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How to Manage a Virtual Team Efficiently

August 12, 2014 by Mainak Biswas under Offshore outsourcing Strategy886 views
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Virtual team members are scattered across the globe. A poor team leader is often responsible for diminishing co-ordination and productivity among the team members. As a result, you are left lurching in the middle and shelling out money to hire new members & firing previous ones. Poor management leads to project failures, shifting deadlines and poor service quality.

Key reasons for the failure of the team are as follows:

  1. Lack of clarity – Even though you hired highly skilled professionals, virtual team members are plagued by differentiation. Individual members have their own way of working and a different definition of quality. They act like unguided souls who work hard based on presumptions. The end result is chaos.
  2. Insufficient information sharing – Virtual team members rely on tools to communicate and share information with each other. Inadequate training on the use of tools does no good to your company as the employees fail to exploit the potential of tools to share real-time information, thereby, causing lags.
  3. Clash of priorities – This highly skilled group of people give priorities to the work of their choice. Consequently, there is lack of co-ordination, missed deadlines and overall poor performance level of the team.

A good manager is the one who recognizes these follies and devises strategic methods to resolve such matters. Let us briefly discuss the advantages of having a virtual team on-board before we head towards managing them.

Advantages of having a virtual team

  • Reduced cost – Virtual employees can be hired to do the same job at a much lesser salary as compared to your in-house staff. Moreover, administrative overheads are drastically cut down by negating office space and set-up. Even if you set up home-office for virtual employees, the cost is much lower than setting up the office.
  • Centers of excellence– Highly skilled virtual employees are scattered across the globe. Every geographic location comes with its own set of expertise.
  • Global integration– As and when business grows, the virtual team members form a team around themselves. This way, different teams around the globe work together to accomplish a common goal.
  • Structural and demographic diversity – As opposed to hierarchical structure in a traditional organization, virtual teams are often unstructured as the team members belonging to different locations are reporting to different managers. Such diversity brings in varied feedback, work experience, nationality and networking opportunities.

Managing a virtual team

  1. Classify the processes into task-oriented and socio-emotionalVirtual employees communicate with the help of technology unlike office employees who rely on face-to-face meetings. A task-oriented leadership approach is required to manage virtual employees as it is focused on the completion of particular tasks, which serves as a measure of their success and reliability.

    In addition to that, human personality evolves by repeating series of crisis and resolution. Pose your employees with challenges continuously to get the best result out of them.

  2. Build upon superior knowledge available remotelyEvery virtual employee working from a remote location has some or the other functional expertise. But the fact is that this expertise is not available to all the team members. Replicate the most desirable skill set across the team to improve overall productivity of your tasks through periodic trainings.

    Share superior knowledge with the team members so that they can evolve, use their existing knowledge to innovate and take a sense of pride in their work. Moreover, it is important that your employees learn with time or else they will have no reason to be loyal to your organization.

  3. Encourage self-leadership among team membersVirtual employees are deprived of social bonding with their colleagues. So, it is important to keep them engaged through interaction and information sharing via technology. They are unable to interact with their fellow team members face-to-face, negating the use of facial expressions and non-verbal cues.

    A team leader has to infuse leadership qualities in the team by asking them to actively share important information and take initiatives. It is essential that the team members are self-sufficient and rely less on the leader for managing their tasks. Focus your HR efforts not only on building virtual team leaders but leaders across the team.

  4. Arrange physical get-togethers sporadicallyFace-to-face get-together becomes indispensable when your goal is set-up for a permanent virtual team working on long-term basis. Such meetings improve communication, collaboration, understanding and cohesion among the group.

    The meetings don’t have to be formal always. Informal meetings like party, family get-together etc. help your team members to further strengthen their bond and generate larger returns for your company. The investment and time devoted in such get-togethers work in your favor considering the scale of your business.

  5. Informal/Formal video chatsThough e-mails and instant chat messengers are used for most of the communication needs, there are certain things that can be explained through visual interaction only. Encourage the use of video chat applications like Skype, iChat, OoVoo, AT&T Connect etc. to facilitate video chatting among the members.

    Video chats enable the team to interact through effective visual communication. They can pass visual cues through expression and see the person on the other side. Visual interaction makes your project more humane. Without any video communication, virtual team members are just like computers sitting at the two corners of the world.

  6. Cultivate a sense of global cultureVirtual employees are subject to different working environment like working alone from a remote place and interacting with culturally different people on a regular basis. The HR strategies need to include inter-cultural training as they are aligned towards fostering a global mindset among your virtual employees.

    A global mindset will prepare your employees to become diversity-friendly and be more flexible working with people belonging to a different time zone. If your business serves customers across the globe, then your employees need to realize so even if they are not directly dealing with them.

  7. Use screen sharing toolsConsidering the distance and lack of immediate expertise unavailable to employees, screen sharing technology has proven extremely helpful for virtual employees. The person on the other computer can take charge of what you are doing with the help of a code. It even allows them to see your screen in real-time so that they can watch what you are doing. There are many screen sharing tools available on internet for free usage suitable for small teams.
  8. Use document collaboration software like DropBox, Google DriveVirtual team leaders often jostle with the challenge of collaboration. When many people are working together on the same document, it is important that everybody sees the updated document in real-time. Effective collaboration prevents confusion, improves co-ordination, ensures transparency and builds trust among the team members.

    Moreover, efficiency of the team members in a virtual environment is frequently judged by their ability to collaborate. Collaboration tools like BaseCamp, Google Drive, Skitch, Join.me, Skype, Dropbox, iDone This etc. are some of the best tools used by small teams to streamline their workflow.

  9. Track the performance of virtual team membersMeasuring the output of every virtual team member is imperative as it impacts the overall productivity of your team. You can’t let the whole team suffer if one person is unproductive and fails to communicate critical information. Set key performance indicators from day one based on the task assigned to the members.

    Let the KPIs be transparent to promote healthy competition among the team members. Weekly overview and KPIs act as a mode of motivation and it is the only way of knowing the high performers in a virtual team as opposed to in-house team where the competition is visible on a daily basis.

  10. Manage conflictsThe occurrence of conflict in a virtual team is mostly task-related in contrast to interpersonal conflicts in the offices. The dissatisfaction rises when there is frequent disagreement on tasks through cold e-mails. Due to lack of physical contact, the issue is mildly moderated by team leaders, which results in further disagreement among the team members.

    The need is to have a common virtual workplace to discuss critical task-related information. Allow the team members to protect their privacy through closed group interaction attended by relevant members. Moderate the issue before it escalates by appointing a moderator, usually, a team leader or a task expert in the team. Have an open discussion forum to hear grievances and problems faced by the members.

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