Overcoming the obstacles of virtual workers
Effective team management is the key to making sure your team members, both virtual workers and in-office staff, can work seamlessly as one. Of course, managing virtual teams can be easier said than done. Check-ins and time tracking across a range of time zones and work hours can be stressful. Plus, building trust in a distributed team that doesn’t have the luxury of quality face-to-face time can be a challenge. In short, it may seem nearly impossible to help your virtual workers feel valued. Just as fostering a company culture in a virtual environment is important, you also want to make sure you’re able to instill effective work processes.
The lack of physical presence can certainly have an impact on team members and workflows. If a remote team member isn’t in the office, they may feel like they aren’t truly part of the team. And if another person is working in another country completely, they may feel like an entire culture separates them from their team. To combat these challenges, managers of virtual teams are encouraged to:
- Stick to frequent and consistent 1:1 Zoom meetings
- Provide context for requests and questions
- Create communication norms
- Give team space for both undisturbed solo work and collaborative work
- Create deliberate connections
- Define success so everyone knows they are working towards one goal
In the absence of face-to-face interaction, the potential for a lot of key values in your company culture to by the wayside is high. It’s your job to ensure you don’t let this happen. Lucky for you, there are plenty of great tools to help you out.
Connecting with virtual workers through tech
It goes without saying that technology is absolutely crucial here, but are you using it in the right way? Email is great as a communication tool, but when the heart of your role is collaboration, time is not always on your side. Don’t waste it waiting for email responses when other digital tools can give you so many valuable and readily accessible virtual collaborative opportunities.
Every workforce should have an instant messenger tool. Whether it’s Zoom or Slack, your team can be in touch 24/7, which is especially great if you’re working across time zones. Instant messaging can be an ideal constant of any workspace whether you’re at home, in the office, or remote working from a coffee shop. Being constantly connected in real-time is essential for managing remote teams as well as team management in general.
An important "rulebreakers’ rule" of instant messaging is, well, to try and break down the so-called rules. While light-hearted non-work chat is almost inevitable at some point, this camaraderie, too, is an important aspect of virtual team building. So, within reason, it makes sense that you don’t try to stifle the openness of these communication channels. The small talk co-workers enjoy face-to-face can and should be replicated virtually however possible and it can also influence team motivation. When possible, make sure everyone is in one group chat, so everyone feels included, and make sure that new employees are always virtually introduced. Video calls are a great way to do this, so everyone can put a face to a screen name. Which leads us to:
Unless you're a die-hard introvert, the absence of person-to-person meetings can take a toll. Sure, instant messaging is great, but if collaboration is about building meaningful relationships, silently typed messages can only take you so far. After all, most of what we say comes from body language. So be sure to get into the habit of using video conferences with your team from day one.
The onboarding process for any virtual employees should be done via video call or regular phone calls, rather than a faceless, voiceless stream of emails. Catch up with your remote team members, whether individually or as a team meeting, with regular meetings via video call. Zoom, for example, is perfect for this. Not only does it let you enjoy real, spoken conversation as video calls, it also lets you share your screen and work together on documents directly from Dropbox. These additions to your regular tool kit are what will save you even more time in the long-run and keep your catch-ups on point. Ensure your team views video meetings as the same as any other, and are fully enabled to arrange and attend them. By the way, no one says every catch-up has to be serious. Consider hanging out as a team for a bit in a Zoom meeting every Friday, the same way you might grab lunch or hit happy hour at the end of the work week.
It can be easy for remote employees to lose a sense of time or accountability without the structure of the office to keep them in check. Even with your team nearby, not being in the office can still create a sense of not being quite in the thick of it. Introduce your team to time tracking so everyone knows that they’re responsible for the hours they agree to keep as well as the work being done. By doing so, you’ll be able to align work hours and team members by skillset across different time zones.
Make sure you elect team leaders for your remote workers so there is still a clear structure. Set clear expectations and ensure everyone keeps to task. With set hours, you'll also be able to ensure that there is always someone for remote workers to connect with. This can even be another senior virtual worker whose hours allow cover when your office hours end.
Once time tracking is in place, you need to make sure your team is working effectively. That’s where task management tools come in. An indispensable tool for project management, Dropbox allows you to create to-do lists that are clear and easily updated. You can set due dates with automatic reminders so no one falls behind. And because everything is clearly outlined in one place, you know that everyone is kept up to date and accountable. Managing remote teams requires keeping everyone in the loop, so a central location for your important tasks can really streamline your processes.
No one enjoys the busy train to work or the infuriating traffic during rush hour, but it still plays an important role. While it might often be unpleasant, a work commute mentally prepares you for work and, perhaps most important, it’s a very physical divide between your personal and professional life. Home workers may feel like they’ve lost the distinction between home life and work life when their office becomes the dining room table. By encouraging a virtual workday through telecommuting, you can also help improve the work-life balance.
Dropbox is an ideal solution for remote work, allowing team members to do everything they need to do—all from one place. As soon as team members are ready to get into work mode, they simply log in. At the end of the day, it’s just as easy to close out and make it clear that the work day is over. Not just convenient, it also creates a useful, virtual environment. So, even if you use the same laptop for work and play, temptations like social media can be kept at bay during your working hours.
With distributed teams all over the place, it’s natural that work processes can end up getting scattered, too. With no shared office, it’s easy for virtual teams to lack unifying workflows. Don’t let this happen – working as one is a vital part of teams of every size and type. Dropbox Paper lets teams edit and collaborate in real time, so you won’t have endless offline files being shared that can easily be lost. Handy templates for meeting minutes make it easy for remote workers to keep up with meetings that fall outside their time zones. And if your virtual workers are calling in at different points through the meeting, they can be up to speed in seconds. App integration into Dropbox also keeps things clear and streamlined, with a huge range of awesome work apps like Xero and Zapier. There’s no need to waste time clicking between programs or switching between devices when collaboration tools keep things simple.
Tips on managing remote teams
Tech is great, but it can only do so much. The foundation of any successful remote team management is a strong mentality and a real team spirit. Are you creating a space that allows for virtual team building, one that creates a company-wide sense of unity regardless of time zone or workplace?
Here are some important considerations when it comes to ensuring your company is really embracing virtual teamwork.
Actually be a team
It may be a very obvious tip, but you won’t get far as a team if you don’t genuinely want to be one. Every correspondence, every update, every event that affects your in-house team, should be shared with your remote workers. This is vital for instilling a sense of virtual teamwork: no man or woman is an island, even if he or she is sitting solo in a home office.
Effective communication comes from knowing that both sides are equally invested. Let your virtual workers know they have a voice and a presence in your office. This can be anything from company-wide birthday wishes to making sure they are dialed into the weekly team meetings. Virtual team management shouldn’t put any obstacles in your way. If your in-house team can grab someone, be it an intern or co-founder, for a quick one-on-one, make sure your virtual team can, too. Video calls and syncs don’t have to be scheduled days in advance or made overly important. The main point of them is so everyone knows their team is connected, approachable and ready to help.
Don’t make your virtual workers a commodity
It’s easy to feel like remote workers are to be utilized as and when needed, but this is an attitude that you must nip in the bud. Make sure team bonding is always happening. Build a meaningful relationship with all your team members so your virtual workers have just as strong a rapport with each other as those working in the same physical space. Working with your virtual workers should never be viewed as a task that requires extra effort.
Don’t let your virtual team management fall to one point of contact: remote employees should be just as integrated into your workforce as anyone else. Ultimately, managing remote teams shouldn’t make any difference to your actual values and the efforts you make to connect as one workforce. They should only add to it—and when you empower them, they will.
So, if your company is looking to build a virtual team, make sure you’re really ready for it. Nurturing a company culture is vital in any office, and it’s doubly important if your office starts to embrace the virtual space, too. Above all, make sure your remote team really is just that – and ensure your collaboration tools are empowering every one of them at all times.