V is for Virtual: Making Virtual Teams More Productive
Does it ever seem like managing virtual teams is like trying to herd cats? Well, you're not alone. Find out how to make them more productive.
Does it ever seem like managing virtual teams is like trying to herd cats? OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it can be unsettling – unless you have a plan in place. And let team members in on it. Even better, give them a part in designing it. With the right plan and the right people, you’ll find your virtual teams are as productive as those working onsite.
Plan the plan
Make sure each team member knows exactly what they are expected to do. Formulate a performance management plan to help them keep their work on the smart track:
Plan to communicate
Communicating with virtual teams presents many challenges, but it’s the key to effective management and constant productivity. Communication can take different forms.
Face to face
If possible, the initial team meeting should be face to face. Whether the members know each other or not, eye contact and body language will help them forge strong connections. And if they are meeting for the first time, it will help everyone put names to faces.
This meeting is also the time to let members know what metrics you’ll be using to measure their progress and overall productivity. Work with them to define goals and establish realistic milestones when you can expect to see results. How well they meet these goals will serve as an indication of how productive they are. Do not cast these in stone, however. You may need to re-think them at subsequent meetings or video conferences.
Chat boxes are the next best thing to being there. Since you can’t stick your head in the door and ask a question, virtual team members should make it a practice to keep a chat box open at all times.
Keep your eye on the clock
If your virtual teams are working in a time zone different than yours, establish a time when everyone can be online. Use this timeframe to schedule your team video conferences.
Regularly scheduled video conferences serve two purposes. Your remote workers can view them as deadlines for completing projects. You can use them for judging whether they are working as expected. If you need to make any changes, video conferences are the time to discuss them.
Plan to collaborate
Collaboration is an effective way to make team members task managers of each other. There are several tools you can use to facilitate collaboration.
- Project management apps let team members organize their own work and share their task lists and deadlines with each other
- Shared folders on Google Drive or other cloud-based storage solutions allows members to read and edit spreadsheets and documents simultaneously.
- Screen sharing software lets members help each other out if one has a problem or needs instruction.
Not everyone is cut out for remote work. The territory comes with a lot of distractions and temptations. This means you need to trust the members of your team have the dedication to keep on the task at hand. Having said that, how can you make sure they’re getting the job done?
Time tracking software
Using time tracking software serves several purposes. Obviously, it lets payroll know how much to pay those who are hourly employees. It also gives you a clear picture of what tasks each member is working on and how long he takes to complete them. Time tracking, over a period of weeks, will let you know which team members are the most productive and which need more guidance.
To-do lists and calendars
From time immemorial, to-do lists and calendars have been mapping out how we spend or should spend our time. The secret to their longevity is that they work in managing time. There are time management tools that allow you to work with your teams to set due dates, schedule reminders, and assign to-dos. Put finding such software at the top of your to-do list!
The bottom line
The recipe for turning out productive virtual teams is the same as that for traditional office teams.
- Select competent independent workers.
- Mix in appropriate management.
- Set achievable goals and deadlines.
- Keep an eye on everyone’s progress
And don’t forget to gather round the real conference table now and again to celebrate together a job well done. Or, maybe we should say, to celebrate a job well done together. Working together, your virtual workers and you can make a great team.