’ll both be using, or anything else you need to perform from afar.
📑 Online spreadsheets – they are great when you have to work on documents simultaneously and have all changes saved and synced in real-time, automatically.
Using a number of management tools will greatly facilitate your project, task, and team management – as well as ensure you save time by working in one document at the same time.
Clockify pro tip
For 25+ great collaboration tools, check out the following lists we’ve compiled earlier:
🔷 Tip #7 – Look for the right kind of people for your team
When looking for people you’ll hire to work in your virtual team, make sure you:
✅ Post your job vacancies on reputable freelance websites – conduct technical interviews with candidates who apply, but have them also go through a couple of personality tests, to make sure they’d fit in with the rest of the team.
✅ Test new hires – before signing up with individual team members full-time, take them on for smaller projects first, to test out their skills and potential for further work.
✅ Give an advantage to people with experience in remote work – this shouldn’t be a must, but people who have already worked remotely know how to work in a virtual team efficiently. This is knowledge they can extend to the rest of the team.
By hiring the right individuals, you’ll compile a group of people right for forming a successful team – regardless of the fact that they may never meet face-to-face.
🔷 Tip #8 – Harbor a virtual team culture
Virtual team culture is just as important as a standard team culture – the group of people within a virtual team will still have to form some kind of understanding, as well as build mutual trust.
You can make it happen by:
✅ Meeting face-to-face from time to time – if you all live in the same country, you can organize get-together every couple of months. Organize a team dinner, go out bowling, and get to know each other beyond your company titles.
✅ Trying to establish virtual friendships – as you won’t be able to throw pizza parties and play Fussball together all that often, you can encourage people to strike online friendships. As a manager, you can lead the way – add your team members to Linkedin and Twitter, or even Facebook.
✅ Making all the meetings remote-friendly – sometimes, only part of the team is virtual, and the non-virtual part of the team may be tempted to hold separate meetings. To avoid the remote crowd feeling left out, establish the practice of holding all meetings, even the quick ones, online.
Building a virtual team culture helps the team feel more like a whole – and not just individuals in front of their computers, merely doing their share of the work and punching out the clock.
🔷 Tip #9 – Find inspiration in famous virtual teams
Whenever in doubt about how to handle your virtual team – take inspiration from virtual teams who’ve been successful at what they do for years.
Here are only some of the successful virtual teams examples – as well some insight into how they operate and what makes their remote work policy successful:
Founded in: 1999
The number of people who work remotely: 50 employees located across the world.
What you can learn from them: They offer special benefits to their remote workers – for example, if anyone of them wants to buy a standing desk to improve productivity, the company covers the costs.
Fun Fact: The founders of Basecamp, Jason Fried and David Hansson, even published a guide on running a remote company called Remote.
Founded in: 2011
Headquarters: San Francisco
The number of people who work remotely: 20 full-time employees, all remote.
What you can learn from them: They use a number of tools to bridge the geographical gap and facilitate collaboration and project management.
Fun Fact: They prefer the term “distributed” instead of “remote” – because they’re in contact the whole time during their workdays.
Founded in: 2011
Headquarters: New York
The number of people who work remotely: The entire marketing department is virtual + 50% of other departments.
What you can learn from them: They stay connected and current through frequent video meetings.
Fun Fact: The Trello team uses the Trello project management app to manage their projects remotely.
Clockify (yes – we work remotely, too 😊)
Founded in: 2017
Headquarters: San Francisco
The number of people who work remotely: Members of our team frequently travel between San Francisco and Novi Sad – so, we often collaborate online.
What you can learn from them (well, us): We stay current about project progress by tracking time with Clockify, a time tracker we developed ourselves.
Fun Fact: Whenever you’re reading a post from our blog, chances are you’re reading a piece written while “on the road” 🙂
When in doubt, you can always learn something from famous successful virtual teams – whatever challenges you may have, chances are they went through it as well, and then shared with the world.
In order to properly manage a virtual team, you’ll need to:
- Allow flexible work hours
- Organize and undergo virtual team training
- Organize meetings according to different time zones
- Ask for progress reports
- Use communication tools
- Use collaboration tools
- Look for the right kind of people for your team
- Harbor a virtual team culture
- Find inspiration in famous virtual teams
As a result, you’ll establish a working system with clear rules and optimal support, one meant to help your virtual team collaborate efficiently and deliver quality results.