7 useful strategies for managing virtual teams

by Rob Rawson
Managing remote teams

It’s a fact: 17.2 million people in the U.S. are working from home at least part of the time.

That’s over five percent of the nation’s workforce. More and more business managers are faced with managing teams in which people are working in different parts of the country, or even different countries around the world.

Useful strategies for managing remote teams

At Time Doctor, we work with completely virtual teams in over nine countries. Along the way, we’ve come up with seven strategies that work in our business when managing virtual teams.

1.    Know what your team members are working on

It’s important that your team members not work in isolation. They should always be aware of what their teammates have to do. This encourages collaboration when needed, and also gives workers a “big picture” that motivates them to accomplish smaller tasks.

It’s vital, of course,  that managers are aware of what team members are accomplishing each day. This can consist of a simple daily report covering what was worked on and what the top priorities are for the next day.

2.    Communicate often and effectively

There are many ways to communicate between virtual team members, and it’s important to choose the right method, depending on what needs to be said. If you are discussing an emotional issue, it is best to talk over the phone rather than a text chat or email. The ideal method of handling emotional issues are in-person meetings, but that’s often not possible.

Also, if you find that an email communication keeps going back and forth, it might be more effective to convert that into a phone meeting. A company policy of writing brief emails is useful for increasing productivity in your virtual team. Short emails save the time of both parties and force the writer to get straight to the point.

3.    Track your team members’ productivity and goals

This is important for any team, but especially so when managing a virtual one. You need to have clear benchmarks for what productivity means for each person. You should track outcomes and set minimum standards on an individual basis. It’s almost always more effective when team members set and commit to their own goals, rather than having outcomes dictated by management.

4.    Deal with issues related to the lack of face-to-face contact.

Working remotely can be isolating – how do you combat that feeling of isolation? Do whatever you can to provide some level of connection and camaraderie among the team. If possible, organize regular in-person social meetings with team members. If it’s not possible to meet in person, try virtual alternatives.

Call team members on their birthdays. Send something personal to your team members, such as a photo card with each member of the team. It’s important to compensate where you can when you don’t have face-to-face relationships.

5.    Prevent distractions for team members working remotely

One of the great advantages of team members working remotely is that you automatically remove the distractions that come with an office environment. However, working remotely can come with distractions of it’s own, and it’s crucial that team members are not overly burdened by them – dogs’ barking, constant demands from children, unstable Internet access etc.

Confirm with staff members the details of their work environment. Is it a private area? What hours they will be working, and what sort of distractions might arise? Preferably, they should have a computer that is used for work only. Any communication tools on their computer such as Skype should be set up only for discussion with work contacts and not with their friends.

6.    Confirm that each staff member is suited to working from home

Some people enjoy working from home or multiple locations, while others cannot cope with this type of arrangement at all. It depends on a few different factors such as their level of discipline, their need to connect in person with others while working, and their ability to complete projects independently.

While some people love it, others are not going do well in a work-from-home situation, so it’s important to know that it’s not for everyone.

7.    Track attendance and time worked

In a such a flexible environment, it’s difficult for a manager to actually know how many hours team members are working or even if they are working at all. If you are paying only for performance, you might not care as much, but if you are paying hourly you generally want to know if staff are working the hours you pay them for. When working from home, they could easily have a job on the side, they could be distracted by their partner, children, or just generally unable to focus.

Of course, if you are happy with their results you may not care if they slept in for 3 hours or if they are watching TV while they work. However, there is often a gray area where you can’t know or track immediately the results a person is achieving, and that’s when it’s valuable to take a closer look. Time Doctor Software is perfectly suited to this purpose;

All activities are tracked in real time, and there are options to confirm that a person is working, such as seeing a list of all web sites and applications used. Plus, if the person stops using the computer, it automatically puts them on a break, which is an extra confirmation that the time they track is accurate.

To read more about Time Doctor, and it’s benefits for managing remote teams or to try it for free – please visit www.timedoctor.com

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