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Five Tips to Successfully Manage Virtual Teams

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

It’s no secret that change is never easy within organizations. Unfortunately, with today’s circumstances most of us have had to drastically change the way we work with almost no notice. This can create a lot of extra stress, workload, and confusion among teams. The good news is that the entire world is struggling with similar challenges right now, so this can be an opportunity to show empathy, support each other, and grow as a team. Here are some tips to effectively and smoothly transition to managing a virtual team:

1. Come up with a plan

It’s important to take time to think about what the day-to-day tasks and life looked like for your team while you were all in the office, then think about how to reach those same goals using only virtual tools. This might require some research, coaching, or brainstorming with others to come up with an effective yet consistent way to transition. You can reach out to other leaders and brainstorm with them or you can ask your own team if they have any ideas or experience working remotely. If you choose to wing this as you go, you might find yourself switching strategies and creating extra stress and confusion among your team. They will be looking to you for leadership and direction, so it’s important to have a plan ready.

2. Choose the right tools

We live in a time with an overwhelming amount of virtual tools to help you through this process. You should research some of them, but then choose your preferred tools that you aim to stick with. Certain services provide an array of tools all in the same place, such as this service we found. Another option is thinking about the platform you already use for emails and using as many tools within it as you can. For example, if you already all have gmail accounts you could try to stick to google’s tools as much as possible (Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Hangouts, etc.). If you use outlook, you can have a shared calendar on there where you can invite each other to virtual meetings through emails. Sometimes, it makes sense to use a variety of tools from different platforms. In this case, it might be helpful to create a guide or a manual for yourself and your team that keeps track of which tools you use for what tasks. Here are some ideas for virtual tools you may choose (source: harvard):

  • Video Conferencing: Zoom, Skype, Google Meet

  • Chat: Slack, Google Hangouts, text group chats (be careful of respecting boundaries) 

  • Scheduling: Google Calendar, Outlook Calendar, Calendly, When2Meet

  • Workflow Automation: Monday, Zapier, Microsoft Flow

  • Collaboration: Google Drive (Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Sheets), Dropbox

3. Establish a virtual work routine

With work and home life rapidly blurring together as entire households are working and learning from home, everybody is dealing with a unique situation and an adjustment period. Some might have no issues continuing to work 8-9 hours uninterrupted during their usual work time. For others this might not go as smoothly. For example, those high in “D” or “I” might have a harder time not being around people in an office and self-motivating compared to “C”s. Keep this in mind when planning what a virtual work routine will look like. Are you going to allow for flexible work schedules where employees can work in the evenings and weekends if it’s more convenient? This may depend on how important meetings and collaboration are for the team’s goals. This also depends on how time sensitive the goals are. If flexible schedules are an option, then you can keep your team accountable with deadlines, check-ins, tracking hours, and setting realistic expectations.

4. Learn your team’s virtual communication styles

There are an abundance of options when it comes to communicating virtually, but the underlying purpose behind each tool might feel different. For example, emails might feel more professional, less invasive, and less time-sensitive than a text. Slack is a chat option that can create a more casual environment and culture. Video calls are great for smooth communication, but they require blocking off a chunk of time. Individual differences, such as personality and household situations, can play a role in how comfortable your teammates may feel using more personal communication devices, such as their personal cell phone, for work-related purposes. If some people will be working during non-work hours but others are trying to stick to a usual day-time work routine, it’s important to respect boundaries and use tools such as the delayed-send email option to prevent burnout and work-family conflict.

5. Create opportunities to build trust and grow as a team

Following all the above tips is a great first step to build trust that you as a leader will guide and support your team through these times. In order for a virtual team to function effectively, there also needs to be trust that your employees can manage their own time and responsibilities. Of course formal accountability, such as deadlines, are important to make sure everybody remains productive. Yet allowing some level of flexibility and personal time management shows your employees you trust they can meet their goals even if they have to adjust to a less conventional schedule to manage their life. Check-in with how your team is doing, keep them in the loop, train them on these virtual tools, ask for their ideas on how to transition, and encourage them to stay connected with each other on a social level if that was the type of culture you had in the office.

Overcoming challenges together is a great way to grow, learn, and establish trust. Although there might be a period of increased work and adjustment, we are fortunate to live in a time with several tools to help us get work done from home. To help you and your team through this process, we created a free checklist of video conferencing tips and etiquette that you can download here. For an article that can help your employees transition to working from home, click here.

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