10 Tips for Building Productive and Successful Virtual Teams

Virtual teams are a controversial subject for entrepreneurs but they can help start-ups and small companies move with agility and speed, while keeping overhead to a minimum. My company Red Javelin works with remote teams all the time. Virtual teams give firms the best access to talent regardless of geographic location.

Employees are no longer willing to relocate for a new job or spend hours commuting on a daily basis. In the 2015 PGi Global Telework Survey, 79 percent of surveyed knowledge workers around the world now work outside the office — and it does not stop there. About 60 percent of surveyed teleworkers worldwide would leave their existing job for a similar job, at the same pay rate, if they could work from home full time. More and more companies are embracing remote workers as part of work/life balance and in an effort to get and retain the best talent.

Working remotely may seem like an ideal situation for most people but it is definitely is not for everyone or for every company. It is easy to get distracted and squander the day away without accomplishing anything. It can also be isolating.

Managing a virtual team requires a different skill set and perspective than managing an in-house team. The primary role for management is to keep people connected and engaged. When people feel like they are part of a team, they will be motivated and productive. Here are ten strategies for success.

Hiring

Hire Doers — The best interviewees tend to be tellers and not the doers. They can weave an excellent story but when it comes to actually doing the work, unless they are applying for a sales position, they may not be the best choice for the job. Hire people that like to roll up their sleeves for they are the ones that get the work done. During the interview process, ask them specifically how they would go about doing a specific task. I am always looking for someone who can understand the strategy as well as the implementation appropriate for his or her work experience.

Hire Disciplined People — This is very important because not everyone is cut out to work remotely. It is very easy to get distracted on a warm sunny day or by household chores when there is not any structure to the day. Successful remote workers treat their workday as if they were commuting to an office. They get up, dress for the day and begin work at the same time every day. Remote workers that value the remote model will get their work done so they do not have to return to a traditional work model.

Hire Experienced People — I do not recommend putting an entry-level person on a virtual team. Entry-level positions require hands-on mentoring and significant one-on-one interaction. Working remotely can be very isolating and it is not the optimum environment for a new graduate or someone re-entering the workforce.

Managing

Be available — Be available to take calls from your team at any time. During very busy periods, set up specific office hours so people know when they can definitely get a hold of you.

Set clear expectations — This is very important and critical to overall success. I set very simple and clear expectations for my teams. If you get the work done, and you do it well, you get to keep your job. If not, then go look for a new job. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, there are no second chances for laziness. The team gets the message if you are forced to let someone go because they just are not performing.

Communicate regularly — Engaged people are productive people. By regularly, I mean connect formally and have a meeting at least once a week and be in contact informally via phone or video several times per week. The more that you engage your team, the more they will feel they are part of the team.

Develop repeatable processes — Put business processes in place with remote teams. Everyone should be following the same business processes for consistency and scalability.

Technology

Centralize Documents — Centralize all documents online so they are easily accessible by anyone on your team at any time. There are many platforms including free services like Google Docs and SaaS applications such as Basecamp.

Use Conference Services — We have used a variety conference services such as Skype, Freeconference.com, Freeconferencing.com, UberConference.com, and Join.me among others. Look for a reservationless service that allows people to call in from anywhere in the world and share their screens.

Use Video — Video is the next best thing to in-person meetings. You can tell a lot about how people are doing by just checking out their body language.

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