6 Tips for Creating an Amazing Virtual Team
Depending on your job, you can work from home and set your own schedule.
And it’s not just about telecommuting to a “regular” job or office. There are some companies that don’t even have head offices, even though they might have dozens of employees. The number of businesses where most or all of the workers are remote is growing.
There are some industries and careers that don’t make sense for remote work. However, if your company is one that uses remote workers, you need to make sure you stay on top of the situation. If you want to create an amazing virtual team, it’s vital to use strategies that encourage connectivity, productivity, and sense of ownership in the company.
1. Keep Communication Lines Open
One of the biggest challenges of building a virtual team is the communication angle. In a traditional office setting, workers run into each other all the time. They connect at the watercooler. They go for drinks after work. They get to know each other.
You need to foster a similar feeling of communication and camaraderie among the members of your virtual team.
Some of the ways you can encourage communication and help your workers to know each other include:
- Have a chat open all the time. You can do this on Skype or by designating a Slack channel for chatting. Make sure your employees have a chance to enjoy non-work communication that lets them get to know each other.
- Host a regular happy hour. My current employer, Student Loan Hero, has an entirely remote team. Once a week we have a happy hour. It’s a time for us to be kind of informal, chat about fun things we’re doing for the weekend, and do team learning together.
- Play get to know you games. It sounds silly, but this can be a good way to communicate and learn about your co-workers. Games like “two truths and a lie” give everyone the chance to learn fun facts. You can also do “name that person.”
- Set up one-on-ones: Don’t forget to set up one-on-one conversations with members of the team. All you need is 15 minutes to get to know someone else via video chat. Then you’ll feel a connection.
It can be a little challenging to take time out of the day to do these activities, but they are vital. You want this communication in order to promote cohesion in your virtual team. You want them to feel invested in each other, and comfortable going to each other for help on projects.
2. Use Project Management Apps
There are plenty of great tools available to help you manage your virtual team. Make sure you find the right project management apps for your team.
I’ve worked with a lot of clients and companies that use Asana. I’ve also worked with those that use Basecamp or Trello. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, the right project management apps are essential.
These apps allow all your team members to see what is happening, and to establish a workflow that makes sense for them. You can monitor projects, and it’s easy to get help and ask questions. With the help of project management apps, your team can be spread out all over the world and still function as a true team.
3. Develop Accountability
When you manage a virtual team, you need to make sure that everyone’s time is accounted for.
Now, this isn’t about tracking every hour someone works or trying to force people to work eight-hour days. It’s about true productivity.
Productivity isn’t about hours worked. It’s about what you accomplish with those hours. In fact, there’s a growing body of research that indicates that working eight hours a day is actually less productive than working shorter days.
Accountability measures aren’t about making members of your remote team clock in and out. It’s about using tools that measure their progress in essential areas. This includes making sure they get their projects done, and leaving time for them to communicate with others, and do the housekeeping things (like email) that also come with the territory.
Some of the tools you can use to help with accountability include Jell, a to-do list that employees can use to update others about their planned tasks for the day. You can check things off as you do them. Or, you can do what I do: check everything off at once when I finish the day.
15five is another tool. It allows workers to set goals for the week or the month, and the evaluate themselves on how they did. You can also include space for workers to share concerns about work and suggest ideas for company improvement.
The idea is to make sure each employee has ownership of his or her schedule. You don’t need to track hours and insist on a set schedule if you have accountability measures built in.
4. Be Careful About Meetings
Meetings are a part of the workplace. And your virtual team needs meetings to stay connected and so that you can touch base.
When you have a remote team, though, it becomes especially important that you have effective meetings. Set an agenda and try to stick to it. Limit meetings to no more than an hour. Encourage your workers to close other tabs on their computers so they can focus on the meeting.
You should also limit how often you have meetings. A meeting every day might not be appropriate for every company. There are some businesses that do a 10-minute check-in each day, but it requires discipline to keep it to that 10 minutes.
Another way to keep meetings from destroying your business productivity is to designate one or two days a week as “no meeting” days. These are days that the company as a whole and business units don’t hold meetings.
You can also have a “meeting window.” This is a block of time where meetings generally take place during the day. This is a way to let your virtual team members plan the day. It’s hard to stop in the middle of something and have yet another meeting. It’s a real productivity killer.
5. Create Systems for Your Business
Processes and systems can help any business succeed. When you have a standard on-boarding process, it shortens the learning curve for new workers. You should also have procedures for other aspects of your business.
At Student Loan Hero, we are encouraged to create process documents if we run into something that could be standardized, but isn’t. It’s much easier to get caught up when you know the system.
If you have trainings, use software that records. That way, you can share the information quickly and easily. You won’t tie up someone’s time with new workers, or by explaining things to someone who missed a training.
Your systems and procedures can go a long way toward boosting your productivity overall.
6. Focus on Great People — and Keeping them Happy
Finally, make sure you focus on hiring great people for your virtual team. Once they are hired, make sure to keep them happy.
You don’t have to give them All The Things, but you should make sure you are treating them right. Offer flexible hours. Offer benefits. Make sure you encourage them to take breaks and vacations. And ensure they feel as though they can share their thoughts.
A culture of openness and transparency is vital if you want a happy remote team. Encourage your workers to share their ideas and start projects. You might be surprised at how happy and productive your workers are when you focus on their wellness and encourage them to take on better roles.
When you hire good people and treat them with respect, you end up with better outcomes in the long run.