21 Must-Know Strategies for Managing Virtual Teams

managing virtual teams

I’ve been working with hundreds of virtual team members in over 9 different countries in the past 8 years. Managing remote employees oftentimes made me want to tear my hair out.

Sometimes I had no idea what my team was doing, or that team members would “flake out”–they’d work effectively for a while and then their quality of work would taper off or they’d quit, or I get frustrated about not being able to communicate with them effectively, or I had many issues finding and hiring great people remotely.

But now I know a lot more about handling tough situations and issues that come with the territory when managing virtual teams. The strategies I use reflect my years of experience figuring out what works best to keep the teams coherent, productive and motivated.

See how Time Doctor’s easy-to-use time tracking software can help your team be more productive.

 

These strategies on how to manage virtual teams are what we use at Time Doctor, where we have over 50 full-time global team members all working virtually, remotely, to create the best remote management and productivity software for individuals and businesses.

Communication

communication is important in managing virtual teams

Tip 1: Compensate for the fact that you are not bumping into each other

One of the biggest reasons why virtual teams fail is because they don’t compensate the fact that team members are not bumping into each other. They kind of forget about the other team members, live in their own world and do not communicate or collaborate as much as they need to.

In a virtual environment, you need to create opportunities for team members to just “chat” both formally and informally. Some effective options are online chat rooms (like Skype), project management software (like Basecamp or Azendoo), and video conferencing (Google Hangouts is free).

Tip 2: Have a chat room open constantly

In our business we have a chat room open for each team in the business. Team members leave messages for the team that they are a part of. It’s essential to keep these chats alive but not distracting. There’s enough conversation to be able to discuss important issues and to feel like we’re connected as one team, but not so much that it becomes distracting.

We also have a fun company wide chat room open for non business related chat. This creates a bit of a water cooler effect where employees can chat about anything they like. It can be a lonely existence working by yourself at home and this company wide chat helps keep a feeling of social connection.

By the way, here is how we chose our team chat app.

Tip 3: Choose the right communication style

Depending on your needs, choose the type of communication that works best.

  • Email – For quick interactions. You can replace most email communication with a project management system.
  • Chat programs – Skype or Google Hangouts are great for quick instant messages and for creating a team chat environment.
  • Phone calls or video chat – Some types of communication should only be handled over the phone. Any kind of emotional issue such as performance problems should be handled over the phone. Video chat would be even better as it gives you more visual cues of what is going on with the other person.
  • Creating a short video – It’s very easy to create a video of yourself on YouTube using your webcam, or using a screen capture tool such as Jing.

Tip 4: Use tools for quick video or visual communication

Jing screen capture

When you’re not in the same room how can you explain something visually on your computer screen? A YouTube video or a screen capture tool like Jing is a great way to do this. Capture desktop screenshots and put arrows, labels and notes using Jing or create quick screen capture videos and share it with other team members via YouTube. You can also create explainer videos using tools like mysimpleshow.

Tip 5: Use screen sharing tools

There are tools that enable you to share your screen so that another person can see exactly what you are doing. Some of these tools even allow people to control another computer remotely. Many of these tools are free-to-use for small teams, including TeamViewer and Join.me. Skype also has screen sharing capability but without any option to control another computer remotely.

Tip 6: Collaboration on documents and spreadsheets

If you have a document that is being edited by many people, Google Drive is the best option. If you have a document that just needs to be shared, and will not be edited simultaneously, then you can place your documents (such as an excel file) in a shared Google Drive or in Dropbox. Many project management tools also have file sharing and collaboration features, so that’s another alternative for collaborating on documents.

Tip 7: Set up a project management system, and actually use it

For smaller teams you might be tempted to wing it and handle everything via email. This is dangerous. Project management systems are helpful in managing virtual teams because they help to organize documents and conversations into projects, making it easier to find them later. They also help with organizing and storing shared files. If you run your business purely with emails it can quickly become an unmanageable, disorganized mess.

Productivity

tracking productivity

Tip 8: Implement systems

Without systems, your business can fall apart. A business run in an office can compensate to some degree for not having systems and processes simply by the fact that people can talk in person and look over each other’s shoulders. In a virtual team, each person can be in their own world. They may develop their own processes and procedures that don’t mesh with the way other team members are working. It’s best to have a documented, standardized way of working that you’re constantly refining.

For example in our business, developers follow a very specific process for suggestions, building, testing and documentation.

Tip 9: Allow a degree of flexible work hours but also keep some consistency

People working from home will rightly want flexibility with their work hours. And it’s important to allow a degree of flexibility when managing remote employees. On the other hand, if things are totally erratic then it will be difficult to get a shared collaboration window when all of your team are online at the same time and able to chat.

Tip 10: Track work output

Whether your team is virtual or not, you need to try to measure their productivity. What are the key indicators of success for each job? Get transparency around this so that you will know quickly (in a couple of weeks and not in 6 months) whether each team member is being productive or not.

Tip 11: Track hours worked, attendance and other basic measures of productivity

time tracking software reports

If you are paying based on hours worked, then it makes a lot of sense to track how many hours each person works.

In an office environment you can see who is coming in each day even if you are not tracking attendance. In a completely virtual environment it can be difficult to understand exactly what is going on, how long each person worked, and what they are working on. There is a minority of people who are self motivated enough that they do not need any tracking of attendance or hours. However there is also a large majority who need some level of discipline when working at home.

We built the Time Doctor software to handle these exact issues, and also to track websites visited, applications used, time spent working and time on breaks. Our time tracking software can show you for example whether a team member is working or chatting with friends on Facebook. We also have some free timesheet templates that you may want to try out in case you are not ready to try out a software yet.

Tip 12: Organize a system of overlapping times for communicating in different time zones.

If members of your team work in different time zones, make sure that you have an overlapping period where everyone is working and organize your virtual meetings during these times.

Tip 13: Do a quarterly review to see how your virtual team members are coping

One of the issues with working from home is that people can feel lonely and isolated. Not everyone copes well with this style of working. Most people do not have this issue and love the freedom that comes with working from home, but it’s important to check in from time to time and make sure everything is working for them.

Hiring

hiring and managing virtual teams

Tip 14: Test new employees with short-term work before hiring them full time

You don’t need to hire someone full time right off the bat. You can get a taste of working with someone by hiring them for a small project, and then when it’s completed if you’re happy move on to full time work. It’s important that you do move on to full time work because if you have someone on part time or on a temporary project, their attention will be divided. It’s quite possible they will no longer be available just when you need them most. My experience is that staff who are working part time eventually drop off and stop working altogether. Full time people are relying on your company for their livelihood and are more likely to stick with you long term.

Tip 15: Pay virtual team members well

There are a lot of people who want to work virtually. Many professionals are willing to take a pay cut for the opportunity to work from home. While it’s true that you can find lower-cost team members virtually, if you pay them well, you’ll ensure that your team works hard and sticks with you for the long term.

Tip 16: Look for people who are the right fit for virtual work

Take a look at their environment at home. Do they have a quiet place to work? Are they constantly distracted by children in the house? On the other hand are they living at home by themselves and unable to get out and spend time with friends? Both distractions and isolation can be issues and it’s important to make sure that your team is happy & productive working from home.

Tip 17: Create a standard on-boarding process for educating new employees about your company

If you’re hiring employees remotely then they are not going to get the same kind of “learn by watching over the shoulder” method that can happen in an office. So when you hire someone, make sure that they have a training program (videos can work well) that educates them about your company and the way that you do things. Do as much as you can to get them adjusted to your company and to learn how to perform in their role.

Culture

Tip 18: Inspire via video

Remote workers can miss the feeling of a company culture. It’s difficult to create and maintain culture through written words alone. It’s much more powerful to create videos and use video conferencing services such as Google Hangouts. You can record hangouts for future employees as well. Use videos as a way to inspire your team, and to reinforce core concepts in your company culture (such as your company vision and mission).

Tip 19: Meet in person

Time Doctor meetup

Time Doctor Meetup in Bohol, Philippines.

It’s hard to develop true friendships remotely. Meeting in person about 4 times per year or as often as possible is the best way to create stronger bonds within your company.

Tip 20: Nurture virtual friendships

Don’t forget that your team are human beings wired to connect with others. People can get connected from outside of work but it’s great to fill some of this need at work as well, much more in a virtual team. In my experience, this is especially important in jobs that do not involve as much human contact, such as in software development.

Tip 21: Create a true “team” feeling

When working virtually it may take extra effort to keep people feeling committed to their team. They need to know that not only they’re contributing true value to the team’s common goal; they are also valuable to the team’s success in achieving its goal. Some ways to achieve this are:

  • Having and maintaining non-work related communication
  • Sharing the future vision of the company
  • Keeping your team informed about how the company is doing. People like to know what’s happening in other parts of the company and how they themselves fit in and are contributing to the bigger picture
  • Get everyone in your team involved in important events and projects
  • During birthdays and special occasions, send gifts with meaning.

Anything you can do to create a feeling that they are not just working separately but are truly part of your company and part of a team is worthwhile.

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Rob Rawson

About Rob Rawson

Rob Rawson is a co-founder of Time Doctor which is software to improve productivity and help keep track and know what your team is working on, even when working from home.

19 Comments

  • Andrea L. says:

    Hi,

    I love the way you present all these strategies. They are very useful for every digital nomad. I would like to share another interesting article with you, the difference being that it also includes 6 testimonials from professionals: How to Work with Offshore Teams by Robosoft.

  • Teri says:

    Great article with lots of useful tips. However, be careful with # 16. Not legal to ask if people have children. I usually ask people to “tell me about yourself” and they will volunteer it. If they don’t tread carefully.

  • Sharon Thomson says:

    I’d like to recommend you to have a look at ProofHub to manage your projects. I think this is the best all in one PMS available in the market as it has features like group chat, time tracking, reports, discussions and more. Very useful tool for both project management and collaboration.

  • Bill Jack says:

    I’d also like to recommend ProofHub here. A project management tools to manage your work place and team from anywhere. Stay updated all the time.

  • artbees says:

    Rob,

    Really good points! Especially the team bonding is really important. Half of our team are remotely-based workers from different countries across the globe so we try our best to make them feel included. Meeting in person is also a great way to that. We actually pay a trip to our base, Istanbul, for our remote workers.

    As a digital marketing and design agency with a 20-member team, here is how we hire and manage our remote team. https://goo.gl/YMYrRk

  • Elva Rivera says:

    This is very interesting to learn Essential Strategies for Managing Virtual Teams. If you are managing virtual teams then you must have a right communication style and right tools for managing your team (http://bit.ly/team-management-tools). If you are doing group meeting then I suggest you that Skype is the best option for you.

  • Kyle Barton says:

    I recently hired a remote team for one of my latest projects. I was a little concerned since i had never worked remotely with a dev team and specially one located far away. But I decided to go for it and I’m so glad I gave them a chance. Not only did I save money but I had a great experience working with them. I totally loved the design of my app and functionality, it was exactly what i had though up. And the distance was no issue since the team communicates daily, divides work into sprints and gave me an estimate of how long the work would take. Hopefully my app which will launch soon will be a total success. I am looking forward to working with them again and recommend them to anyone looking into starting a new project: http://www.bixlabs,com

  • Eryck Dzotsi says:

    Very nice article, and the tool is indeed a very useful one. I have written extensively on the intricacies of working remotely and managing remote resources. Some of the rules are common sense, but it is not always as straightforward as we make it out to be. You can found some of my publications here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Remote-Workers-Guide-Excellence/dp/1479278726/
    http://www.amazon.com/Manage-Remote-Workers-Eryck-Dzotsi/dp/1492956007/

  • rahul says:

    Great stuff. Very useful for Managers in similar roles.

  • Vivid list! I agree with the ideas being discussed on 21 essential strategies for managing virtual teams; it will surely uplift the managing and building of remote team. Also, it will give online companies and businesses a better perspective on how to get things work and what are essentials to make it successful. But it looks like your list is half-baked as there are more new strategies and tactics on how to successfully create an online presence.

    And there’s a good alternative I can suggest and hope will also help you by any means, “How to Build And Manage Remote Teams” (http://amazingworkplace.com/27-building-and-managing-remote-teams/) that combines functionalities and solutions which will surely address to the problems on building and managing remote teams. Not trying to belittle your list but giving you new viewpoints about the topic. Good luck to all of us!

  • kasiakrn says:

    Thanks for these handy tips, many businesses would definitely benefit from following them. Working remotely is a concept that still concerns many clients and finding good strategies that will assure them things are handled just right is essential. We’ve also posted a few words about this topic, feel free to drop by: https://netguru.co/blog/concerns-remote-teams .

  • Thank you for sharing these useful strategies. I’m picking some points here!

  • Hugo Messer says:

    Great read! I have written several books on this topic, maybe interesting to read: http://bridge-staffing.com/ebooks
    I see that the topics you have in this article are similar to the main topics of each of my books. One of the key points that I see here is that it’s important to think about ‘how you work’ with a remote team. Most people think that they can just hire someone far away and get going, business as usual. In reality you have to deal with many aspects as you’ve described, so this requires some up front thinking about the process.

    We’ve also recently launched a marketplace for software teams where companies can hire remote teams (as opposed to hiring remote freelancers on sites like Odesk): http://www.ekipa.co . I believe that for companies it’s best to have a full ‘up and running’ remote team in 1 office, since you can indeed build a culture. If you have management around that team, it helps you to manage them more easily, there is local (HR/project) support which gives you ‘eyes’ to what the team and the inidividuals are up to.

  • Maggie says:

    This is some useful stuff. Especially the point about recruitment which is often forgotten by the managers. This type of work is not suitable for all people especially that the person needs to be internally motivated and driven and also manage their own time. I think every manager struggles when it comes to recruiting the right people but when you get there you can just sit back and relax:-)

  • Hassy says:

    Great article. I am better informed as a novice about managing virtual teams.

  • Yeah, by considering above mentioned points and using tools like WebEx, RHUB, GoMeetNow, gotomeeting etc. One can easily manage virtual team meetings, can conduct online business conferences etc.

  • Michael Maier says:

    Rob, thansk for writing this article. Very useful advance. I find myself the manager of a virtual at a company called eInnov8.com. Some things you mentioned we are doing. Others we need to do. I’ll keep you posted of our successes. =) Michael

  • James Rick Stinson says:

    Some great stuff here, particularly that last point.. in general I think not enough emphasis is made on the importance of community in a virtual environment. People are working alone at home, one of human’s greatest need is to feel like they are apart of a bigger whole.

  • Nerissa Ochoa says:

    Very nice article. It gives us a better understanding on how to be more efficient working remotely. It also shows how technology helps us in terms of communication, handling people and making each individual more productive even without close monitoring. Applications such as TimeDoctor plays a vital role in monitoring all activities and making sure that all things done at a given time are work related.

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