5 Ways To Work Successfully With a Virtual Team

| May 4, 2017 | By

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More Americans are working remotely, for a longer period of time than ever before. According to a Gallup survey released in February of 2017, 43% of employed Americans said they spent some time working remotely in the previous year.

For the modern entrepreneur, working with a team that’s completely or partially remote-based is cost effective. It limits your overhead costs, like office space and furniture, and eliminates expenses associated with relocating new staff members.

It also allows you to take advantage of the best and brightest talent anywhere in the world, so long as the person has an internet connection. At these 125 companies, including the likes of Mozilla, GitHub and Zapier, all or most employees work remotely.

So how can you work successfully with a team you might never have met face to face? We’ve worked with plenty of virtual staff, both contract and full-time, and these are our best pieces of advice.

  1. Take It Off Email

Inboxes are clogged enough as it is, and unless an email is specifically worded to elicit an immediate response, it’s all too easy to let hours or even days pass without getting around to a reply.

Enable immediate communication for important matters by using a non-email messaging system, like Slack, among team members. We love Slack because it’s easy, intuitive and non-invasive. Instead of a never-ending stream of instant messages, you can compartmentalize conversations into channels that are specific to certain departments or projects and ping individual team members directly when their input is needed.

A system like Slack isn’t useful if some people use it and other don’t; thus, it’s a good idea to set expectations with your entire team for how and when you’ll communicate. Which brings us to our next point…

  1. Establish Working Hours

One of the benefits of working virtually is working whenever you feel like it, right? Unfortunately, this is one of those concepts that’s better in theory than in actual business practice.

When you don’t establish regular working hours, it becomes impossible to communicate effectively and get tasks done on time. If early bird Bob works from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and night owl Janice works from 4 until midnight, a whole day might pass before a simple task involving these two team members can get done. The problem is exacerbated when you’re working across time zones and international borders.

Implement standard working hours that all your team members must agree to. This doesn’t mean you have to lose all flexibility; depending on your line of work, it might be sufficient to have mandatory working hours just a few days a week, with flex time the rest of the week.

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  1. Streamline Project Management

Accountability is important in any workplace, but even more so in a virtual one. When you can’t just pop down the hall to get an update, you need an alternative system for setting and tracking milestones.

If Slack is your go-to for virtual team communication, Asana is its counterpart for project management. Think of Asana like a digital bulletin board; each project you’re working on has its own bulletin board, and your team will pin up and move tasks around the board as they move through various stages of the project.

The best part? Asana integrates directly with Slack to give you convenient reminders when a task has been completed or a deadline is approaching.  

  1. Circle The Wagons

When you’re managing a virtual team and you’re focused on logistics, it’s easy to overlook the more intangible pieces of running a successful company, like culture and teammate relationships. But in fact, both of these things often transcend salary and perks in the eyes of employees.

It’s much more difficult to build meaningful professional relationships when you only interact with your colleagues from behind a computer screen. To counteract this, circle the wagons virtually and bring your team together for a group powwow on a regular basis.

You might hold a weekly Google Hangout where everyone hops on their webcams to interact “face to face.” Build in informal time for employees to share what they’ve been up to both inside and outside of work. You can also create a channel in Slack specifically for water cooler discussions, like catching up on the latest Netflix recommendations.

  1. Get One-on-One Time

Just as it’s important for your staff to have face time with one another, they need one-on-one time with you, their fearless leader! You don’t want to be just a name on the internet that signs their paycheck; to build your most profitable company, you must be an engaged and active boss.

Hold quarterly review sessions with individual team members to review their progress and check in on how things are going for them. You might consider allocating some of the resources you’re saving by employing a remote team to additional employee development opportunities. Check out our post on 6 ways to offer constructive employee development here.

Finally, help remotely based workers take ownership in the company by engaging them to lead on various projects. Assigning leadership duties helps strengthen both individual leadership skills and your team’s infrastructure as a whole.  

Have you had success managing a remote team? Leave us a comment and share what’s worked for you.

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