5 Tips For Managing a Virtual Team

In the modern working world, it’s increasingly likely that either a part of your team, or perhaps even all of your team, will be based somewhere other than in your office.  This is especially so with the rise in flexible working, leading to the likelihood that many of your team will be in different places, maybe even different time zones.

Managing these teams can, therefore, present something of a challenge.  As doing so is only going to become more commonplace, however, it’s high time you took the challenge head on and figured out the best way of doing so.

There are six core challenges inherent in managing a team virtually:

  1. The distance that exists between team members
  2. The time differences, especially in global teams
  3. Technology challenges, especially if the collaboration tools are new and untried
  4. Cultural challenges, especially if the culture is one of presenteeism
  5. Trust based challenges, especially if flexible working is new to your organisation
  6. Leadership challenges

How can you overcome these?

As with most forms of management, it helps if you get the simple things right.  For instance, it’s crucial to ensure that there is a strong shared understanding between all team members.  This doesn’t just involve a common goal to bind the team together, but a shared understanding of the circumstances and capabilities of each of the team.  Getting the ground rules ironed out early on is crucial for this to work well, both in terms of what will be achieved, and how it will be done.

Once these are firmed up, the following tips can help ensure your virtual team works like clockwork.

Top tips for managing a virtual team

  1. Always be available - when you lack the small but frequent interactions you have in an office environment it can often feel as though the leader is not part of the team.  So make sure you have regular contact with your team, even if that simply involves making small talk with them.
  2. Maintain a steady stream of communication - I’m not a fan of regular meetings, but you need to keep communication high. Enterprise social networks can be great for this as it allows people to contribute when they want.

Don’t discourage informality - it’s easy to make virtual teams all about business, but you should encourage small talk amongst your team.  This will be the glue that helps bind them together. Try and treat time zones sensitively - if your team is global then it’s likely that ‘normal’ hours for some members will be unsociable for others.  Make sure you rotate any meetings you have so that these are distributed fairly amongst the team (or alternatively keep meetings to a bare minimum!). Understand cultural issues - despite it being a virtual environment, you still need to be aware of any cultural sensitivities that may arise from working with a global team.  This is especially so with your communication style.  When verbal and visual clues are stripped out, it’s easy to create misunderstandings, so be aware.

If you can manage these things well, then it will help set your team up for success.  Let me know any other tips you may have below.

Image: Human Resources Blog