It’s official: virtual teams are legit.
More and more people are working remotely every year. Nine million people in the U.S. work from home at least half of the time. Almost 50% of all companies have plans to increase their virtual teams, and 37 percent of businesses are getting more requests for flexible work arrangements.
It’s amazing to think that we can work together, in real time, separated by thousands of miles and vast oceans. But it doesn’t always come easy, does it? Just ten years ago, hardly anyone was working remotely. In just a few short years, we’ve had to figure out an entirely new way of collaborating.
At Traction Tools, we use a combination of remote teams and onsite teams. While it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, we’ve got some amazing people that we virtually love working with—er, we love working virtually with them!
Here’s what we’ve discovered about collaborating with a virtual team—and what the experts are saying.
Challenges of Collaborating on a Virtual Team
As much as we love working with our virtual teams, it’s not always easy. Building healthy trust and communication take a lot more work when you’ve got a virtual team. Here’s a few reasons why:
- Time zone issues. If you’re spread widely enough, someone is going to lose some sleep or personal time to dial into a meeting.
- Less informal socializing. If you’re not spending time together, it’s a lot harder to know and trust each other.
- Misinterpretations and miscommunications. Emails, texts and chat messages are really easy to misinterpret. Even phone calls can be difficult, since you can’t read body language.
- Unfamiliarity. It’s just plain harder to build relationships when you’re not physically together.
Besides that, it can take longer to make decisions and take action with a virtual team. People’s availability will sometimes be limited. Cross-cultural differences will get in the way. Distance will require workarounds.
But these tips will help you overcome the challenges of virtual collaboration.
10 Tips to Rock Your Virtual Collaboration
1) Keep in Touch in Real Time
When your team is all onsite, it’s easy to get answers you need right away. But you can’t always reach your off-site employees by phone. Email is convenient, but not when you need a reply NOW.
Social platforms like Slack are the perfect solution. With Slack, you can customize your notification settings and status so that won’t be interrupted during an important meeting. And with emoticons and Giphy integration, it’s easy to let your personality shine through! Collaboration is more than just getting work done—it’s connecting personally.
2) Make Organization a Priority
With an offsite team, it’s critical to keep on top of what everyone is doing and what their status is. You can’t always have a quick team check-in and it’s easy to lose track of all the moving pieces.
At Traction Tools, we’re fond of using simple collaborative tools that get the job like, like Trello. Find applications like Trello that are easy to use, quick to learn, and flexible enough for your needs. Don’t get sucked in by fancy bells and whistles—sometimes simplest is best!
You’d be surprised how much important information is informally shared around the office. Your offsite team doesn’t have the privilege of picking up that information, so it’s easy for critical details to slip through the cracks. Be sure to communicate everything. Go overboard—don’t make any assumptions. Tell backstories, connect the dots, fill in all the details.
Afraid you’re overdoing it? You probably aren’t. Your virtual team is constantly out of context, so they benefit by being reoriented—even multiple times. But if you’re still worried about overcommunicating, just ask!
4) Spend Social Time “Together”
Just because there’s no water cooler to gather around, that doesn’t mean you can’t get to know each other. The most successful teams know and enjoy each other—and that goes double for virtual teams. Some ideas:
- Take time in meetings for personal updates—the EOS® segue is a big part of this.
- Recognize team birthdays.
- Ask about each other’s families.
- Share office-life videos with your virtual team (and vice versa).
- Set up video conferences when your office has a party or other social event.
- Host an event for the whole team.
5) Establish House Rules
It’s amazing how much trickier communication and alignment can be when your team is working remotely. Establishing “house rules” can cut back on the messiness and clumsiness of virtual communication.
Your house rules might include agreements like these:
- Mute your microphone during virtual meetings if you’re not talking
- Schedule meetings with everyone’s time zone in mind
- No multitasking during the meeting
- Turn on your video for every meeting
Hand-picked related content: Level-10 Meetings™: Keep on Track
6) Learn Cross-Cultural Communication Skills
If your team is global, you’ve got an additional layer of complexity to deal with: cross-cultural communication.
- What does it mean if your Asian team member is silent?
- Why does your German coworker disagree so forcefully?
- Does it frustrate you that your Russian colleague seems more interested in social aspects than the business at hand?
It’s important to learn how different cultures communicate and do business—and how they perceive you! When everyone understands your colleagues’ cultural differences, you’ll find your team humming along and getting more work done.
And you just might enjoy your work more when you incorporate some values from other cultures!
7) Form a Team Identity
Remote employees aren’t just geographically remote. It’s common to feel disconnected from the company, and even to feel like an afterthought. If you want your team to blow past expectations, make sure all your team members feel needed. Build a strong team identity. Here are a few things you can do to foster a sense of belonging:
- Name your team. It doesn’t have to be corny, but it helps if it’s not boring!
- Praise your team to each other. Celebrate wins and accomplishments. Be specific. People Headlines during Level 10 meeting are a great place to recognize a job well done.
- Show enthusiasm for the team and appreciation for each member. Get creative.
- Be quick to publicly recognize individual achievements. Spread the word beyond your team to highlight the importance of their work.
8) Meet in Person
Whenever possible, bring your virtual team onsite. It’s a great way to get them more integrated into the life of your organization, and to form better working relationships. Your quarterly or annual business meetings are probably the best time to fly them in. But why not find other opportunities? Maybe:
- Company anniversary celebrations
- Major product launches
- Holiday events
- Just because—who says you need a special reason?!
9) Hire Smart
When you’re assembling your team, make sure you have the right players. Not everyone is cut out to work virtually. Fewer still can work effectively on a virtual team. You may need to be even more intentional when hiring virtual workers than onsite employees, because you won’t be able to manage them on a daily basis.
10) Keep Improving!
Most importantly, keep an eye out for opportunities to do things better. There’s always going to be room for improvement. Keep asking your team what’s working and what isn’t working. Be agile enough to make changes, but stable enough to maintain consistency.
Bonus: Use Traction Tools!
If your company is running EOS, Traction Tools is a great option for virtual teams. We’ve built the software to help remote teams get the most out of EOS. And our customers agree: Lisa Manning Earley, Owner of Earley Information Science, said, “Our leadership team is virtual across North America….When we heard about Traction Tools we became early adopters and were immediately thrilled by how it improved our meetings – completely transformational!”
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