Virtual teams are becoming increasingly common in today's business world. Organizations are finally embracing the benefits of remote work and global collaboration.
But as the number of virtual teams grows, so does the need for effective virtual management.
But successful management from behind the screen doesn't have to mean digital micro-management. In fact, as we'll discuss later, that could be your biggest downfall.
Virtual work will never be the same as in-person work. So we need to look at it from a different lens.
Let's talk about it.
What is virtual management?
Virtual management involves the supervision, leadership and maintenance of virtual teams — that is, dispersed work groups that rarely meet face-to-face.
This virtual leadership comes with its own set of unique complications, like:
- Logistical issues.
- Interpersonal difficulties.
- Technological hurdles.
- Inaffective training.
- Improper communication channels.
- Disaligned projects, processes and people.
Effective virtual management can help to overcome these challenges and improve the functioning of virtual teams.
Depending on the challenge — this might mean:
- Adopting helpful technology.
- Setting, communicating and tracking clear goals.
- Fostering open communication and collaboration.
- Supporting strong working relationships.
- Building a robust and ongoing training structure.
Let's look into the process of virtual training for remote teams.
Virtual training in virtual management
Virtual training is a major part of virtual management — and it goes far beyond onboarding and orientation.
This cornerstone process gives employees the skills and knowledge they need to effectively work in virtual teams. This might include training on virtual collaboration tools and technology, as well as soft skills such as communication, teamwork and cultural awareness.
Virtual training is beneficial for both internal and external audiences, helping organizations to improve the effectiveness of their virtual teams and better serve their customers.
Tools like Scribe make this process easier. Scribe is a process documentation tool that uses AI to create step-by-step guides for any workflow. This helps you create SOPs, training manuals and ongoing educational resources.
Here's how it works.
Virtual management challenges
Virtual management presents unique challenges that can be difficult to overcome. These challenges include:
1. Coordinating work across time zones & physical distances
When working with virtual teams, it can be hard to coordinate work schedules, and response times.
This makes it difficult to schedule meetings, set deadlines and share assignments. If no one is on the same page, nothing will get done (at least not the way it needs to)!
To overcome this challenge, it's important to establish clear communication protocols and channels. You need to do two things here: establish a pattern of ongoing face-to-face meetings and strengthen your async communication.
You might schedule regular one on ones and a weekly or biweekly group session, using Google calendar to find open time that works for everyone's calendar. Here's a Scribe on how to check a teammate's calendar to see if they're available.
Next, you want to set protocols for how to collaborate asynchronously. Use communication channels like Slack for conversations, and project management tools like Asana to assign projects and track progress. Create and share Scribes to answer quick questions and enable your teams to learn on their own.Lastly, if you establish flexible or alternative hours, you give people the chance to connect throughout the day, get their work done when they need to do it and maintain a work-life balance.
2. Establishing effective working relationships in the absence of face-to-face communication
When you're just a face behind a screen, it's harder to build the same level of trust and rapport as in face-to-face interactions.
This can lead to difficulties in establishing effective working relationships, and lead to miscommunication, mistakes and overall misalignment throughout the team.
But how do you build comradarie and cohesion from a distance?
Make it a priority that everyone on the team has the chance to talk... and not just about work. Use tools like Donut to pose interesting questions that help team members get to know each other, and set up 1:1 time for dispersed team members who don't usually get the chance to connect.
You can also hold virtual team-building activities, like trivia games, for a light-hearted way to strengthen bonds. Host monthly raffles or virtual conferences, and if possible, schedule quarterly in-person meet ups.
You want to prioritize these relationships from the very beginning. If you're stumped, check out our list of winning virtual onboarding ideas for inspiration.
3. Finding & using appropriate technology
The most important tenents of a successful virtual management strategy are strong:
- Project management.
You need tools that facilitate each one of these processes if you want to keep your team pushing forward.
But so many tools are boasting that they're the perfect fit for the work-from-home crowd. So how do you know which ones are right for you?
For starters, let's assess your team's unique needs related to those four tenants we mentioned above. Which one are you struggling with the most, and which solution might have the biggest impact?
Survey your team to get their feedback on what you need to improve. Make it anonymous so that everyone feels comfortable honestly identifying any gaps in how things are going.
Next, you want to consider cost vs. ROI. Some tools are worth spending money for if they're the right solution, while others offer a good-enough freemium model that solves your problems just fine. Take your time when researching these solutions, and make sure to read case studies to get a feel of how customers are actually using the product.
And once you've selected a tool, you want to make sure your team uses it right. Build training materials so that you can properly adopt the technology and get your team on board, faster.
Here's an IT documentation template made with Scribe that you can use to kickstart your tool adoption program.
4. Navigating cultural differences in global virtual teams
In virtual teams with members from different cultures, it can be challenging to navigate cultural differences and to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This can impact communication, collaboration and overall team dynamics.
To navigate cultural differences, it's important to educate virtual team members on cultural norms and to establish clear protocols for communication and collaboration. Create a diversity and inclusion committee focused on researching and providing learning materials, conducting surveys and holding virtual get togethers.
This is an opportunity to celebrate differences and foster an inclusive and welcoming team environment. Remember that this is so much more than lip service. You want to actively encourage this environment in every opportunity — including in meetings and across communication channels.
5. Providing effective leadership & guidance to virtual team members
A leader is more than just a manager, and when you're in charge of a virtual team, you might struggle with offering direction, support, training and guidance. This can negatively impact project success, team morale and retention.
Each team member will come to the table with different needs and communication styles. There's no one-size-fits all approach to leadership, especially in a virtual environment.
To provide effective leadership and guidance, it's important to establish clear expectations and protocols for communication and collaboration, and to make use of technology that supports virtual team management. Some ways to do this are:
- Building and organizing drives to store SOPs.
- Holding personality assessments to see each teammate's working style.
- Scheduling regular virtual check-ins to track progress and encourage feedback.
Expect to adjust your resources based on what need — be that more (or less) meetings, asynch communication or training sessions.
Virtual management tips
Virtual management can be challenging, but with the right strategies in place, it can be highly effective. Here are some tips for successful virtual management:
- Clearly define roles and responsibilities: In a virtual team, it's important to clearly define each team member's roles and responsibilities to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that each team member knows what is expected of them.
- Establish clear communication channels: Communication is key. You need to establish clear communication channels, such as regular team meetings, email, and instant messaging, to ensure that everyone is able to communicate and collaborate effectively.
- Set realistic deadlines and goals: Depending on the project and resources, you might have a hard time determining when something will get done. Set realistic deadlines and goals to avoid frustration and burnout, and don't be afraid to adjust ad n
- Provide regular feedback: This goes both ways — you providing feedback to the team, and receiving feedback on your leadership. This ensures that everyone's on track. This also keeps team members motivated and focused on achieving their goals.
- Encourage team building and collaboration: In a virtual team, it can be easy for team members to feel isolated and disconnected from one another. It is important to encourage team building and collaboration to foster a sense of community and support among team members. This can help improve team morale and productivity.
Combat virtual management challenges
Virtual management is crucial for the effectiveness of a virtual team, but it can present challenges such as logistical problems, interpersonal issues and technological difficulties.
To overcome these challenges and achieve successful virtual management, it is important to establish clear communication and goals, foster trust and collaboration among team members, and use appropriate technology to facilitate communication and collaboration.
By following these tips, organizations can effectively manage their virtual teams and reap the benefits of this flexible and global working structure.