Fostering a productive virtual work environment isn't easy, but as remote work is becoming increasingly common, it is now a necessity for many businesses.
Although there are many benefits to working with virtual team workers, managing remote teams can be complicated. According to this 2020 article by Hubspot, some of the biggest challenges for global virtual teamwork and remote working teams include:
- A feeling of being disconnected from other team members
- Burnout and being able to unplug
- GDPR issues & security
From within our own company, some of our main challenges include maintaining a strong company culture inside and outside of the office and balancing the need for flexibility and the need to see people and build real human connections.
However, there are solutions for all of these challenges and understanding how to lead virtual teams can be crucial to team success.
Companies with a strong culture that provide enjoyable employee experience tend to have lower turnover, higher stock value and are more profitable. How do you create a company culture in distributed teams?
Set Communication Norms
Create structures and guidelines for team interaction; such as how often meetings are held, what is the decision-making process and what are the methods for expressing disagreements.
Clarify which medium to use for regular communication (i.e., phone, email, chat, intranet, videoconference), response time requirements, and criteria for prioritising issues.
Create and distribute an agenda before each meeting and follow-up with a short recap of action points afterwards.
Prioritise Building Trust
Building trust and establishing a rapport when working in a virtual team can be challenging but is essential as teams can't prosper when teammates don't trust one another.
Trust is built by members following through on their commitments and investing in relationships with other team members.
Make your Virtual Employees Feel Like Part of the Team
Take time to promote team bonding by allowing time to share some personal information such as holidays, hobbies, etc. for employees to find commonalities and shared interests.
You can do this by either setting time aside for small talk before or after meetings or allowing for virtual celebrations, like job anniversaries or birthdays, to promote trust and teamwork.
If possible, bring your remote employees together in a central location for face-to-face interaction at least once per year.
Eye contact, proximity, tone of voice, and body language are vital in developing a true personal connection. These meetings will allow your people to connect more closely than they would virtually.
If you have on-site staff, organise a time for the two groups to socialise. It will strengthen relationships between the office and virtual staff and help minimise any conflicts that arise when working over long distances.
Focus on Results
As a virtual team leader, you need to be able to manage many projects simultaneously and employees while providing a clear vision.
Establish strategic direction, set clear goals and priorities and hold your employees accountable.
Ensure each employee has SMART goals set; these could include the number of resolved issues per month or a completed list of month-end activities and reports. Also, set objectives for contact frequency and professional development.
Virtual teams are often made up of members of different cultures; each with their own values, customs, and ways of working.
This can become a challenge as each person follows their own way of working and interacting with others. Try to find common grounds between different team members.
It's vital that you are able to recognise and educate them about cultural nuances to minimise potential cultural clashes and miscommunication.
Onboard Employees in the Same Way
Ensure that all employees have the same onboarding experience. Give them access to the same communication systems, tools and handbooks explaining company processes. If possible, organise onsite, face-to-face onboarding or orientation in a central location. If onboarding is virtual, a face-to-face approach via video conference should be organised.
Celebrate successes together as a team, even when members are dispersed all around the globe. Why is celebrating success so important? The idea of working towards one goal is a motivator for employees, as is feedback and recognition.
Share positive feedback from customers, fun and exciting news, press and blog mentions and metric milestones in a celebration room in Slack or on a team webpage.
You can also organise a call on Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts. When a team member receives an award, find ways to feature them in internal company communications.
More than anything else, virtual employees need to know they're not alone. They need to feel that they are part of the team and that you support them and understand their challenges.
With these vital points in mind, you'll overcome challenges and increase the effectiveness of your virtual team.
If you have any hiring queries or questions regarding remote teams please get in touch and one of our specialist consultants will get back to you.
This article was originally published in 2018 and has since been updated.