Virtual Teams Management: An Overview
Modern workspaces are defined by time zones rather than walls and physical spaces. Companies have understood that working in the office doesn’t automatically guarantee success and profit increase. So, why not leverage the remote resources
and attract foreign specialists who can bring a breath of fresh air into your project?
Qubit Labs has come up with an article aimed to guide you through the peculiarities of virtual teams. Namely, we will cover management tools and basic leadership principles and provide an overview of virtual teams’ core pros and cons. Besides, you will find some useful tips to keep your performance high and explore how distant teams can give a new impetus to your management practices. Let’s start by explaining the definition of a “virtual team.”
What Is a Virtual Team?
There are multitudes of phrases that fit the definition virtual team, but there aren’t many substantial differences between them. As a rule, to address the question “what is virtual team,” one can mention the following: a virtual team is a group of people that are united by the same goal and have a certain number of tools and resources. Yet, they are geographically allocated and have some cultural specificities; also, distant teams implement some remote communication tools, like emails and messengers, to maintain effective communication.
A Virtual Team Example
A virtual team leader has to consider all the cultural specificities and distinctions that might affect the team members’ understanding. Such remote teams give broad perspectives for forming personal and team identities. A great way to define a virtual team example is to suppose a certain company has a bulk of responsibilities and has to keep up with the markets’ evolving demands. To reduce the burden, it connects specialists from other countries and establishes a working process in a way to reach the target and stand out among the competitors.
Notably, in such working environments, people often don’t know each other in-person. They communicate with so-called virtual images of team members, enabling leaders to form a group team identity.
There are several kinds of remote teams that can be defined as a virtual team example:
- Offshore teams. These are created for software development and outsourcing. The company hires a ream to be responsible for a certain part of the project.
- Networked teams. These are groups, including multiple members that interact with each other to achieve common objectives. The participants are constantly changing because its members take part only when the project requires their expert opinion.
- Parallel teams. These are aimed to deliver services or functions that the businesses can’t fulfil. Such groups are usually built for short-term projects that require improving certain aspects of organizational processes. In this case, it is often that each employee knows one’s coworkers.
- Project/product development teams. These groups work on the received task during a specific period, which is usually quite long, from 6 months. A typical result achieved by such a team is a new product or informational system. All the responsibilities are divided between the employees, and the final result is defined in advance.
- Service teams. These are focused on supporting and maintaining the companies’ major activities. They are built in a way that there are several groups of employees that work in shifts. When one team’s working day is over, all the unfinished tasks are passed to the employees whose shit has just started.
In general, virtual teams differ from traditional ones in a way that each member is independent. The crew can have both a permanent and a temporary structure, in which members have specific skills and join together to achieve required results or meet the requisitioners’ tasks.
How To Manage A Virtual Team?
Managing a team remotely is quite a challenge, without a doubt. Yet, when focusing on the right processes, engaging efficient leadership practices, emphasizing certain stages, and distributing the responsibilities, you can achieve even more than you might have expected. For starters, let’s go through some of the key touchpoints:
- Outset. The early days are the determinants of your projects’ future success. It is crucial to hold a face-to-face meeting with all the team members, set expectations, discuss ideas, and clarify the team goals and ways of achieving them. You have to be honest and open to communication at this phase because it is essential to make all the coworkers feel comfortable around each other. A so-called “swift trust” will go a long way within the virtual team. That’s when you can evaluate each member and clarify to whom you should assign certain parts of the project. This helps to attain a “win-win” situation when both you and team members are satisfied with their working conditions and performance.
- Onboarding. Frequently, companies seek to start working on the project right away and forget about properly welcoming new members. Such an oversight usually leads to a decrease in overall performance because it’s hard for the newbies to integrate into the already-established team. That’s why, apart from sending the welcoming message and documentation, you should have an in-person welcome with each newcomer and introduce the employee to the team. Besides, if a mentor will be there for the new member, it will do much in the means of the person’s comfort and productivity.
- Major stages. A great piece of advice on how to manage a virtual team is to celebrate short-term goals. In this way, you will show the coworkers their efforts are valued and inspire them to achieve more and keep growing. It is significant to bring dispersed teams together so the employees don’t feel disconnected.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the particularities of virtual team leadership.
Virtual Team Leadership: Core Elements
First off, ask yourself a question: which action is most likely to help build trust in a virtual team? It’s about respect, empathy, and proactive engagement. The ability to emphasize the employees’ strengths and implement them into the working process. Building relationships between team members is a continuous activity, so try to support some off-work activities and have small talks for catching up with the employees. As they say, “small steps, big impact.”
Also, it is crucial to establish a friendly environment within the team. When people feel like they have similar interests, they are more likely to trust each other. This, in its turn, improves communication and project outcomes.
Without a doubt, virtual team leadership requires honesty and candor. Constructive criticism, or feedback that is delivered in the right tone, will make a great contribution. In this way, a person understands what he/she should empathize on and doesn’t feel cast adrift with one’s own issues. You should always pay attention to people who start speaking but might be interrupted by others because everyone should be heard out. Ask questions, be open to hearing honest answers; show employees that both positive and negative feedback are greatly appreciated.
For sure, having a shared vision and the ability to use one’s skills for mutual benefit are the drivers of success. Besides, it’s about making sure each employee knows one’s tasks, the general objective, and understands he/she is appreciated and is an inevitable part of the team. It’s necessary to stay informative and answer any questions employees might have regarding their project.
Also, another answer to “how to manage a virtual team” is to leverage the video conferencing tools. They can eliminate multitasking and make people focus on the ongoing conversations instead of having the calls in the background and minding their own business. After the meeting is over, make sure to send follow-up emails to summarize all the mentioned aspects, state guidelines, and reduce misunderstandings.
How to Ensure Virtual Team Effectiveness?
Social and task-related factors form virtual team effectiveness, including:
- Coordination: a team that knows and clearly understands what steps it should follow to achieve the set goal is the team that will deliver impressive results. It should be focused both on the process and the expectations to successfully manage its resources and processes.
- Communication: virtual team communication is not about quantity but quality. The team members have to aim to deliver their messages to each other clearly and concisely. They should go beyond the emails and messages and use communication tools to redouble their efforts and reach the targets within shorter periods.
- Cohesion: when each employee knows what to expect from their coworkers and can rely on him/her, the working environment will be built on trust. Face-to-face meetings can bond the team and prevent conflicts, and different activities will improve camaraderie and improve personal communications.
- Flexibility: remote work allows people to choose the time when they are most productive and get the work done within that period. However, team members might find it hard to keep the work-life balance stable, so you might offer to choose the earliest and latest hours for starting and finishing the working day. In this way, each person will be aware when one’s coworker is available and avoid working overtime.
- Tracking: tracking tools provide control over the team’s performance and show what the members are doing and whether they are handling the tasks. It’s not about the constant control but about understanding the factors or employees’ perceptions that might need to be emphasized.
Besides, don’t forget to address the question: Which of the following is desirable when a crucial project is delegated to a virtual team? It is essential to be involved in the project’s monitoring throughout the process to note and eliminate the arising issues right away. Such close attention to the employees’ performance and active participation in product development will increase their effectiveness. Also, it will prevent the employees from doing additional work related to fixing bugs after the launch.
Tips for Impactful Virtual Team Communication
Keep everyone informed
Ensure each employee knows the project deadlines, when meetings are held, and the team’s progress. Your virtual team members have to stay constantly updated and stay in touch with each other to understand their roles in product development success. In this way, everyone will remain in sync, and no employees will be left behind or fail to follow the schedule.
Implement team-building activities
Virtual team communication requires devoting time to having fun to relieve stress and encourage personal conversations. You might not even know what an exceptional person is working with you, so team buildings are perfect for discussing hobbies and plans. You will find out more about your coworkers and utilize new knowledge for their benefit. How can virtual teams overcome the lack of some or all nonverbal cues in team communication? Turning the video on will ensure visual contact, let the coworkers see each other’s emotions, and analyze facial expressions.
Create a set of rules everyone should be aware of, like response time or certain guidelines. Exchange emails, ask whether everything is clear, and explain each step of the process. Use management tools to assign tasks to the team members and see whether they have finished them or need assistance.
Let your employees make decisions on their own and minimize unnecessary check-ins. Establish norms, keep everyone informed about the performance metrics, evaluate productivity based on the finished tasks, and avoid overloading members with work.
Ensure regular catch-ups
Virtual team communication is effective when the whole team takes part in decision-making processes. Regular morning meetings will ensure there aren’t any roadblocks and everyone is in touch, and make each team member confident in colleagues’ input.
Choose the right technology
Make sure to leverage diverse virtual team collaboration tools for accomplishing different goals. Don’t limit the communication to messages and emails; use tracking tools, video conferencing apps, and collaborative environments. Let’s review them in more detail.
The Most Viable Virtual Team Collaboration Tools
- Jira. This is one of the most popular virtual team collaboration tools that is based on Agile development methods. It has customized boards and numerous ready-to-use plugins to be implemented for various projects.
- Skype. Via Skype, you can hold virtual team training or an interview. There is no need to install the app because the employees can connect to the call by clicking on the link. Besides, you can easily share files and store them there for a month.
- Slack. You can get instant feedback and receive personalized notifications with this customizable messenger. The easy search and connectivity with other apps and a built-in bot functionality make it useful for improving the performance.
- Zoom. In 2020, the popularity of this tool had gained momentum. It can be used for virtual team training with up to 100 people, allowing employees to express themselves by using customized backgrounds.
- Google Drive. Without a doubt, this is one of the most convenient and smooth virtual team collaboration tools. Several employees can access the files at once and easily search and change the required documents.
- Figma. This virtual team technology allows using several plugins, translating direction settings into code, and utilizing automatic layout padding.
Virtual Team Advantages And Disadvantages
- Enhanced competency. Your developers will be hand-picked to build the team of the most skilled, experienced, and qualified specialists in the area, no matter where they are living. The main advantage of a virtual team is erasing the countries borders and using the team members’ capacities to the fullest.
- Mutual enrichment. Each team member has something unique that can’t be found in other employees. The team will strive to share the knowledge within the employees and enrich the overall expertise.
- Increased creativity. When elaborating on virtual team advantages and disadvantages, one of the most major benefits is bringing innovation and endless novelty. People with diverse backgrounds and cultural perceptions aren’t limited by certain stereotypes. So, each member will go beyond the borders and bring uniqueness into the project development.
- Flexibility. All the processes can be easily restructured, including the number of team members and their roles and functions. It allows complying with the ever-changing world and adapting to the new requirements. When competitiveness takes place, the winner is the one that can easily and quickly change its processes and goals to deliver a sought-after product to the market.
- Cost reduction. When you don’t have to pay for the office, commute, coordinate processes, and pay less for meetings and travels, you can manage the finances more effectively. You can form a virtual team for multiple times less money than you would have had to spend on in-house employees.
- Accelerated working processes. Since the virtual teams utilize different collaboration tools, have enhanced processes coordination, and use all the resources to the maximum, their performance is increased as well. This allows employees to deliver great results within the deadlines, and sometimes, even faster, without losing quality.
Now, it’s time for some virtual team challenge spill.
What About Virtual Team Challenge Spill?
- Lack of control. One of the most frequent challenges of virtual team is the inability to monitor project progress, which often leads to massive issues. To mitigate the negative outcomes, implement performance analysis to monitor each development stage and identify the arisen errors right away. You can use project progress trackers to facilitate the development process.
- Management-related issues. Often, among other virtual team communication challenges, you might face a lack of communication, which leads to misunderstandings and losing contact with team members. It’s quite hard to organize meetings when all the employees are in different time zones. However, another problem related to this case is the unclear distribution of roles and responsibilities. You should understand each person’s strengths and weaknesses and delineate the tasks based on these qualities.
- The problem of finding common ground. Of course, the list of virtual team communication challenges can’t be completed without mentioning the need to ensure the unity of purpose and goals. All the members need to have a shared understanding of the principles and interactions, be on the same wavelength, and consensus on key issues.
- Difficulties regarding keeping up team spirit. The feeling of cohesion ensures stability and makes the team resilient despite the variety of cultural traditions and individual aspirations. The team spirit within a virtual team can be achieved only via in-person communication, namely team building and other off-work activities.
As you can see, managing virtual teams is a challenging and time-consuming process that requires a lot of attention. If you don’t have enough time to manage all the mentioned processes, find a vendor, like Qubit Labs, that can help you set up and manage the remote employees (you can also read our article about IT vendor management). Our professionals have vast experience in working with virtual teams, so we will discuss your requirements, outline the necessary tasks, find top-notch developers, and take care of all management-related activities. Feel free to contact us, and we will spare you from the hustle and unnecessary efforts.