Virtual teams (otherwise known as distributed, geographically dispersed or remote teams) have become the norm as more and more businesses decide to tap into the many cost, skill and productivity benefits that come with being able to hire the best of the best. An added benefit of virtual teams is the flexibility that they offer to scale up or down, as required by the needs of a project, without having to consider the traditional overhead costs associated with office bound staff.
Of course nothing worthwhile comes easily. Distributed teams come with their own unique challenges, particularly when you’re working with different cultures and time zones.
Here are our Analyze top 5 tips for making virtual teams work for you:
1. Create a virtual “water cooler”
Remote team members don’t have the luxury of running into other team members at the proverbial water cooler. They therefore can’t take advantage of these types of opportunities to build relationships and share ideas. Informal communication and online collaboration must be promoted through the use of instant messaging tools, video chat and internal enterprise social networking plaforms. At Analyze, our team uses Sharepoint for document collaboration, Yammer as a networking platform to connect with one another and the broader team, and tools such as Skype for Business for live chat and conference calls.
2. Be very clear about roles, responsibilities, tasks & processes
When people work together in the same office it’s easier to work around roles, responsibilities, tasks & processes that have not been fully defined, but with virtual teams you don’t have the same level of interaction and communication. This is why it’s important to ensure that each team member is crystal clear about what is expected from them, in what format and by when. There is no room for ambiguity at any level.
3. Build trust through predictability & reliability
Working remotely and independently can often lead to a disconnect which in turn can lead to a lack of trust. It is important, therefore, to push for regular team check-ins and to agree on standard communication protocols upfront. When team members can rely on that weekly team meeting to discuss issues and they fully understand the process they need to follow to deliver work items, it creates a much higher level of comfort.
4. Agree on a common language
When you’re working with distributed teams you’re often also working with different cultures and various language barriers. Even if you’re all speaking English, one term can mean different things to different people. Creating a dictionary of common terms and their meanings will help to alleviate this problem down the line. Although this may seem like an unnecessary formality, it will be a huge help in the long run. Trust us!
5. Online project management tools are key
This goes beyond creating and distributing the traditional Microsoft Project plan. Online tools provide a dashboard view of current and upcoming activities, along with who they’re assigned to and when they’ll be completed. In this way, the entire team has insight into the current state of the project without having to engage with the project manager first. This should further be supplemented with an online document collaboration tool like Google Docs or SharePoint as well as some form of online time sheet tracking.
As a firm specialised in project management, we have extensive experience in working with distributed teams, both on client projects and within our own consulting team.