The very nature of teamwork has profoundly changed in the digital age. Most businesses are no longer centralized in one location, but instead have their employees work from many locations. This can be good news because the company can build a virtual team from the best resources anywhere in the world.
The virtual team trend is very popular. Even team members that reside in the same geographic area as the company's headquarters are asking for the convenience of working some of the time from home when their activities require focused concentration.
According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com's analysis of Census data, 50 percent of the American workforce holds a job that could be partially done virtually, and approximately 20 to 25 percent of the workforce actually telecommutes frequently. For business owners, this reduces the cost of physical office space and all the additional expenses that are associated with a large location for all of its employees.
However, working virtually can also come at a cost. Without face-to-face interaction, it can become more difficult to build a cohesive team that can work effectively together. Virtual employees may feel isolated from a company and its culture; this feeling is very real and needs to be specifically addressed when it occurs. In addition, employees may feel pressured by the access to technology to work more hours regardless of the time of day. While business owners may see this as a positive trend, it does lead to increased burnout of the team members.
To build a virtual team, you may want to try a new style of management to maximize the performance of these virtual employees.
1. Specifically define goals and processes that can be tracked by everyone.
Try documenting the metrics that will objectively define what success looks like. This can be particularly helpful for employees who can't be “seen" every day, or when your virtual team doesn't have regular one-on-one contact.
For salespeople, it can be easy to use their quotas as the goal. But for customer service or development employees, it can be a little more difficult to come up with measurable objectives. Whatever you decide these specific targets will be, consider reviewing them every month instead of on a quarterly basis for your virtual team.
2. Provide the hardware to work remotely.
Virtual employees may need additional solutions that office-bound employees don't need. This can include a webcam, smartphone, tablet and reliable remote access to all secure office applications.
3. Provide collaboration tools.
Teams typically collaborate best with face-to-face meetings and not just through email. When this isn't possible, consider using collaboration tools like cloud file storage, Microsoft Office 365 and Google apps. These tools can help virtual team members work together, share versions and leave comments.
Messaging apps like Slack that integrate with business applications can help build conversation and camaraderie when team members are not in the same physical location. In a sense, it helps create a virtual water cooler as an informal location to talk.
4. Check in with the employee by phone or video chat every other day.
Instant messaging or emails can be effective for some tasks, but it may not establish the personal connection that can be beneficial to teamwork. Video calls can help the leader focus on being with that employee virtually.
5. Set up in-person meetings at least twice a year.
I think three to four times a year is even better. It's hard to replace the value of in-person meetings when it comes to establishing a solid working relationship with a virtual team. It can be easier to use virtual collaboration tools productively as described above once this has happened.
You may even want these meetings to include some type of social activity like sharing a meal to learn more about the person.
6. Over communicate.
Consider committing to a timetable of giving more feedback to a virtual employee than anyone who works in the physical location.
Remember that working outside the office can be an isolating experience. The individual may worry about what people may think of the quality of their work or feel out of the loop. This focus may help them feel like they have the manager's attention, and may improve their ability to remain on target. It can also help identify any conflicts early which can hide more easily when people are not physically together.
7. Make your virtual team a part of the company.
Extending your company's culture outside a physical location—especially if you have a mix of in-person and virtual employees—can go a long way.
Consider taking it a step beyond just including them on a conference call while everyone else is in the room. Maybe you can include them in ongoing virtual exercises where they can participate anywhere. There are several effective technical technology tools that can assist in growing virtual relationships. Bonfyre is a social platform that does this on a very personal level and helps employees build relationships with each other. Team members can invite each other to virtual communities where they post comments and photos like an internal Facebook news feed. Another virtual team-building tool is Highground, which sends kudos to fellow employees using virtual badges that aligns with the company's mission. It also allows business owners to take employees' "mood temperature" regularly (from sad to happy faces) to identify problems early.
How have you changed your management style to work with employees to build teamwork into your virtual team?
For more tips on building a strong company culture, access our exclusive guide by author and leadership expert Jon Gordon: Build a Winning Organizational Culture.
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