How to Create a Virtual Team for Your Business in Five Easy Steps

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How to Create a Virtual Team for Your Business in Five Easy Steps

July 22, 2014 by Mainak Biswas under Offshore outsourcing Strategy1,012 views
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What is a virtual team?

A virtual team is a group of employees located remotely away from each other working towards a common business goal. The trend of setting up a virtual team is growing exponentially among both small and large companies who want to offset the higher cost of office infrastructure overheads, improve business processes, penetrate new markets without compromising on the quality of work & providing easier way of life for employees by hiring the best talent available remotely. Despite its benefits, creating a virtual team for the business can be a challenging task for a new player. Virtual environment has its own limitations, which can be conquered with experience and training the team.

Virtual team challenges

  • Team members belong to different cultural backgrounds and time zones
  • Recording every little task online consumes extra time
  • Tracking WIP and recognizing efforts in a virtual environment is a different ballgame
  • Team members have to adapt to different modes of communication and collaboration to avoid confusion
  • Building trust among team members is a major challenge owing to limited or no face-to-face interaction
  • Overcoming isolation and feelings of detachment

Before you step out to form a virtual team for your business, make sure you pick the right job that can be virtualized. Not every job is suitable for virtual environment as the demands of a particular job profile vary. Profiles like web designer, graphic designer or application developer are best suitable for this environment as they involve solo working for prolonged hours barring distraction.

5 easy steps to create a successful virtual team

  1. Forming a team
    • Start with a small team to understand the functioning and facilitate better co-ordination. Rather prefer to keep your team short as communication challenges grow exponentially with the increase in size of the team.
    • Target people who have already worked in a home-based job. Providing a home-based job becomes your bargaining power.
    • If you have an existing in-house team, then you can pick and choose members who are fit & willing to work in a virtual environment. Existing team members who require little management or guidance to accomplish their tasks, are the ones you need to target. The advantage of using them is that they already know your business requirements and you save time & cost in managing them in a virtual environment.
    • A team with members performing different functions like finance, operations, HR & IT often makes the structure complex causing accountability issues. Establish a clear line of accountability in a cross-functional virtual team.
    • Select the members with a balance of interpersonal and technical skills. Personality traits considered essential for every virtual team member are self-sufficiency, ability to handle negative feedback better than collocated teams, excellent communication skills, no personality conflicts, no information hoarding and flexibility in approach.
  2. Establish communication protocol
    • Communication has to be quick and effective so that there is no obstruction in the work due to lack of communication.
    • Establish a communication protocol in which you only pull the required team members for discussion or video conference. Unnecessarily involving every team member makes your team unproductive and de-focused.
    • Though every team member has to be hyper-active in communication, mark out the members who will address a respective concern and become a source of origin for higher level communication involving a selected group of individuals.
    • Record all the online meetings for future reference. They also help you to resolve conflicts.
    • There are many tools that help the team to communicate and collaborate effectively. Video conferencing tools include Google+ Hangout, Skype, iChat, ooVoo, AT&T Connect etc. Collaboration tools like Redmine, Basecamp, join.me, Dropbox, Google Drive etc. prove extremely helpful for virtual teams.
    • You can also seek the help of virtual assistants who readily provide assistance on administrative, technical and creative issues operating remotely from their home.
    • Building trust among team members requires quick responses to electronic messages and rapid follow-up. Team members form an image of predictable performance based upon communication efficiency of others.
  3. Train the team members
    • Virtual work environment is drastically different from in-house office environment.
    • Virtual team members need periodic training to build new skills in collaboration, managing virtual meetings, problem-solving, decision-making and developing customized operating norms.
    • It is common to see that a team member excels at his expertise and is critical to the success of your project but finds communication with the group a major challenge. In other cases, you will find that the individual is a good communicator in an office set-up with adequate leadership skills but gets uncomfortable in maintaining this leadership through social media tools. The HR department of your company needs to identify these skill gaps and devise appropriate training sessions to plug them.
    • Training need not only be provided on the use of communication tools but also on when to use them and whom to engage with.
    • Well-trained teams help to overcome process losses because they are unaffected by personality conflicts, office gossips, politics, stereotypes owing to minimum face-to-face contact etc.
    • Training also helps team members to stay away from conflicts arising from religious and ethnical diversity.
    • Besides that, it is important to conduct sessions on self-motivation and inspiration to maintain a positive environment free from stress.
  4. Define roles and responsibilities
    • In office environment, roles and responsibilities are often shared in a team, depending upon the hierarchy, situation and mutual understanding but there is no such case in a virtual environment. To build strong and long-lasting relationship among team members, it is essential to have clearly defined roles.
    • Role co-ordination holds a lot of significance in a virtual team as there are many interdependent tasks.
    • Virtual teams relatively encompass a flatter structure with loose-ended reporting levels.
    • As a business owner, you need to clearly define the specific roles of remotely sitting individuals to avoid confusion and conflicts. Create an online directory that clearly documents the role and responsibility of every team member.
    • The responsibilities need to be divided in such a manner that the team, as a whole, produces maximum result by exploiting the resources at hand.
    • It is quite possible that the roles and responsibilities need revision as the project progresses. Make sure that everybody in the team is taken into confidence and is fully aware of the changes.
    • Though there is a team leader appointed, every team member needs to have leadership qualities to be able to take initiatives, share knowledge and best practices with the team.
  5. Establish a team leader
    • Team leader is the one who manages to keep the team together. In virtual environment, the importance of having a team leader multiplies.
    • A team leader has to classify the roles and responsibilities of the team besides explicitly clarifying the shared goals & expectations. He needs to ensure that the deadline of the project is met.
    • He ensures that the members don’t create time lags while responding and finish their task on time.
    • Team leader creates a charter that documents team members’ working behavior. For instance, responding to all the team members, time-bound reply to all e-mails etc. Such behavior builds trust and reliability among the team.
    • Team leader need not ever let any member feel isolated and detached from the group. He needs to take initiatives to engage every team member irrespective of their roles.
    • Retaining team members is another challenge team leaders need to focus upon.
    • It is the team leader who assesses performance and ensures justice to virtual team members; the members whom he has hardly met physically.
    • A leader needs to ensure that the members communicate and collaborate effectively & use the best tool as per the situation.

Conclusion

Despite its default challenges, a virtual team serves beneficial for both short-term and long-term projects. Follow the five easy steps mentioned above to create a virtual team that serves your business needs. Every set up will need modifications with time and experience to meet end-customer needs more efficiently. But the idea is to start off well and build upon that. Moreover, the structure of virtual teams is unstable and the team members are not permanent. Depending upon the project’s demand, you might have to drop certain members from the team or hire additional workforce with specialized skill set.

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