While some organizations are swimming against the tide driven by today’s digital age and adhere to the belief that employees—and contractors—must be based in the same office, the majority are jettisoning the traditional workplace structure in favor of virtual teams. Not only can organizations recruit and retain top-quality workers quicker and easier, but they also perform better. Additionally, a virtual team is more agile, able to respond to new business opportunities faster than peer teams shackled to a physical office space.
Yet, without the right processes and technologies in place, virtual teams can run up against obstacles that result in failed projects, diminished efficiencies, and even team infighting. Having managed virtual teams stretching across multiple states, continents, and oceans, I compiled a list of tips that can help ensure that your virtual teams collaborate effectively and deliver optimal results:
ROLES, RESPONSIBILITIES, AND THE WORKDAY
1) Employee Job Descriptions.
For remote employees, it is important to write job descriptions that clearly delineate roles and responsibilities that includes aspects specific to remote work (e.g., work hours, use of technologies, etc.). Having these in place helps prevent misunderstandings and failures to execute.
2) Tasks and Goals.
Virtual teams accomplish more when they have specific tasks and goals. These should be established for the team in general as well as each individual member.
3) Diversity of Skills.
Every member of a team has strengths and weaknesses and great—or lesser—levels of experience in certain skill areas. Thus, it is important to build a virtual team with members who possess a diversity of skillsets and experience.
Just like their on-site counterparts, virtual teams often struggle to when it comes to roles specific to projects and programs. Here, a RACI (responsible, approver, contributor, informed) model (or DACI—decision-maker, approver, contributor, informed) can help teams to stay focus and avoid situations where individual members assume responsibilities delegated to others (e.g., someone who is a contributor but acts as an approver).
5) Flexibility but Consistency.
Workers today seek out companies that provide them with flexibility and work-life balance. Expecting your workers—whether on site or remote—to abide by the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday is akin to sticking your head in the sand and hoping for a reversal of the digital era (admittedly, there are some organizations who still adhere to the eight-hour workday “caboose”).
6) Regular Meetings.
While regular, consistent meetings—whether staff or project teams—are important for any team, they are even more important for virtual teams that don’t have the face-to-face advantages of on-site teams. These facilitate communications and collaboration and serve as checkpoints.
7) Video Conferencing.
A great video conferencing service is a must for any virtual team. The underlying technology must allow for participants to share their screens, conduct real-time chat, offer dial-in numbers for multiple locations and countries, and provide any number of other capabilities such as recording and integration with calendaring.
8) Rented Meeting Rooms.
Sometimes a portion or the entire virtual team needs to be onsite, and this is where rented meeting rooms such as Davinci Meeting Rooms play a critical role. In these instances, organizations aren’t bound by a location but rather can pick a location that works best for the larger team and moreover a meeting room that accommodates their business requirements.
9) Leadership Roles.
The most effective teams share leadership responsibilities—whether managing regular meetings or taking the role in presenting status or findings in broader meetings. This empowers team members to assume greater responsibilities while giving the opportunities to develop skills in new areas.
10) Meeting Accoutrements.
When your team or a portion of your virtual team attends an on-site meeting, it is important to have the accoutrements needed to ensure a productive meeting. These include everything from web conferencing services, online booking, flexibility in booking (by the hour or day), lobby greeter, wireless Internet, and projectors and LCD monitors, and more.
While too many chat messages can become overwhelming to team members, it’s important to ensure you have in place chat platform that makes it easy for team members to collaborate in virtual real time. There are any number of great chat platforms such as Slack, Skype, and HipChat, among others.
12) Manage Communications.
Team members can become overburdened with too many email and chat messages. To help avoid these situations from happening, have your desktop/helpdesk team work train team members on ways to configure their email folders and chat platforms that enable them to flag high priority messages and to catalog them in different folders.
13) Video Chat.
Depending on the project or issue at hand and moreover the culture of the virtual team, sometimes video chat is needed. Not every issue or project task can be resolved via text only, which lacks the visual cues of video chat. The upside is that most of the most prevalent chat programs also have video options.
14) Calendar Sharing.
Having a calendaring solution that enables virtual teams to see each other’s calendars and to schedule meetings accordingly can be a huge time saver. No one has time to schedule meetings by manually confirming availability between each of your team members.
15) Time-Zone Differences.
Develop an overlapping schedule for team members in different time zones that enables all team members to be online at the same time during a portion of the workday.
ADMINISTRATIVE, CUSTOMER SERVICE, AND SALES SUPPORT
16) Virtual Assistants.
Much has been written about virtual assistants—or chatbots—in recent years. Inbound phone calls can be a huge distraction and productivity drain. With virtual assistants such as Davinci Auto Receptionist services, virtual teams can remain focused on executing tasks and projects while allowing the virtual assistant to intelligently route incoming calls to the right team member and moreover identifying those that need human interaction versus automatic routing.
17) Live Receptionists.
When incoming calls cannot be handled by a virtual assistant, live human assistance is needed. The latter is always required in the case of the latter. What some organizations are realizing is that they can tap live receptionists such as Davinci Live Receptionists to answer customer service and sales emails and calls. This enables them to remain focused on initiatives tied to business execution.
18) Live Web Chat.
Many of your incoming customer service and sales calls need to be routed through voice. Not only do your customers prefer digital engagement, but it is cheaper and more efficient for you. Here, you can leverage a third-party live web chat provider such as Davinci Live Web Chat services that can offload upwards of 30% or more of your incoming calls and emails.
While each of these technologies are critical enablers, they can become huge detractors if they aren’t integrated. Customers expect seamlessly portability between each engagement channel. Thus, it is critical that you seek out digital engagement solutions that are integrated and allow customers to move from live web chat, to voice, to email, to text as if they are using the same engagement tool and talking to the same customer or sales representative.
20) Project Management System.
Anyone who thinks that a project management is overkill is kidding themselves. Project management technology tools give each virtual team member with insight into each other’s work, request and give approvals on tasks and projects, share ideas and files, and update individual team members or the entire team on status changes.
21) Document Collaboration.
As often is the case, most virtual teams share and edit documents. Whether part of a project management system or a shared document management system such as Google Drive, Box, or Dropbox, virtual teams need a centralized solution that enables them to view and edit documents simultaneously.
22) Measure Outputs.
Measuring the productivity of your virtual team is important. Here, you need to have a solid understanding of what matters to the business and what key performance indicators (KPIs) should be tied to those initiatives. These metrics should be tracked and reported to be meaningful.
Not everyone is made to excel as a remote worker. When hiring for positions where workers will work part- to full-time from a remote location, you need to ensure they succeed—from a workspace environment and characteristics (and sometimes experience) to thrive in a virtual team setting.
If the only reason you’re hiring workers remotely is because you want to pay them less, then you need to take a step back and evaluate your business case. While workers are willing to take less pay in exchange to work from their home offices, they also expect to be compensated fairly and recognized for their efforts.
25) Mixed Teams.
Not everyone on the team may be virtual, and in these instances, it is important to ensure that both those who are on site and those who are remote share common goals, measurements, and opportunities. You can quickly demoralize your virtual team members if they are treated differently than those who are on site.