Managing Virtual Teams: A guide to Success
Managing Virtual Teams can be a challenge. Especially with no prior experience. We’re here to help…
You’re most likely already a part of a virtual team – maybe you just don’t know yet. Virtual teams have been a necessity these days and are here to stay. This trend has obviously been proven and entails a number of challenges: In this guide, you will learn…
✓ The three factors of leadership for managing successful virtual teams.
✓ How to keep virtual teams engaged.
✓ Hnnds-on tips to motivate virtual teams.
✓ What to change in order to make your virtual team successful.
✓ How teamwork can be improved in virtual teams.
The Trend towards Working From Home
If you think that you are not affected by this matter, you are certainly wrong. A global survey conducted by Gartner Inc. has revealed that 88% of the questioned organizations encourage their employees to work from home. On the other hand, according to an IBM study, 70% of employees would want to partially work from home post Covid and 54% would want to do so completely – a clear trend!
One Person at Home changes everything
The most important interpretation of these studies is that solely one person working from home makes the entire team a virtual one. Therefore, the probability that you are already working in a virtual team is rather high, as well as the circumstance that this won’t change any time soon.
The Pros and Cons of Virtual Teams
Reasons why global leaders rely on virtual teams and why it’s not right for some teams.
Advantages of Virtual Teams
- Not all the best talents live in the same city. Virtual teams open new opportunities to recruitment.
- Diversity is being fostered. For example, 42% of leaders in remote businesses are female, whereas only 14.2% of S&P 500 corporations are led by women (according to Fast Company). This is reasoned by a higher flexibility, a more contemporary corporate culture, and a stronger focus on results.
- Management changes its focus since output is the sole criteria for success, instead of attendance time.
- Set up correctly, virtual collaboration works even better than a classic physical office setting. This leads to a more effective, productive, and economical work progress. For example, Harvard Business Review reported on an experiment that showed, while working from home, the productivity was increased by 13%.
- Working from home digitally facilitates a better work-life balance, which leads to higher motivation and employee satisfaction. 82% of remote employees report a lower stress level (according to PGi report). Furthermore, commuting is no longer necessary.
- Businesses can save incredibly on office spaces.
Challenges of virtual teams
Leadership work had already been a challenge for many before working from home became common practice. However, distance increases the complexity of leadership. These are the obstacles you should be prepared for:
- Bad leadership has more severe consequences: if people work from home under unsatisfactory conditions, 69% will suffer from burnout symptoms, according to a Monster survey.
- Virtual teams have the biggest problems with communication, team spirit and integration, and responsible work style of all employees.
- The effort to maintain an appealing business culture is strenuous, since this working model is new to the vast majority.
- Investments in software, hardware, education, as well as a change in the mindset of leaders is required.
- Many businesses face new challenges concerning IT security concepts.
If and how virtual collaboration works, strongly depends on how consistent and comprehensive a project is implemented. Businesses, that initiate a shift earlier and more intensely, will more likely benefit from its advantages. Hence, there will always be classic physical offices, just like there are still lawyers up to this day that have never sent out an email.
“The terms ‘digital nomad’ or ‘remote work’ will not exist in the future anymore. They will only be minimized terms to describe previous working trends.” Kate Kendall – CEO of CloudPeeps.
Three Interactive Factors in managing Virtual Teams
The difference in leadership between managing virtual teams and classic teams is not necessarily content related. It lies in particular areas, which need a different focus. Furthermore, a number of digital aspects are being added, which are subdivided in three different categories.
Factor of Leadership No. 1: The Broad Field of Communication in Virtual Teams
Whenever a team shifts to a remote working mode, the first problems arise in communication. People feel badly informed, recurring mistakes become more frequent, and feedback is lacking. Another indicator of bad communication is when leaders mostly receive direct messages instead of group messages. This slows communication down and makes it non-transparent.
✅ Tip: Many communication tools (e.g., Slack) offer statistics in order to get more transparency into your communication structure. It’s worth striving for 50% of communications to take place in open channels and 50% via direct messages.
✅ Tip: With surveys you can evaluate where the biggest difficulties are – the survey tool, teamazing Insights, helps you to quickly determine where changes need to be made, and if your measures work when used on a regular basis.
The following 6 items should be considered in order to improve the communication of your virtual team:
#1 Shared Expectations of Collaboration and Clear Rules: The “Playbook”
In order to support self-organization of employees, clear rules and structures are needed – especially in the beginning. This doesn’t mean that every single step is predefined, yet framework, objective and resources should be. The playbook contains overall company-wide rules and communication rules between individual employees. It shall contain the following items:
- Work time model which includes time recording, availability, and core hours.
- Working from home rules
To what extent is working from home allowed or even desired?
- Responsibilities and roles
Every team member shall have a clearly defined role within the team, which is also known to the rest of the team members.
- Communication and cooperation rules
It’s important to define when and how many times the team meets to vote. We suggest daily meetings in the morning (“dailies”), regular performance meetings (once or twice a week) as well as monthly meetings which question priorities and strategies.
a) The Daily
You might know the concept of a daily from agile working methods. All team members meet every morning at the same time and reflect on the previous workday, discuss the plans for the current day, and when each team member is working and available. In doing so, each employee prepares a “daily post-it note”. The meeting itself is aimed to not exceed the duration of 10 minutes and to give all team members an overview of what needs to be addressed and which problems exist. We often schedule a follow-up meeting during our daily in order to address the mentioned problems ASAP. In addition to this, we also enhanced our daily with the factor “emotions”, and brainstormed to find a perfect tool for it: Google Slides
b) The Weekly has the Following Objectives:
- View, interpret and possibly celebrate important indicators (e.g., KPI)
- Update all team members regarding projects, strategies, and general topics.
- To get a clear picture of emotions: How does each team member feel? Which personal topics are currently relevant? To do so, a survey by teamazing Insights called “current mood”, which includes 5 simple questions, is being sent out and answered by all team members before the meeting.
The weekly is supposed to be scheduled in the beginning of the week and is aimed to possibly include all team members. Here you can find my favorite structure of an effective virtual weekly:
- Summary of the most important information and most recent achievements from the last week (including all figures and indicators)
- Outlook to the upcoming week, its activities, projects, and priorities.
- Personal updates: Weekend activities
c) The Monthly
During the monthly, the team reviews the current orientation of the business, its long term goals and whether they are still accurate.
✅ Tip: Be early in the virtual meeting room to prevent or solve any technical difficulties. More importantly, these few minutes are very precious to work on relationships and chatting with all fellow teammates.
#2 Result-oriented Rules, Priorities, and Focus
In order to lead a team to a higher level of performance, achievement-oriented goals are needed. One advantage of virtual team settings is that, primarily, performance is rated rather than attendance. The evaluation of performance can be gained through talks with employees, especially during the monthly, through transparent and overall team member assessments. There is no need for bonus systems, but rather team goals, transparency, honest compliments, and a little patience. Therefore, the performance of all team members should be openly discussed on a regular basis and extraordinary achievements should be acknowledged.
✅ Tip: The better your team is organized, the more performance-oriented it can get. Hence, you, as a leader, should provide your team with a weekly plan of tasks to be fulfilled. Either you set it up yourself or you advise one of your team members to do so.
✅ Tip: Keep in mind that current projects have priority and set goals should be achieved before new ones are being started. Fresh ideas are obviously always welcome, yet if pursued instantly, it is possible to lose track of current projects that won’t be completed.
✅ Tip: The management models “Objectives and Key Results” (OKR) and “Management by Objectives” are perfect for results-oriented leadership. At the same time, these models ensure that the focus of all employees is aligned to the same goal.
To-do list with at least 3 Tasks
pEvery team member should have several tasks on their post-it and give each one a certain priority. It’s possible to get stuck with a task because a fellow team member is not available. This is totally fine, as long as there is another task to be taken on, while waiting on feedback.
✅ Tip: As a leader, you can help reduce the feeling of stress and enhance productivity by clearly identifying which tasks can be postponed to another day.
Be productive, while working
Be a role model: Use your working time as good as possible. Adjust your environment in a way that you are able to concentrate and take consistent breaks to be able to maintain it. Tell your team members about efforts, achievements; and failures of improving your efficiency step by step – they will follow your way.
#3 Business Culture – the Biggest Challenges for Virtual Teams
The term ‘business culture’ is used to describe common behaviors and values within a company. Often, only parts of this culture are visible to outstanding parties and will only come to light when directly interacting with employees. These ‘unwritten laws’, which are used for orientation by employees, are the result of all previous actions so far. This is the reason why it is incredibly hard and tedious to initiate and maintain a process of change, because numerous cultural behaviors are needed to detect a shift.
A shift in ‘business culture’ only works top-down and requires lots of attention by the entire management. Done correctly, culture work has a positive effect on all other areas and topics. Virtual teams only perform if their ‘business culture’ is sensitively adapted to new frameworks of everyday work.
Remember the following points:
- One remote, all remote
Even if there’s only one team member that’s not in the same room as the others, all communicate digitally.
- All team members get the same amount of attention
Take your time for personal talks with the ones that are not in the office.
- Create room for private conversations
You have to actively create opportunities for virtual teams to improve relationships between team members.
- Nothing substitutes face-to-face
People should at least get one opportunity to see, feel and smell each other to create a bond.
Establish Unity while Working from Home
In order to create a culture of unity as a leader, you have to acknowledge that employees are more than just people working for you. They are humans with unique backgrounds, interests, and ideas. When employees feel they are being perceived as humans, it makes them united.
Team-Bonding through online Rituals
Beyond the workplace, it’s very easy to imagine rituals that both motivate a team and lead to top performances. Athletic teams, for example, scream slogans, high five, or listen to a specific song after a game while getting changed. In theater, it is common practice to say “break a leg” before a play. Every band has its own rituals which are never forgotten about. Use the power of rituals to bring more unity in your team.
Best practices for managing remote teams: 15 tips for rituals
- Have lunch together
- Work out together
- Greet new employees in a special manner
- Creatively introduce new members to a team
- Birthday surprises (for example PowerPoint-Karaoke)
- Celebrate achievements like a sale or reaching a certain goal in a special manner (virtual gong, for example)
- Netflix sessions or book clubs
- Hand over a virtual trophy to the employee of the month
- Instant team meetings when something extraordinary happened with the rule that each one holds a drink in their hand to cheers
- A special ritual to end the daily in the morning (e.g., energizer or ice breaker to start the day fresh)
- Plan weekly, monthly, or quarterly team events
- Employees who celebrate an anniversary have to give a personal performance during the next meeting (e.g., sing a song)
- Special energizer and warm up games before an online meeting
- Fika: a Swedish tradition to have coffee breaks at specific times (11am and/or 3pm) together and discuss non-work-related topics
- Have a post work drink together in the virtual office
The key to success is when the team itself has the feeling of having initiated the rituals. We, at teamazing, have numerous rituals which connect us and create a strong bond among all team members. We continuously come up with new ideas which substitute old rituals. As a leader, you have to constantly keep your eyes open for new rituals and seize every opportunity.
#4 Promote Communication with relationship work
It’s rather common that leaders have problems with establishing relationships and creating a strong foundation of trust. This becomes more difficult in virtual teams, since there are fewer opportunities to work on foundations of trust. The key lies within the effort to spend as much non-work-related time together, laugh together, and acknowledge employees as human beings. Relationship work is a crucial point for every leader.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
No one must be left behind. Important information has to be delivered through various channels – in meetings, mails, protocols, group chats and video messages. Especially in a digital framework, it happens that messages get lost. Therefore, it is very important as a leader to reiterate essential messages several times.
In marketing, a good customer relationship is defined by how many contact points a customer has with a company. This also accounts for leadership work: A good virtual leadership can be measured by the contact frequency within a team. During a five-day week, 30+ contacts lead to a highly motivated team. In the beginning, you can set yourself a goal between three and six messages a day.
Team Building of Virtual Teams
– The best way to keep your team at 100% (Definition of team building)
Due to the rare social interactions in virtual teams, you have to take additional team building steps. The dynamic of hybrid teams constitutes a very challenging task. Therefore, a lot of our clients organize a team building activity once a month since they converted their physical offices to virtual ones.
Even though in person team building is more effective, there is no reason to underestimate the power of online team building: Done correctly, online team building events can be as effective as physical ones. Some even prefer the virtual option because it is more convenient and delivers the same feeling of togetherness, fun, and happiness. 🥳 Here are a few examples of extraordinary team building ideas.
Team Retreats as Ultra-Bonding
Despite many virtual possibilities, these cannot substitute real encounters. To come together once or twice a year to discuss the future of the company and to strengthen the relationships within the team is crucial for people to feel united. Use some of the money that can be saved from creating less office space to organize these annual team retreats or workshops.
Conflict Management: Extend the Medium, not the Message
Whenever you sense a possible dispute between employees via mail or in a chat, do not hesitate to immediately intervene by calling the parties via webcam. Sending messages lacks in conveying emotion and body language which leads to simple misunderstandings. If there is tension in the air, you should initiate a video call. Some companies have rules written down in their playbook in order to ensure that team members must see each other per video at least once a week.
When someone is in a bad mood, see the person as a human being that can be as equally stressed out as you. Talk to them, be emphatic, and let them know you understand the issue. If you are both on the same level, you can explain that a negative sentiment is counterproductive for the general mood within the team. This responsibility can be taken on by any team member, especially by ones who are characterized by a strong form of the steady personality type.
#5 Support Motivation & Engagement of Virtual Teams
We believe that enthusiasm, or its little sister ‘motivation’, is the biggest factor of success of every project. Inspiring and motivating teams has always been a great challenge for businesses and leaders.
To infect teams that are working from home with motivation is even more complex and requires more energy. However, this is the only way to get employees enthusiastic about a purpose, focus, performance, growth, and the building of relationships.
Communication driven by Vision: The Purpose
Knowing what one is working for. Everyone has their own reasons why to work. By extracting a common ‘why’ and discussing it, inspires and motivates teams for common goals.
A common purpose is more important for virtual teams because it creates orientation and motivation. The bigger challenge, however, is to support and maintain it.
✅ Tip: Organize a workshop focusing on ‘purpose’ and you will see that a lot of motivation and energy will be set free afterwards. Every team can find its own purpose disregarding the framework (hierarchy, field, members etc.).
Celebrate Achievements together
According to a study from the Boston Consulting Group, 4 out of 5 employees stated that they are more motivated when they receive appreciation by their boss. Even though most leaders know about this circumstance, there are still deficits in this matter. Praise sets free the hormone dopamine, which causes the emergence of motivation.
✅ Tip: When one of your employees does a good job, let everyone know – this also works well with virtual teams. Praise actively and send out ‘well-done-GIFs’ in the group chat or take some time to go over achievements and successes with your team during the next meeting. This approach strengthens the impact of praise.
✅ Tip: Make everyone responsible. A leader is not supposed to be the only one to spread recognition and appreciation. In order to maintain a certain level of it, you can organize regular feedback speed dating events or simply integrate feedback into the working process (e.g., as a final task at the end of each project).
Ensure Motivation with Gamification in a Playful Way
Gamification defines the use of game elements in a non-gaming setting. For companies, this has been a popular method to improve customer loyalty. The same approach accounts for regular dopamine secretion among employees and, therefore, more motivation and fun at work. Our workflow software Joinpoints also uses gamification: For each fulfilled task we receive digital diamonds. The more effective we fulfil the task, the more diamonds we will get. This is an example of how easy gamification can be incorporated in the everyday work process.
Game-based performance management systems help to standardize and make performance and evaluation criteria more transparent. This is especially important for remote team members that are not physically present and therefore often get the feeling of having less promotion opportunities.
Use your new Flexibility to your own Benefit
According to a recent FlexJobs study, 56% of respondents state that they primarily profit from one thing while working from home: flexibility and having flexible working hours.
Working in virtual teams facilitates a better work-life balance which results in a higher employee satisfaction and motivation.
✅ Tip: Experiment with your own work hours and observe your productivity. Try different work schedules and pay attention to how good you are able to concentrate and how you feel the next morning.
Support Side Projects
To give employees the freedom of working on personal projects that go hand in hand with the companies’ goals, promotes innovation within the company. The company 3M has applied for 22,000 patents as a result of their ’15% Project’. With this project, 3M gives their employees the opportunity – similar to Google’s 20% Project – to invest a part of their working time into new products. Also, LinkedIn, Facebook, Jooble, and Hewlett-Packard have implemented their own version of the program.
Breaks promote Motivation
Seriously: Breaks are important for your performance and motivation. Your brain needs breaks to recharge and be creative. Having a private life, makes you better at your job.
#6 Leaders who lead Virtual Teams to Success
The content of this guide needs to be implemented gradually by both leaders and employees. The former have to understand, how remote team members need to be led and trained.
The majority of workforce thinks that leaders should expand their knowledge to better support virtual teams. Therefore, we offer workshops and one-on-one trainings, in which the current situation of a company is illuminated to work on specific solutions together.
Factor of Leadership No. 2: MINDSET – The new Psychology of Success
If leaders take on their tasks with the right mentality, a long success is inevitable. Thus, the right mindset is vital.
How can I become casual, spontaneous, and funny?
Yes, work is work. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything needs to be seen from a business perspective. The digital setting entails change. Your employees get to see your living room, get to know your family, your pets, and they get to know you within your home – thanks to a flexible work-life balance. Let it happen and gain a new easiness and freedom for these things. We are all human. You will see that this deepens your trust.
✅ Tip: Try something new every day. New tools, new sports, new food, a new way of working, etc. Train your brain to do something it is not used to. Like a muscle, our brain needs practice and time to become more mentally agile and to feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
Absent Management / Leadership / Micromanagement
Making mistakes when leading virtual teams has more severe consequences on motivation of employees than when interacting face-to-face. In general, wrongful leadership can be divided into two contrary categories – the middle column describes leadership on a partnership level:
Leadership on a partnership level
|Hands-off, ears-off, mouth-off||Hands-on, ears-on, mouth-off||Hands-on, ears-off, mouth-on|
|It lacks in curiosity. Little interest.||Shows curiosity. Recognizes when further interest is necessary.||Lacks in curiosity. Pretends to know everything.|
|Doesn’t listen. Doesn’t say anything.||Listens. Asks why.||Doesn’t listen. Explains how.|
|Is scared of details.||Asks for most important details.||Asks for relevant details.|
|Has no idea what‘s going on.||Is informed because very involved.||Asks for presentations, reports, and news.|
|Doesn’t set goals.||Is leading the identification of goals.||Sets goals arbitrarily.|
|Is not paying attention to problems.||Listens to problems. Predicts problems. Creates solutions to problems.||Tells how problems are solved without fully understanding them.|
|Initiates problems by unintentional putting one’s foot in it.||Removes obstacles and mitigates heated situations.||Tells how obstacles have to be removed but observes the attempt from a distance.|
How to gain and retain Trust
Trust is a team’s lubricant. Whenever remote team members get to know each other better, barriers are overcome and respect for and the willingness to help each other grows. Team-work works smoothly.
Trust can only be built by trustworthy behavior – to talk about trust, but not acting by its rules, is wasted time. One of the biggest challenges for leaders of virtual teams lies within developing trust by building relationships. For virtual team members that don’t see each other in person every day, this process can take longer.
✅ Tip: To trust figuratively means ‘to be vulnerable’. Invite your team to an event, at which each of them holds a presentation about themselves. By doing so, funny stories and personal details are being shared. Seize this option to show your vulnerable side. This strengthens each other’s trust and allows the team to have fun together.
Being fully transparent, is most likely the best way to gain your team’s trust. “A lack of transparency leads to mistrust and a deep feeling of insecurity”, Dalai Lama
Leading Virtual Teams: Radical Candor and Transparency
“Radical Candor” in terms of leading virtual teams means to be emphatic and relentlessly direct at the same time. Let’s be honest: To live radically open is incredibly hard. To only be one thing and ignore the other one is easy. Others stay completely out of it and decide to not do either.
Use Delegation to Pave the Way for a good virtual Leadership
To delegate means to pass on responsibility. When responsibility is shared between several parties, there is room for more. Before anything else, it is to be determined whether employees even have the desire to take over more responsibility. In the next step, it is important to make clear to everyone, to which extent responsibility will be delegated. A total transfer is called “Stewardship-delegation”. A clear distribution and communication of responsibilities is more important in a virtual setting because natural contact points like the “office grapevine” don’t exist.
“Stewardship delegation focuses on results rather than methods. It gives free choice of which method to use and only makes the executor responsible for the result.”, Stephen R. Covey.
Before a task it delegated, leaders have to question themselves: “Who is the most suitable to deliver the best possible result?” By choosing tasks to be delegated, weaknesses of leadership should be balanced out. When I work with someone who knows something better than me, it is only a logical consequence to delegate this task.
✅ Tip: Consider with every task you take on: “ Who would carry it out as good as me or even better?”
✅ Tip: Every delegation makes me a more effective leader because it provides me with more time for leadership work.
✅ Tip: Within the whole delegation process, the game ‘delegation poker’ clarifies to which extent responsibility is passed on. In this game, the team prepares specific delegation examples from the everyday work routine and holds the following seven cards in hand:
– Announce: “I will let you know.” The leader makes a decision and announces it without any reasoning or discussion.
– Sell: “I will try to mediate it to you.” The leader decides, reasons their decision, and tries to convince the team of it.
– Question: “I will gain your advice before I make my decision.” The leader gathers opinions from all team members before making a decision.
– Agree: “We will find consensus.” A discussion which leads to an agreement between all parties, is taking place.
– Consult: “I will consult you, but you make the decision.” After a team gets advice from their leader, the team makes the decision.
– Inquire: “I will ask you for your decision.” The team makes a decision, and the leader asks for the result and its motives.
– Delegate: “I will completely delegate.” The leader hands over an autonomous decision to the team.
Specific examples such as ‘a customer is asking for a 20% discount’ are discussed and both the delegation initiator and the delegation receiver play one card from the leader’s perspective. If the same cards lay on the table, the situation is clear. If different cards lay on the table, everybody discusses about which card is the most suitable for this very example. Card 4 “Agree” is preferably not to be used.
Feedback Culture is more important than ever
For many leaders, and also employees, working in a virtual team is something new. Therefore, feedback is a perfect means to learn from mistakes faster and strengthen desired behavior.
Communicate it very clear to your team members that you currently expect a lot and, in particular, critical feedback. Whenever they sit in front of their computer and question whether a response or remark is too much, the answer is definitely a clear: “No!”. A great opportunity to build trust is to practice radical openness.
Feedback is certainly not to be disrespectful. This can be prevented by specifically referring to certain behavior and its consequences on the receiver and phrase it from the ‘I perspective’. Mutual feedback helps to understand in which ways our actions trigger reactions among receivers. The more we get, the better our understanding about the consequences of our behavior.
For me, personally, the 8-second rule helps to receive feedback: just wait 8 seconds after each question. This can feel quite long, especially in complete silence, yet it gives each party enough time to think about the question. Moreover, it increases the pressure to say something (I’m sure you know what I’m talking about). Usually, someone breaks the silence after 6 seconds and initiates the feedback round.
✅ Tip: Continuous feedback sessions help break down barriers. Furthermore, everyone should have a feedback buddy to constantly look into their own mirror. This is especially effective in hybrid teams since boundaries are being loosened between the office and the virtual team.
The secret of Empowered Teams
The term ‘empowering’ primarily means that you have trust that your team is giving its best. Concerning virtual teams, numerous leaders have issues with this type of trust because they have limited access to control mechanisms. “The best way to find out whether someone is trustworthy, is to trust”, Ernest Hemingway.
The feeling of being “empowered”, has a strong effect on motivation. According to a study on “Employee Empowerment”, empowerment clearly correlates with engagement. Among employees that felt a high level of empowerment, the percentage of employee engagement increased from 24 to 79%.
Collective Success: When Everyone Wins
I don’t call the people that work in my company ‘employees’, because I personally don’t like this term. They are colleagues and don’t work ‘for’ me but ‘with’ me. I don’t win, but ‘we’ win.
It’s language and according behavior that creates collectivity and a collaborative feeling of responsibility. Achievements one has been a part of are more important than achievements one hasn’t been a part of.
In order to celebrate collective success, it is not always necessary to have won against somebody or another team. Don’t forget the small achievements which are being accomplished – almost inconspicuously – everyday.
Achievements can easily be linked to positive rituals. We, for example, have a ritual to strike a gong after having sold an event. The person responsible for the sale is the one to do it. The sound of the gong is also audible in our virtual office and is followed by the cheering of the entire team.
✅ Tip: Sit down with your team and set up a list of all kinds of small and big achievements which have been obtained throughout the last days, weeks, and months. Come up with fun rituals to celebrate for those achievements you like the best.
One thing is clear: More things need to be celebrated!
Use the Role Model Function as a Multiplier
Working from home and in virtual teams requires – in many ways – a change of thinking and new behavior patterns. In order to master this process, a role model is necessary. It’s impossible without it.
A role model is someone that constitutes a positive example for others. Parents are the most important role models for kids. Leaders are for their employees. You have to be aware of your role model status and know that any behavior will be imitated. The higher the position, the bigger is the role model effect.
You are the one to strictly follow new rules for a better collaboration of your virtual team the most. Values and attitudes towards working from home, remote teamwork, and other subjects need to be thoroughly thought out and demonstrated. Your attitude towards change will sweep over to your team in the long run and facilitate your work as a leader.
Patience for the Process
Change needs time: New behavior patterns need to be tightened and attitudes need to be changed. All this cannot happen overnight. An initial doubt and resistance are normal for every changing process.
Factor of Leadership No. 3: Digital Aspects in Virtual Teams
A virtual team has the same basic component as a physical one: People with various skills, communication, and a common objective. Nothing changes, except for the channel of communication. Changing it from offline to online is actually not really a complex intend. This is also the reason why the shift to working from home works well for most companies from a technical point of view.
Fear – the biggest Opponent of Digitalization
Being afraid to fail, not understand something new, being excluded, or being worried about one’s own health. When people are faced with something new, fear is predestined. It has been left for us due to evolution and prevented us from many dangers in the past. Being afraid of something new, is therefore natural. It naturally settles down whenever new and positive experiences are gained. This is your duty as a leader: Provide as many positive experiences with digitalization as possible and let as little negative ones happen.
Digital natives have a head start indeed, but many of the elder generations have been caught by curiosity. From their perspective, there finally exists a legitimate reason to deal with this interesting topic and learn many new things.
✅ Tip: Don’t let anybody alone with fear, worries, or a new tool and convey a feeling that asking for help is always appreciated.
Count on something Visual
There is one main rule that should be lived in your team: VIDEO ON
The usage of visual content is not only limited to online meetings. Use emojis, screenshots, screen captures, screen transmissions or a virtual office, in which colleagues are visualized as small avatars. The number of possibilities increases day by day. Make use of it!
✅ Tip: Emojis and Gifs have become socially acceptable, whatever some may say. In addition, they should be used in a business context because they are a great means to visualize feelings and situations and even terms. Besides contents, emotions are conveyed which would not be the case through normal text messages. On top of that, within the next few years, generation Y and Z will enter the labor market, two generations, for which no use of emojis in texts increasingly appears to be cold and unemotional, and therefore have a negative connotation.
Use a Project Management Tool
If your team is not yet using one, or is still organizing through an Excel sheet, it’s time for a change. It is impossible to effectively lead a team without software support. The choice of the tool is marginal, as long as it explicitly assigns each task to a person, it promotes information exchange, and gives you a good overview. We work with Joinpoints because it automatically creates and delegates tasks that need to be completed. Further popular tools are Trello, Asana, Monday and JIRA.
Slack instead of Email: A Communication Tool is much needed
Also in this matter, the issue is clear: It can’t be without it. Emails should not be the primary means of internal communication, since by now, many good options, which simulate real time communication well, exist. You can still write emails but it’s inefficient and can be chaotic.
We work with Slack but numerous alternatives also fulfil their purpose. It’s important to use various channels in order to better organize your communication. This also makes it easier to find information again. A further aspect is that getting in touch with a team member is supposed to happen as easy and fast as if you would sit together in an office. This facilitates problems to be solved faster, and deeper relationships to be built.
Virtual Offices are the Future
We have been working in our virtual office for months. Our rules are very simple:
- During working time, one is logged into the virtual office.
- If one is not available, their Avatar is red, on ‘quiet mode’.
- If one wants to speak to a team member, it is possible to ring their bell.
The virtual office has improved our cooperation by a factor of 2. Whenever one has a question, they can simply walk to someone’s desk, team meetings can spontaneously be held on the aisle, and obviously there are virtual flipcharts that can be used for collaboration. It all works whether all colleagues are in the same room or in a different country.
✅ Tip: Build your own virtual office! Many video chat tools, in which one can move like an Avatar and speak with whoever they want, are suitable for this. The tool gather.town enables to interactively integrate content and recreate whole office complexes with different spaces. Whoever wants to build a virtual office should do so with gather.town.
Maintain your Social Life
By stopping interacting and speaking with people face-to-face, life will get hard. I think that it’s really important to speak with people every day, even if this sounds stupid – otherwise we will unlearn it.
Make your Remote Team Members to Heroes of the Team
In order to increase involvement and engagement of your remote colleagues, you can make them brand ambassadors of your company and the project “virtual teams”.
This is a great opportunity to show them more appreciation by helping them build their personal role and giving them a feeling of belonging.
Moreover, supporting their virtual lobby entails many benefits for the company such as increasing the revenue, building brand recognition and help the employer with branding and talent acquisition.
Summary and Conclusion
In my opinion, every team has at least one member that – in one or another phase of life – envisages themselves abroad on the move, or in their grandparents’ vacation home and simply doesn’t want to or simply cannot quit work. Currently, they are still called digital no-mads. In the future, it will be common practice to link yourself into your virtual office with a mouse click from anywhere in the world. The trend is clear: However possible, working from anywhere will not be the exemption anymore, but the norm.
Considering that the same rules apply for hybrid and virtual teams, many business cultures will have to change in order to remain attractive as an employer.
This will increase the complexity of leaders’ tasks and will in a sense, make them more unclear, because problems will have more of an impact and will remain undetected for a while.
Whoever secures an edge with building virtual teams now, will generate benefits in the long run. If you want to be a pioneer, you have to lead the way.
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Managing Virtual Teams FAQs
Are virtual teams effective?
It depends: virtual teams have proven to be highly effective, if management, motivation and technical setup are on point. Poorly managed remote teams can be a risk due to lack of communication and organization.
What are the challenges of managing virtual teams?
Keeping employees motivated, establishing a team spirit and organize communication are common challenges of managing virtual teams. Also, building a bulletproof tech setup is requires a lot of effort.
Why are virtual teams important?
Getting a talented workforce can be a challenge in certain areas. Offering the possibility to work in remote teams gives you a much larger talent pool. Also, being highly flexible in crisis situations has proven to be a real lifesaver in certain times.