Build a Productive Virtual Team

Virtual teams are being created in many industries. These teams can be distributed across town, across the country, or even around the world. This presents some great opportunities to bring on team members no matter where in the world they live. It also presents a major challenge when trying to make a productive virtual team.

In a traditional office space, managers are able to “keep tabs” on employees. In an office, you’ll know when someone is at work and when they’re not – and more importantly if they’re actually working while they’re at work. With a virtual team, you can’t know whether or not someone is working but that’s OK to some extent.

Productive virtual teams can benefit from the fact that not everyone is working at the same time. A team with people working in New York and New Delhi can’t expect team members to be “on the clock” at the same time. While this may make face to face meetings difficult, it can certainly improve customer service response times.

Productive Virtual Team Tips

If your business is looking to add team members here are a few tips to build a productive virtual team.

Make note of time zones

If your virtual team is spread around the world, you can’t schedule a meeting where someone will need to wake up at 3 am.

Use a time zone converter like the one from timeanddate.com. It will let you set the time zones of all of your virtual team members, and will show green/yellow/red indicators on each time to show whether or not the time of day will be convenient. You can then share the link to the page with your team members so that everyone can see all the time zones.

For example, this link shows the times in New York and New Delhi. It shows that if you have a 3 PM meeting in New York, your team member in New Delhi would need to be up at 12:30 AM the next morning. You can play around with the dates and times until you find one that makes sense for everyone.

Use messaging over video

There are some things that are best to do face to face. And with video services like Skype and Facetime, it’s really easy to do. As we covered in the previous section though, sometimes scheduling a face to face meeting isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

For instances where face to face meetings aren’t necessary, use a service like Slack.

If you’re unfamiliar with Slack, it gives your virtual team a way to simplify your communication. All messages are brought into one centralized location and can be organized by topics. Virtual team members can send project status updates, files, links, and even private messages to each other. The communication is searchable, so if you have a discussion that someone missed your team can search for things that were discussed earlier in the day, last week, or even last year.

Slack also integrates with other apps so that certain messages just get sent automatically. For example, the WP-CRM System Slack extension can automatically send a message to your Slack team whenever a project gets updated.

Keep the team size small

In a study documented by the Harvard Business Review, the most productive virtual teams had fewer than 10 people.

Of the virtual teams studied, the worst performing had 13 members or more. The study attributed this to what they call “social loafing“. Basically, team members reduced their efforts when they felt less responsible for the output. The study saw that this effect started to kick in when the virtual team exceeded four or five members.

Think about a website design team makeup like this:

  • 3 graphic designers
  • 2 copywriters
  • 2 front end designers
  • 4 back end developers
  • 1 project manager

There is a total of 12 people in that team. It could be easy for, say, the graphic designers to not feel totally responsible for the output (oh, I thought he was doing the logo). Unless the project really needs that much redundancy, maybe reduce the number of team members to one per job.

Set clear expectations for everyone

When dealing with virtual teams, it is easy for one team member to be thinking one thing while another is thinking something else. This is especially true when dealing with text based messaging like Slack. Written messages often times have a different connotation than spoken messages do.

When making requests to someone on your virtual team, make sure the request is specific.

Instead of saying “let me know when you’re done”, specify whether or not you want to see the final project before the team member sends it off to the client. This avoids any confusion and can prevent embarrassing mistakes.

You should also outline how quickly team members should have in order to respond to each other. Keep in mind time zones, holidays, weekends, and flexible work schedules that you might offer to your virtual team. Outline how the team should follow up if someone doesn’t respond in a timely manner.

Keep the team motivated

Show your appreciation for the work your productive virtual team members do. Sometimes this may seem like such a small thing to do but really helps motivate on the receiving end. And a motivated team is much more likely to be productive than an unmotivated team.

Ways you can show your appreciation will vary, especially when dealing with a multicultural team. A few suggestions include:

  • Financial: If your budget can handle it, why not give a year-end bonus to your team. Perhaps base it on productivity (number of support tickets closed, or projects completed).
  • Personal Gifts: Similar to the financial motivation, but a gift is a bit more personal. It will require getting to know the likes and interests of your virtual team members. Does someone like a particular brand of scotch? Perhaps tickets to a home game for their favorite sports team. Personal gifts like that can be a great motivator.
  • Praise: Give your virtual team a virtual high-five on your website or social media. Let everyone know how awesome they are and what they’ve accomplished.

How do you keep your team productive?

There are many ways to keep a productive virtual team. What are your favorite ways to keep your team on track?