10 Tips for Managing a Virtual Team

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

A guest post 🙂

When working from remote locations first came onto the scene in the 1990s, the greatest challenge was present by telecommunication technology, which has been completely resolved through the power of the internet. What remains is the challenge of demonstrating productivity and cooperation without visible proof. Most people who choose to work from the comfort of a home office rate somewhere between odd and eccentric. Those creative personalities do not conform to the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work hours that drive most American businesses. While the most important deliverable is project completion, the human element cannot be forgotten in the course of managing a virtual team. Consider these ten aspects of team life when striving to get the best results with the lowest frustration levels for everyone.

1. Expectations – With every project in any industry or discipline, there is a client who is paying for the product that will come out of the efforts of the team. Spend time with the client to make sure the major players understand the nuances of working with a team that is spread across multiple time zones. That customer may never see the faces, but there are ways to build confidence that the work is being completed. If there is a management structure over the project team, there is another set of expectations that must be managed. Communicate openly and never allow a silent void to be filled with negative assumptions. The team will have expectations of the other two players and must be able to openly express their own stake in the project.

2. Real deliverables – Just as a team that sits in the same office has assigned duties with measurable results, the virtual team must have concrete tasks assigned to every member. When one member is given intangible projects, negative assumptions will surface regarding the contributions of the one member. Even the leader will be assumed to be superfluous if the team does not see the true benefits gained from the leader’s contributions. Every person must be engaged in active work tasks that are visible to the team.

3. Right players – Some leaders have the incredible privilege of assembling a team from people who have worked together for years, but that happens once in a lifetime. For the rest of us, team members will be added without any background knowledge. If at all possible, find out if any of the players have the reputation of being the team mole. There are brilliant people who work strange hours and magically do amazing things, but no one ever sees them. On a virtual team, this type of player can drive everyone crazy if the rest of the players cannot complete their own assignments because of the impact of the mole. Choose people who communicate freely and offer updates without being prodded.

4. Basecamp – This relatively new piece of software is based on tasks and milestones, but every person updates their own status within the software so that everyone can see the progress. Collaboration and communication are the goal of this little gem, and the software is easy to learn and incorporate into the team processes.

5. Skype – When a team is spread across four time zones and may only work together four hours of the day, make sure one of those hours is spent face to face between at least a couple of the members. A simple webcam can be connected to each computer and Skype can make an old fashioned conference call into a great time of getting to know other teammates.

6. Teamviewer – Nothing is more difficult that helping a remote teammate with an uncooperative computer. Without having to install any software, the person who knows how to fix an issue can access the rebel and correct the issue while the teammate learns something new. Desktop sharing and online assistance are only two of the many functions of this software. Customers can look at a screen in their location and see a demonstration of the completed work on the remote team member’s computer.

7. Google Docs – In the days when email was the only way to share a document with the rest of the team, multiple copies that were not synchronised sprouted from multiple sources. A central repository was only a dream, but now with each person able to write to a central location, the project documentation can be updated without wondering who has the most current copy. Security is maintained without concern for intruders, but the people who need access can easily read what the team has produced.

8. Minimise meetings – A virtual team is made up of the best producers available for the project, and most of these types will openly groan when a meeting is announced. Work on their specific tasks is most important and meetings detract from productivity. Protect the team from any non-essential meeting and avoid more than one meeting in a workday.

9. Team blog – For easy communication, set up a blog that is for open communication with minimal editing or moderation. Confine access to the immediate team and never allow the customer to see the blog entries.

10. Status report – Require every team member to offer a detailed status report at the end of each week. This exercise is a good professional discipline that allows each person to remember where they left off on Friday and take the weekend off.

Whenever a virtual team must be assembled to complete a project, spend your time improving morale and making each team member’s life easier. Anything that would be done within the traditional office setting must still be completed but through completely different means. Remote work is simply a different work location.

James is a UK based analyst and writer who writes detailed reviews of printer consumables as well as analysing printer ink supplies at one of the UK’s leading suppliers to businesses, Cartridge Save.

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