How to Successfully Manage a Virtual Team

Introduction

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way employees work. Jobs that used to require employees at desks for 40-plus hours per week are now done remotely. Video calls have replaced conference room meetings. In-person collaboration now takes place on project management tools and email. For every office interaction, there is a virtual replacement.

Having remote employees has become pretty standard. Virtual positions are available all over the globe. Even though the world has moved beyond quarantine, remote workers are here to stay. In fact, a recent study shows that fully remote employees are about 20% happier than their in-office counterparts. Job satisfaction directly leads to greater employee retention – and isn’t that what we want – happy employees who are good at their jobs and stay long-term?

Managing a virtual team is new territory for many companies. And it is not without its own set of challenges. But by learning some new technology and following these tips, you’ll be sure to learn to successfully manage a virtual team.

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Communication

Communication is vital to the success of any team. But learning to communicate virtually can be one of the biggest roadblocks to your remote teams’ success. Rather than face-to-face conversations and quick chats to resolve conflicts or issues, team leaders must be creative in communicating with remote team members. Learning the ins and outs of various communication channels can help you effectively manage a virtual team.

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Email is great for formal communication. It’s a fantastic way to communicate expectations, project outlines, and expectations for deliverables. 

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Direct messages on a project management platform are great for employees to share information on a day-to-day basis. 

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Video conferencing is most useful for full-team meetings, conflict resolution, and collaborative projects that require thought and input from the team.

Figuring out your communications needs for your virtual team is vital to their success. It is the single most important aspect of managing your virtual team, so once you have your communication channels resolved, you will be well on your way to managing a virtual team!

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Project Management

Managing a project can be difficult in an office setting, so how do you manage a project in a virtual setting? Easy…virtually! Technology is your friend in a virtual setting – use it to your advantage! There are many resources available, and you will need the software and apps that best suit the needs of your team. 

When looking for software and apps, be sure to keep in mind the scope of the projects, the needs of your team, and how you plan to track the smaller pieces and progress of the overall projects. In addition to communication tools, here are some project management categories to consider:

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File sharing and document storage. Your team will need a digital place to share and store files related to your project. Set up consistent filing and titling protocol so everyone is on the same page and every team member can find the needed files.

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Project management tools. You can manage your team and tasks with something simple like an Excel spreadsheet. You will likely find it necessary to use project management software for larger teams, big projects, or multiple projects. These services can be really useful in tracking assignments, where the projects currently stand, and what still needs to be done. You can also set up your project management software so that anyone on your team can see what has been done and what still needs to happen. 

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Tools for team collaboration. In addition to the general communication tools, you may find that your team needs additional access to other types of collaboration tools. You may be able to find one service that covers all of your communication, file-sharing, storage, and project management needs in one. 

In addition to typical single-use platforms, there are some all-inclusive project management tools out there, so take a look around and find the best fit for your team!

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Choosing Your Virtual Team

One big hurdle when trying to manage a virtual team can be the team itself. Learning how to choose your virtual team will be critical to that team’s success.

Where in the world are your employees located? If you manage a virtual team that is spread out over the globe, you’re likely already used to managing multiple time zones. If a global team is new to you, a few things can help you manage a virtual team. Workflow can be adjusted to accommodate other time zones by managing deadlines and adjusting the timeline of tasks to accommodate people’s schedules.

But if yours is a smaller company or limited to a specific location, time zones may not be an issue for you. If you want to add teammates, be aware of how their location could affect the timing of your workflow processes. It’s not impossible to hire a global team – or even a team spread across the country. Just know that some additional planning will be involved for you to manage a virtual team.

Keeping each employee’s time zone in mind when you manage a virtual team is essential. Consider a team with members in Eastern, Central, and Pacific time zones. Eastern is three hours later than Pacific, so you wouldn’t want to schedule a meeting for 8:00 am Eastern. That would exclude your West Coast team members. Instead, you could plan meetings for mid-day so that all team members can be present without having to join outside of regular working hours. By making that minor adjustment to manage your virtual team, you keep everyone involved without asking more of specific team members simply because of their location. 

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Tips to Successfully Manage a Virtual Team

To manage a virtual team, you’ll need to think a little differently than you would when managing an in-office team. Things that may be more natural in an office setting take a little work in a virtual setting. Change how you manage your team – just slightly – and you’ll have a much easier time managing your virtual team. Here are some tips to implement right away!

  • Encourage informal communications between employees. Virtual employees miss out on the day-to-day human interactions with coworkers. While some employees are OK with this, others may crave that human interaction. Just as they would share conversation in a breakroom during lunch, employees should feel free to chat with each other over various communication channels within your company.
  • If possible, schedule face-to-face time. This is great for local teams and can foster positive relationships between coworkers and management. Video chats work well for this purpose. Face-to-face time allows employees to ask questions and get feedback.
  • Make yourself available. Encourage your team to reach out directly with any roadblocks they run into. 
  • Clearly communicate projects, expectations, responsibilities, and timelines to everyone. Clear communication can foster healthy working relationships and open communication among your team members.
  • Make sure your virtual team has the equipment it needs to succeed. Just like an in-office employee, virtual employees need the support of the same equipment and software they would use in an office setting.
  • You may find that a new level of flexibility works for your team. This may be new to you – particularly if you’re used to the rigid 9-to-5 schedule. Some people find, especially after going remote, that they are more productive outside those hours. Of course, it’s OK to require meeting attendance or that your employees are available to you and other team members during specific hours.

Trying to manage a virtual team doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With some planning and adjustments to your team’s usual procedures, you can successfully welcome virtual employees from all over the country – even the world! It’s time to hire your Virtual Dream Team! 

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