How to Manage a Virtual Team

Remote worker in her kitchen receiving a text message

Thanks to advances in technology, such as web conferencing, Skype, instant messaging and online project management, companies around the globe are revamping their work arrangements to accommodate an increasingly mobile workforce. 

Indeed, with more than 3.7 million employees working from home at least half the time, it is becoming increasingly common for organisations to collaborate with virtual project teams. Among the various benefits of a virtual workforce are reduced overhead costs, increased retention rates and greater availability of talent, meaning that dispersed teams are on the rise. 

Therefore, as their popularity continues to grow, managers and business owners must be able to successfully manage these global teams and build remote corporate cultures. Otherwise, problems can quickly arise, leading to team members feeling isolated and reluctant to ask for help. 

To help get you started, we have outlined seven top tips for managing a virtual team.

1. Find the Right People 

Not everybody is suited for remote work, and not everybody will fit your organisation in terms of personality. Carefully screen individuals before deciding to hire them, and if they don't feel like the right fit, then move on to the next candidate. Be sure to cross-check all references, too, in order to learn as much as possible about the candidate. You may even wish to consider asking them to complete a personality test to truly determine their character. 

2. Establish Standard Procedures and Rules for all Employees 

Create a list of standard procedures and rules that all employees must follow, for both remote and in-house employees. Also known as a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), this is a comprehensive document detailing how to perform routine activities. 

Similar to an employee handbook, SOPs helps maintain efficiency across departments, giving all team members a clear understanding of how to carry out specific processes and how long these tasks should take. They ensure consistency in all areas across your business, while improving communication amongst your team. They also have the potential to dramatically increase your virtual team's motivation and effectiveness, which encourages high-quality long-term output, as well as supports them to be more self-sufficient and ask fewer questions. 

3. Leverage the Most Efficient Communication Tools 

With so many communication tools to choose from, it's vital to find an effective method (or combination of methods) that works well for both yourself and your virtual team members. This is especially true if you have multiple team members in various locations across the globe. 

Some of the most popular team communication platforms include Google Hangouts, Troop Messenger, Slack and WeChat Work, all of which are suitable for both one-on-one chat and group chat functions. With these tools, team members can communicate something urgent to the right person immediately. Multiple processes become unified, too, such as conference calls, sharing files and screen recordings. 

Team members can also communicate using Skype, WhatsApp, email, text, voice and video calls. Whatever platforms you use, be sure to organise the communication space clearly so that team members know where to find one another and can reach each other at the right moment and in a reliable way. 

With so many capabilities, these tools enhance productivity and employee engagement, bonding team members despite their physical distance. They improve morale and self-esteem while encouraging the most effective outcomes. 

4. Be Clear About Your Expectations

Managing virtual teams can become stressful when things are not done as you expect them to be. You don't want to micromanage, but at the same time, you don't want staff abusing the privilege of working remotely, either. 

It is best to find a balance by providing detailed descriptions of tasks, along with examples of how the final result should look. While it's vital to give your team the freedom to execute their duties with fewer instructions, it's also important that tasks are carried out precisely the way that you want them to be, to avoid potential misunderstandings. 

Let your virtual team members know what you expect in terms of reachability, too; for instance, employees should be readily available to the rest of the team and clients within their standard working hours. Also, their productivity and output should be no different from that of an in-house employee. Stating shared and measurable objectives with all employees eliminates the temptation to micromanage out of fear that they are slacking.

5. Be Available 

It can be challenging to maintain a sense of availability when leading remote teams; however, there are ways around this. For instance, you can let team members know your availability in advance, and have specific times of the day, week or month when 'your door is open'. 

Alternatively, you can schedule more one-on-one meetings or calls throughout the month, forcing you to connect with team members on a regular basis instead of making impromptu calls. Having a designated time for your undivided attention each week or month will increase their productivity while reducing the likelihood of you receiving regular, less urgent calls and messages. 

6. Use Project Management Tools 

Project management tools are useful in keeping track of ongoing projects. They also send alerts and reminders for deadlines, as well as regular reports on what needs to be done and by whom. 

7. Have Trust in your Team 

As mentioned in point one, finding the right people is crucial in successfully leading remote teams. Therefore, once you have hired them, you should trust that they are doing their work to the best of their abilities. Believing in your workers' integrity and strength will lead to greater innovation, collaboration, productivity and creative thinking, while inspiring them to share more knowledge and communicate openly. 

As a leader, you need to set these expectations early on, and be consistent in your requirements. That being said, if you have the right people on board, then you can reasonably expect your team members to thrive while working remotely. 

Are you leveraging the power of global teams? 

When managed correctly, dispersed teams possess real win-win benefits to any company of any size. With the rise of virtual teams shifting from an isolated trend to a genuine and successful organisational structure, it's essential that you feel comfortable and proficient with managing your virtual team.  

What other tips would you give for managing a virtual team? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below!