Virtual Teams: How to Succeed at Remote Work
Problem: After the 2008 recession, many corporate offices started to move away from physical offices. However, many companies, especially small to medium-sized businesses, preferred a physical footprint. In 2021, because of the recent pandemic, that shifted in a disruptive manner. Yet, now business leaders find themselves managing virtual teams with little to no experience doing so.
Opportunity: Technology allows businesses and workers to increase their work productivity. In effect, with a little planning, skill development, and the right tools, almost any business can have teams operating remotely. It’s also important to remember that remote teams lower business expenses while often improving the employee experience.
Resolution: Business leaders and workers should use available technologies tailored to virtual teams. Business leaders don’t have to miss a beat by using excellent platforms for communications and project management. Furthermore, by creating the proper environment at home, with technology, workers can also experience the benefit of remote working.
The world has moved from the office to managers and business leaders working with virtual teams. Of course, this shift was exacerbated by the recent pandemic. However, it was already a move that was happening in the business world. Therefore, today’s business leaders must know how to work well with remote teams, as many businesses will operate fully or partially online with a limited brick and mortar footprint moving forward.
Jeff Jowdy, President, Lighthouse Counsel, invited me to speak about remote teams on his podcast. During our discussion, I went through the principles for virtual team leaders and workers to ensure success. I also discussed processes and tips for virtual team members.
You can listen to the podcast interview now. The following is a summary of the conversation Jeff and I had on the podcast.
What Are The Critical Principles for Business Leaders Managing Remote Teams?
Fortunately, the digital age affords business leaders, managers, and also workers the ability to achieve location independence. Technology allows businesses to operate with remote teams and lower expenses. And they also allow workers to work from home, which can increase productivity if done correctly.
The reality of virtual teams began to emerge after the recession of 2008. It was then that we started to see corporations with hundreds of employees and team members begin to move away from the assumption that they had to have a corporate office.
That shift in thinking created a precedent as business leaders considered how that would exist. Of course, technology plays a big part in the change to remote teams.
The idea of hiring talent to work remotely has already changed the ways leaders recruit and lead their teams.
However, for managers and teams not accustomed to working remotely, this shift to leading and being part of virtual teams can seem very different. So, we have to look at this in two ways. First, we have to consider the principles necessary for remote team success. And secondly, we have to think of the process required for achieving goals.
Principle 1: Results Matter More Than Efforts
When we think of the idea that everyone has to come to the office simultaneously and leave at the same time, that’s a leftover from the industrial age.
Instead, in a knowledge-based economy, the most successful business and nonprofit leaders don’t think that way. For instance, they understand that sometimes the best ideas happen when someone is taking their morning run or shower in the evening. So, this is the first principle for the success of remote teams.
Principle 2: Outcomes Matter More Than Activities
The second principle for success leading and working on virtual teams also pushes back on dated traditional management practices. It used to be that managers had to see people busily working to think work got done. That idea was more process-oriented, but in the digital age where metrics matter, seeing busy work is not how you achieve success.
Instead, the outcome of the work is what is essential for today’s businesses and workers.
Principle 3: Goals Shape Commitments and Productivity
This third point speaks to how managers live out the principles. In other words, what are the processes they put in place to ensure that commitments and productivity gets accomplished? As we know, working with remote teams means you won’t see everybody every day. As a result, people are no longer working on the same frequencies. So, from a management perspective, you have to define the processes for your group to ensure the goals get met. And there are four ways to do that, as you will read as follows.
Creating the Ecosystem for the Success of Virtual Teams
1. Communication is the Foundation for the Success of Remote Teams
If you’re managing remote teams, then an essential foundational skill you have to master is exceptional communications. Sure, it doesn’t mean that you have to spend your time writing books or being on a stage teaching your team what communication means. But, what it does mean is that you have to articulate the goals you set for your team clearly. Further, you have to communicate your requirements to different members of the group.
You have to be clear on the goals, what the outcomes are that you want to see, and who’s going to do what.
2. Co-Creation and Collaboration
An opportunity in the virtual space is the chance to not only say something but get others to respond. If you don’t get a response, then you’re just talking to yourself.
Getting people to engage, co-create, and collaborate with you is an excellent opportunity for managers who lead virtual teams.
As an example, set up what you want to get accomplished, and then give your team the chance to get some ownership by collaborating with you and contributing their ideas.
3. Technology is Essential for Remote Teams
If, as a business leader or manager, you’re not used to working with shared documents or collaborative communication environments, this will be a steep learning curve for you. However, it’s also an essential one to master as a manager. If you’ve stick with it, I can promise you that it’s going to get better.
You need to make sure that everything you have is in the digital space and not on paper. That shift alone, done right, improves workflow and productivity for remote teams and is essential for success.
4. Project Management Visual Dashboards
The final piece of the puzzle for ensuring you developed the ecosystem for remote teams is project management.
As a leader, you have to have a visual picture of what your team does and progresses. And that only comes with digital project management tools.
In addition, your group needs to see and understand that what they do affects the other members. So, this is a chance for everyone to be accountable and willing to participate in the ecosystem of remote teams.
Expectations for the Virtual Teams
Remote working and virtual teams challenge both managers and also workers. For leaders, it challenges them to become better at managing. For workers, it encourages them to become better contributors. There are four characteristics fundamental to what everyone should expect from and for virtual teams from a management perspective.
1. Ownership and Trust for Remote Teams
Everyone who works on remote teams has to take ownership of their work and the outcomes. Also, managers have to trust, as well as team members, that those goals will get achieved.
Managers have to define what ownership means for their team members.
Ownership and trust are vital aspects of work for remote teams. The reality is that managers can’t spend their days defining for their teams what their job is going to look like for the day. There must be trust and ownership between teams and managers for the work to get done.
2. Proactive Communication
Technology offers us excellent tools for communication. For instance, we can send one-on-one chats, have team communications, or even team Stand-Up meetings. Thus, it’s essential for remote teams to be trained on how and when to communicate with you as a business leader. When you don’t have the benefit of not seeing each other with drop-in office meetings, you have to tease out the idea of how and when to communicate with you.
You need to ensure that your remote teams understand that you must see them virtually.
3. Consistency and Follow-Through
The actions that your remote teams take reveal to you whether or not they’re engaged. Management is about developing people. And working on virtual teams gives managers a fantastic coaching and mentoring opportunity.
By giving ownership and then following with consistency and follow-through, you will see first-hand the horsepower on your team.
So, think of working remotely as an excellent opportunity for people’s development.
4. Accountability by All Team Members
Everyone needs to understand that everyone plays an essential role in your remote teams. As a result, other people expect deliverables from every person in the group. Therefore, everyone has to have accountability, and they must participate in the ecosystem. Again, managers have to be accountable to their team members, but it’s also vital for members of the team to be responsible to their managers and teammates.
Accountability creates a dynamic, agile, and flexible environment for your company that will drive your success.
Tips for Professionals Working Remotely for the First Time
The best tips that I can give workers and managers who operate and work from home and in a remote team environment is to consider preparation, execution, and consistency. Preparation means how you, working from home, get yourself ready to work. You have to create a frame or boundaries around your personal and work times at home, especially for the success of your remote teams. Execution means the things you do to work successfully remotely. And consistency means developing strong work and home habits and boundaries. The following are excellent tips.
10 Tips for Effective Remote Workers
1. Designate work hours in your home, which is the time you will be primarily involved in your work. It creates routine and sets boundaries.
2. Working on remote teams means you have to create an office space at home. It’s essential psychologically to separate our home from our workspace.
3. Dress as if you were going to the office. You wouldn’t work in your PJs at the office, so don’t do it at home. You always want professionalism.
4. Working on remote teams requires reliable WiFi. Therefore, you have to have the bandwidth to see your team on video, so pay the premium.
5. Get comfortable being on a video conference. The world has moved to video, and people don’t appreciate doing voice-only. Video minimizes the distance between people.
6. It’s essential to master business technology and keep it separate from personal platforms. You might like WhatsApp for your friends. For business, move that to Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Chat.
7. Everyone has to remember remote teams involve people of different backgrounds. Managers should set rules of engagement to ensure everyone knows how to use the technology, and how to navigate.
8. Use browser-based document tools to collaborate with your virtual teams. You need everyone working from the same documents. For instance, use Office 365 or Google Docs.
9. Remote teams need visual project management tools. As I said earlier, we have to synthesize information quickly, and visual dashboards and tools are essential.
10. Success for remote teams comes with consistency. So, members have to develop a routine. The routine helps with self-care and keeping the business and home separated.
Ben Stroup is Chief Growth Architect and President at Velocity Strategy Solutions where he helps leaders design, develop, and deploy smarter business growth strategies. Ben is a futurist, disruptor, and data champion. He leads a team that takes a structured learning approach to business challenges, which allows them to assist leaders in bridging the gap between ideas, innovation, and revenue—taking ideas from mind to market.
Velocity Strategy Solutions is an on-demand, next-generation business strategy and management consulting firm which provides clients with a relentless focus on data, execution, and results that positively impact the bottom line. Velocity delivers integrated people and revenue strategies combined with a disciplined approach to growth architecture that elevates the capacity of leaders, teams, and organizations to succeed and win more.