How to Manage Virtual TeamsNatalie Lewis
It’s the 21st Century and the cheap, easily available technology we have access to these days is changing the face of the workplace. It’s true that having a virtual team comes with a set of challenges but I’ll level with you – those challenges often stem from a lack of trust, poor management training and a bad recruitment process!
Update: Covid-19 has changed the way that we work with may companies now working virtually. Keep reading for some useful content for you!
What is a virtual team?
Virtual teams are becoming increasingly popular in service and consulting driven industries. A virtual workforce is where you have employees who work out of the office rather than in it, for example from a home office or co-working space.
What are the pros and cons of a virtual team?
The advantages of this type of business is reduced overheads which often means that pricing structure can be more competitive but also if provides employees with more of the flexibility that they crave these days.
The disadvantage is that you need to make sure you manage the situation properly.
New technology is making is possible for employees to work from home or elsewhere outside the office. However, there is still an employer duty of care which means you do need to ensure that you are looking after virtual teams properly! You don’t want employees feeling cut off and excluded or else the business will suffer.
Top Tips to managing a virtual team
There are many things that you need to consider when managing a team virtually. My biggest warning is that if you’re a command and control style manager (aka. micro-managing your team) then working virtually will be a difficult transition for you. Having the right processes in place and having a high level of trust in your team is utterly essential!
I’ve started out in my top tips with practical stuff and then gone on to the more ‘fluffy’ but very important actions to consider!
Assess their working environment
Boring I know, but health and safety requirements still apply to employees who work from home. You need to go through a process to make sure they have got the right equipment, that they’re sitting comfortably and that they have the right environment to work from effectively.
Make sure they are properly insured
This is really important and often overlooked; an employee’s personal home insurance will not cover them for working from home so you will need to include them in your business insurance. Tell your insurer that you have employees who work from home and give the insurer their home addresses too to include on insurance documents, otherwise your business may not be covered if something goes wrong.
Another boring one but it is important to assess the level of security at your employees’ homes too, if you scrupulously shred every document at head office but your employees simply chuck sensitive documents into the recycling bin at home, then you have got a problem. Your employees could be unknowingly putting the entire organisation at risk.
Give them the tools they need to do their job properly
Giving remote employees equipment that is not going to break down every five minutes is particularly important as the logistics of getting stuff fixed can be a nightmare! The world of work has changed beyond measure and it is increasingly important to provide employees with the right technology. Not only does it help employees work from remote locations but it can help assist with a healthy work-life balance. There are loads of great project management tools like Slack and Trello and with the use of video conferencing software like Zoom, you can’t go far wrong!
Schedule regular time for interaction with your team
Don’t just assume that it is somehow just going to happen – put in place a formal structure of scheduled conference calls, anything from once a week to once a day depending on the nature of the business. It is important to ensure your virtual teams feel really engaged with what is going and aren’t excluded from any activities. I’m a fan of a virtual huddle on a Monday and a Friday. Do whatever works for your team but make sure you do it!
Update: currently with the pandemic, where everyone is working from home, I would check in with your teams on a daily basis. Remind them of your collective goals, vision and what you’re all looking to achieve. Be available for individuals to discuss their concerns or problems. Mental health can really suffer if people aren’t used to/don’t like working from home. Add in the extra stresses of managing a family and pets. Be flexible, be compassionate.
Talk to your virtual team informally on a regular basis
This goes for all of your staff, virtual or not! Make sure they know they can call you if they need to. More importantly have a system such as my Dynamic Performance Feedback process in place which allows you to provide monthly feedback on how they’re doing in their job and what they can do to improve. Employees want regular feedback and if they aren’t getting it, they will go elsewhere. This is even more important for virtual staff who don’t have the ability to get informal feedback on a daily basis through interactions in the office.
Trust your team
We all make recruiting mistakes. Hire slow, fire fast is my mantra and if you have people within your business whom you can’t trust – they need to go! I’ll put a caveat on that – if you can’t trust any of your team then you need some serious support and coaching on trust and delegation! Work on yourself first and then you can look at your team.
You’ll find that setting outcomes with clear and well-thought-out instructions will help you in this task.
Mistakes will happen and you have to foster a culture where making mistakes is ok. I’d encourage a solution focused workplace where the collective take responsibility for resolving any problems or mistakes. It’s not the mistake that you should focus on but how that mistake is rectified. Sure, making the same mistake over and over again is an issue and at that point, I’d suggest that either your processes are wrong or there is a lack of training/coaching. Rarely is it the case that the person is a bad recruit.
Make sure virtual teams are given the same opportunity as any office based workers for ongoing work training – don’t forget to include your virtual workers in a good onboarding process when they start as well as in training programmes. You may need to teach them how to use new equipment, tools and processes – they are likely to be just as ambitious to progress as office-based colleagues.
Don’t forget to invite your virtual team to the Christmas party and other company events – this is easy to do without thinking if you have a mixture of office based staff and virtual teams. It is very difficult to recover from if you get it wrong. Out of sight should not mean out of mind!