How to Effectively Manage a Virtual Team

Posted on August 15, 2014 · Posted in General Business

Hiring virtual staff is a cost effective way to develop, deliver and grow your business. You can pick and choose just the right individuals from anywhere in the world. However, you will need to use a different approach and learn how to effectively manage a virtual team.

Shift Your Perspective

You will quickly discover that your virtual staff do not see themselves as employees who are part of a team. Instead, they probably describe themselves as independent contractors who are doing certain tasks for you. You will have to make a decision about whether or not it is important for them to work together as a team or you are comfortable just dealing one on one with each of them.

Understand Their Culture

If you are engaging staff from different countries, you will achieve better results if you have an understanding of their culture, lifestyle and communication patterns. In a recent report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, it was noted that 57% of respondents identified culture, language and inability to read people’s body language as the primary challenge in managing virtual teams. Do your research so you are not offending anyone or miscommunicating.

Communicate Effectively

From the beginning, make sure you establish and follow principles of good communication. Key points typically include:

  • Describe the company objectives and overall operations
  • Describe the job in detail and how it fits into the larger picture
  • Describe the staffing model so new staff know who is doing what other jobs for you
  • Be clear about division of responsibility or need to work together with other staff so you do not have either two people doing the same job or no one doing it
  • Outline your expectations of staff and what they can expect from you in the way of communication, supervision, and support; for example,

o   Reply to all emails and phone calls within 24 hours

o   Contact you immediately if there is a question or concern so there is no delay in doing the work

o   All virtual meetings are considered mandatory unless absence is pre-approved

o   Work logs to be uploaded weekly

o   Copy you on any external communication

  • Note when you are available and how they should contact you, being careful to identify the time zones for both yourself and your staff if they are different.

Set Up Online Tools

There is a wide selection of online tools and apps, many designed specifically for small businesses. Do your research carefully, making sure your choices are a good fit for your operations, staff and the devices being used. A few common options that have proven effective are:

  • Google with its email, chat, shared drive and calendar
  • Skype for audio, video or IM communication, good for meetings as charts, docs, etc. can be shown on screen
  • Dropbox for sharing docs, photos, all sorts of visual files
  • Basecamp for project management
  • GoToMeeting for HD video conferencing

Whether you are using these apps for daily communication, planning meetings and/or training sessions, it is important to make sure that all your virtual staff know how to make the most use of them.

Some virtual managers become obsessed with what they perceive as a lack of control because they cannot actually see their staff. As you manage your virtual team, you will need to strike a balance between support for making sure all the work is done on time and excessive monitoring. All the good attributes of a communicative, supportive, organized manager are as necessary in the virtual workplace as they are in a bricks and mortar operation.

Come visit us at MyBusinessAssistant or call us at 800.993.9622if you want expert advice on hiring and managing a virtual team! Let us be your Virtual Assistant service provider.