25 Tips to Help You Manage a High-Performing Virtual Team

managing virtual teams

I’ve been working with hundreds of virtual team members in over 9 different countries in the past 12 years. Managing remote employees sometimes made me want to tear my hair out.

But it’s also our greatest competitive strength. We can hire people from any location around the world which makes it a lot easier to hire talented people.

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 how to make virtual teams work. 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

virtual team communication

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. So this means that you need to actually over-communicate and create opportunities such as regular meetings for everyone to chat.

 

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.

The three most common options for chat software are: Slack, Skype and HipChat. All of these are great options and worth considering, Skype is possibly better if you want a free option, but it lacks some of the benefits of Slack in terms of integrations and getting your company organized.

Tip 3: Be wary of Chat and Email overload

This is a hard one because on the one hand you need to make sure everyone is communicating enough, but on the other hand it can get distracting and overwhelming. Make sure that team members are not subscribed to too many channels and instead are only receiving the messages that they need to see.

Tip 4: Choose the right communication style

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

  • Email – For quick interactions. You can also replace most email communication with other tools such as project management tools or chat programs.
  • Chat programs – Skype or Google Hangouts are great for quick instant messages where you need real-time interaction.
  • Video chat – Some types of communication should only be handled over with voice. 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. It can feel isolating and abnormal to chat only with text and adding video makes your remote company feel more “real”.
  • Project management tools – These keep your communication a lot more organized and so that you are able to reference it and refer to it later on. Or perhaps when people join the company they can see the previous discussion points.
  • 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 5: 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 6: 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, Slack and Google Hangouts also have screen sharing capability but without any option to control another computer remotely.

Tip 7: Video conferencing technologies

It’s essential that you regularly chat on video within your team. Imagine that you came into a normal office and you put a balaclava over your head and didn’t chat to anyone or show your face. That’s kind of how it’s like if you never chat on video. To connect as a team, video chat is essential.

There are lots of technology options for video chat: Google hangouts, Slack, Skype and Zoom are a few alternatives. In my opinion Zoom is probably the best technology, it has dozens of small optimizations that improve your remote communication.

Tip 8: Set up a meeting rhythm

You need to have a meeting rhythm. This means a regular meeting within each team and an “all hands” meeting for the entire company. The exact frequency depends on the person and type of job, but I would recommend the following minimum meetings:

  1. A daily meeting within each team (quick, less than 10 minutes just to say hi and feel like you are connecting and to make sure there is nothing blocking each person from achieving their goals).
  2. A weekly meeting within a team or a weekly one-on-one meeting between a team leader and each person on their team. This weekly meeting is a way to store up issues and minimize the back and forth email that takes place during the week and handle it all in one meeting.
  3. A weekly all-hands meeting for the entire company. This should be short, usually 10 minutes to feel like your all part of the same team and to get on the same page.

Tip 9: Effective 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 10: 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

productive remote worker

Tip 11: 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 12: 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 13: 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. Tools like SalesHandy are useful for this especially if you want a streamlined communication and analytics for a remote sales team.

Tip 14: 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 15: Organize a system of overlapping times for communicating in different time zones.

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

However this might not be enough. Depending on the type of work you are doing you may want to consider only hiring people in the same timezone or where the time is only 3 hours apart. Especially from within one team. Most teams needs to be constantly collaborating to be effective and a large time zone difference between team members will kill the collaboration.

Tip 16: 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 remote worker

Tip 17: 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 18: 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 19: 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 20: 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 21: 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 22: Meet in person

remote team retreat

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. Joining conferences for remote teams greatly help too!

Tip 23: 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 24: 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.

Tip 25: Beware of a mixed office and remote culture

When your entire team is remote you will adjust more easily because you have to and you will be forced to implement strategies that work for a remote team. However when you have half of the team in an office and the other half remote it can cause problems. For example your office team might decide to hold a quick meeting and leave out the remote team members who end up not having their voice heard.

So you need to make sure that ALL of your meetings are remote friendly. This means you all log into Zoom or whatever technology you are using and chat together through your computer. You don’t have some people in the room and some remote.

 

Article originally published November 2012, updated May 2018.

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Rob Rawson

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.

24 Comments

  • Ivy Baker says:

    This is some really good information about online team management. It is good to know that it would be smart to foster a true team dynamic. That does seem like an important thing to do if you want to improve how well your team gets work done. It would be smart to try to foster friendships between teammates. After all, if teammates don’t like each other that will be bad for business.

  • Sid Ray says:

    Remote is going to be part of the corporate culture in future. Though really not sure that it would fit every sector, company for that matter even individual.

    We use a lot of remote in our company. But found that some of the team members (especially juniors) really learn faster and absorb technical issues when they are paired in-person with senior devs.

  • Shawn Bishop says:

    We recently went from an office setting with the traditional 9-5 to a completely remote culture. Time Doctor has been a tool we’ve incorporated into our business for better employee tracking and it actually is helping us optimize the time we all spend on specific areas of the business.

    I really enjoyed the post. I came across it while I was in the process of building the systems we needed to manage our team remotely. If you are interested, I’d welcome feedback on the steps we took. I wrote about it here: https://medium.com/@ShawnBishop/the-exact-system-i-use-to-manage-a-remote-team-and-10x-productivity-in-my-sleep-16c094f9176

  • Vlada says:

    Totally agree with everything said. It can also be a good idea to schedule regular Performance Appraisal and Job Satisfaction meetings with each of your remote team members to see if the level of their engagement and satisfaction is still high. It’s recommended to do it every half a year. And you should have Performance Appraisal and Job Satisfaction forms customized for your team

  • Sienna says:

    Thanks for Sharing the blog!! Communication plays a vital role in the business. So, there is an importance of internal communication tools. Still, there are many internal communication messaging apps like Contus Fly, Slack.

  • 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.
    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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