Building Productive Virtual Teams

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As a society, we have had major advances in technology over the past 30 years. Technology helps make tasks easier and more efficient. As we advance in technology, we are also advancing other areas of our lives. No longer is it mandatory for a company to have a ridged work week schedule. Allowing flexible schedules and remote employees increases productivity in a company, and employee morale. Let’s explore what a remote workforce is.

What is a Virtual Team?

A virtual team consists of employees who work for a company without having to be in the building. These can be employees who work from home, or even another continent. Technology innovations make it more and more possible to accommodate business practices that were not possible in the past. According to the New York Times, the remote workforce has grown almost 80% since 2005. Even though this type of workforce has grown, it still only makes up about 3% of the employee population.

Types of Virtual Teams

Virtual teams come in many forms, and there are few limits as to what they can do. There isn’t a set type of work that you can offer for a remote workforce. There are any number of jobs that can be performed by remote workers. When choosing if a remote employee is right for the position, it’s best to decide if the job requires the physical presence of an employee in the building. Will the employee not being physically there hinder the job getting done? Here are a few types of common remote employees:

  • Data Entry
  • Customer Service
  • Call Center
  • Writing
  • Computer and IT, Software Design, and Web Design
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing
  • Medical Coding and Billing
  • Research
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Benefits of a Virtual Team

There are many benefits to having a remote workforce. One of the biggest benefits is that offering remote jobs helps your company attract a better quality of staff. You are not limiting yourself to who is best for the job position in your area. With a remote employee, you are able to get the best person for the position. Offering remote employment also helps with a decrease in time off. Employees who work from home call in less because they are not affected by as many communicable diseases (flu, cold, stomach virus, etc.) that they would have come in contact with in the office. They also do not have to worry about being unable to work during inclement weather. These are just a few examples of how remote employees benefit the company; there are many more benefits for these types of employees.

Materials for Virtual Team

The materials that may be required for a remote employee are completely dependent upon the tasks that the employee will be responsible for completing. You can require the employee to have basic items like wireless internet, home phone, and basic computer requirements that would be stipulated before hiring the employee. More in-depth requirements would need to be provided by the company, like specialized equipment, and computer programs.

High Performance Teams

High performance teams are a newer concept. There are a lot of different ways a high performance team of remote employees could benefit a company. In the following section, we will discuss what a high performance team is. We will discuss the benefits of having a high performance team. Also, we will talk about how to lead a high performance team, and how to understand the dynamic of a high performance team. Let’s explore this concept together!

What is a High Performance Team?

A high performance team is a group of extremely focused people who come together to meet a goal. In most cases these teams don’t have a set leader; the most appropriate person takes the lead as needed. The team members take pride in their team and meeting their goals. They have a lot of trust in each other and are usually fairly candid with one another. The team works efficiently, each member an essential component to a well-oiled machine.

Benefits of High Performance Teams

There are many benefits to having a high performance team. These benefits are split into 3 categories: employee benefits, management benefits, and customer benefits. Employees benefit from high performance teams because with the help of teammates, there is someone else there to help with the tasks required to complete a project. This means that there isn’t one person who has to carry the weight of the whole project by him/herself. These teams also help build relationships between the employees. Customers benefit because they receive their products quicker than they would have. The customers usually experience a more welcoming environment also because of the camaraderie between the teammates. Lastly, management benefits because they have to put less energy in overseeing their employees. Because the teams are all working together for the same goal, it takes less involvement from the management team.

Leadership for High Performance Team

One interesting fact about high performance teams is that, depending on the need, team members take turns in the leadership role. The team’s main focus is achieving their goal, and they come to the consensus collectively to elect a team leader that is most fitting to the role. These teams do not choose leaders based on popularity or ego. This does not mean that the teams do not have a manager, director, or some other form of authority. This only pertains to the leadership role (team lead) in the team.

Understanding Team Dynamics

High performance teams depend a lot on communication. The team dynamic stems off of an open forum environment. In these types of teams, no one voice is greater than another. Team members have the ability to communicate openly with one another. They are able to offer one another constructive criticism, ideas on alternate solutions, or other ways to complete the tasks. The collective goal of the team is to efficiently complete the task at hand, so egos are left at the door.

Characteristics of High Performance Teams

There are many different characteristics for high performance teams. We could list different characteristics for days! In this section, we will discuss the four main characteristics of high performance teams. The characteristics are excellent communication, being goal-oriented, flexibility, and being committed.

Excellent Communication

So, what is communication? Communication means relaying thoughts or ideas to another person. Communication is broken up into three categories: verbal, written, and nonverbal. Every good relationship depends on great communication. Being able to effectively communicate with one another is an important asset on any team. Most problems in a team dynamic are due to poor communication. Most of the time these problems are because of a misunderstanding, where someone didn’t communicate effectively.

Goal-Oriented

Goals are important for everyone, both personally and professionally. Having a goal gives you something to reach for, to improve yourself or your life. A goal is something that a person or persons works to achieve. A goal can be tangible, which is something that they can physically touch, like building a model rocket. You can also have intangible goals, which is something you can’t touch, like learning to speak Chinese. High performance teams are known for being goal-oriented. These teams are laser focused on the task at hand, and work together to achieve their collective goal.

Flexibility

High performance teams are known to be very flexible. They understand the steps they have to take in order to complete their tasks, and will use the most effective route to achieve their goal. This may entail changing the route used to complete the task. Leadership changes often, members of the team will change team leads depending on which member is best qualified. Team member duties can change from project to project.

Committed

High performance team members are committed to the team and completing their goals. A committed team member is loyal and dedicated to their team, job, company, and the task at hand. These teams are engaged in their tasks and are committed to obtaining their goals. At the end of the day, they want the best for their company, and team, not unlike a parent wants the best for their child.

How to Create Teamwork on Virtual Teams

You can’t throw a bunch of puzzle pieces on the table and expect them to automatically fit together to create the picture. You have to move the pieces around and make sure they fit. Assembling a team is very similar. You have to create teamwork, and make those puzzle pieces form the desired picture.

Identify Group & Individual Responsibilities

A horse pulling a buggy relies on the driver to tell him which direction to go. The driver has to tell the horse where to go, and how quickly to get there. Being clear about an individual and the group’s responsibilities is the first step in creating teamwork. Each team member does their part to make sure that the team reaches the goal. Understanding your role, and what other’s roles are, helps the team move forward. When identifying these responsibilities make sure that you are very clear. Unclear directions can put your horse and buggy in the ditch!

Give Permission to Take Action

A high performance team is made up of highly skilled and dedicated members. These members are willing to do what it takes to complete their goal. They have the knowledge to know if something isn’t going right, and how to fix it. As a leader, you should give your team the ability to fix problems when they arise, or even before they arise. Giving them the ability to take action when needed only helps strengthen that ownership of their job and project.

Build Relationships between Team Members and Management

Teamwork is built on mutual trust, respect, and of course communication. When your team doesn’t have that mutual trust and respect from management, you are not going to have good teamwork. Without building a good relationship between management and team members, the dynamic of the team becomes a “them vs us” situation. Making sure that you take the time to build a good relationship between team members and management is essential. Team members need to be comfortable with communicating with their management team. Being able to share problems with management, or even new ideas is what helps to create an effective team.

Give Feedback

Feedback means relaying reactions to an employee’s idea, performance, etc. Feedback doesn’t have to just come from management, but it can also come from fellow team members. Feedback is important when building a team because it allows the team members to know what they are doing right, and what needs to be worked on. It helps them see and troubleshoot the areas that need to be adjusted. Feedback can be given at any interval, on any process of what a team is doing. Feedback can even be given to address a team member’s attitude. Letting the team members know where they stand only helps strengthen the employee, and the team.

Types of Virtual Communication

As we have already said, communication is a huge asset with teams of any kind. With proper communication, you have a well-oiled machine that does its job efficiently. Without proper communication, you have a train wreck! In this module, we will discuss the different types of communication as it relates to High performance, virtual teams.

Virtual Team Meetings

Team meetings are a cornerstone for any high functioning team. Team meetings help keep all of your team members on the same page. Team meetings also give team members a chance to voice concerns or new ideas. Because your workers are remote employees, meeting in one spot isn’t ideal. You could have team members that are on the other side of the world. Thankfully, technology can help you all be in the same place at the same time, virtually. Virtual team meetings are meetings with all of the team members, held over the internet via webcam or some other internet form.

Telephone Conferences

Telephone conferences are a great way to communicate with your remote team. They are held over the phone system, and can be between two team members. These conferences can also take place between management and a team member, multiple team members, or management and multiple team members.

Email Communication

Email communication is another way to keep in contact with your team. Effective email communication is important because it a great way to relay pertinent information to your team. When using email as your source of communication, it is important to make sure your communication is clear and concise. You want to also make sure you are using the right tone. Have you ever sent an email and realized after reading it that the tone may be taken in a poor way? It is helpful to read your emails out loud to yourself to make sure your tone is the intended tone.

Intranet, Webpage, and Social Media Communication

Lastly, you can use the intranet, webpages, and social media to communicate with your team. Facebook, and twitter pages are a great way to relay short messages to the team as a whole or to specific individuals in private messages. These forums are also a great way to show praise to team members, and acknowledge good work. They even have social media sites made specifically for communicating with your co-workers. This allows team members to reply back, and give updates. You can also use a website or an intranet page to communicate with your team. An intranet is a private communication network, and a webpage is public. A company’s intranet usually consists of a firewalled Internet access. These intranet pages are usually loaded on the internal computers, but can be accessed off site also. When an intranet is accessed offsite, it’s called an extranet. An extranet opens the firewall to give controlled outsider access. Unlike a basic webpage, these extranet portals usually require a username and password, provided by the company.

Training Your Virtual Team

Training your virtual team is a little different from training your regular employees. Because these employees can span the continents, it’s not practical for employees to meet in one place for training. We will discuss in this section the different ways you can train your remote employees.

Telecommute Training

Telecommute training basically means training over the telephone. This training can be brief instruction or in-depth details. Telecommute training is usually accompanied by some sort of web-based training or visual aids to help the employees. The great advantage of telecommute training is that employees have the opportunity to ask questions right away.

Web-based Training

Have you ever used You-Tube to find out how to fix something around the house? That could be considered web-based training. Web-based training is training that takes place on an Internet or Intranet page. These trainings could consist of just written information, pictures, videos, or interactive forums. Interactive web-based training forums can consist of quizzes or even virtual simulations. This type of training is highly effective but can be costly depending on the type of training the company selects. There are many avenues for web-based training.

Peer to Peer Training

Peer to peer training is another great way to train your remote employees. Peer to peer means team members training other team members. Peer to peer training can consist of employees traveling to train new team members in their workspaces. Some companies have a special team member selected for this task. Peer to peer training can also consist of the peer contacting the new team member via phone or web communication. Peer to peer training allows the new team member to ask questions without the pressure of feeling intimidated by their management. The peer that is training also has insight into the tasks the position requires, because it is a job function they preform often.

Training Assessment and Retraining

Once training has been completed, it’s time to assess the effectiveness of the training and decide if any retraining is necessary. It is easy to assume that you have clearly given the appropriate instructions for job training. Leaving new team members improperly trained is like asking someone to fix a car without any tools. You are handicapping your new team member from reaching their full potential. If you discover that your new team member needs additional or retraining, it is not necessarily a reflection of the team member. We are all different people, and learn differently. Making sure that you are administering the appropriate training for that person’s learning style is part of managing a high performance team. There are three major types of learning styles:

  • Auditory Learners- Learn through hearing information.
  • Visual Learners- Learn through seeing information, like videos and pictures.
  • Kinesthetic Learners- Learn through touching, or doing the action they are trying to learn.

Managing Your Virtual Team

Once you have your high performance team of remote workers together, it’s time to concentrate on managing that team. There are multiple ways that you can manage your team. In this section, we will discuss tracking your team’s performance. We will also discuss counseling your employees, and positive recognition for team members.

Tracking Team Performance

In business, it’s always a good idea to check your results. Tracking team performance is a way for you to see if your team is effective and if any changes need to be made. You can track team performance many ways. Using reports to rate the effectiveness of your team or customer feedback to measure the success of the team are just two ways to track your team’s performance.

Counseling Employees

It is never an easy task to counsel an employee. When managing a high performance team, you have to be able to tell your team and team members when they are not preforming at their highest level. Counseling team members doesn’t just consist of telling them they are not preforming at a high level, but also brainstorm with them on how to fix the issue. Make sure when counseling your employees, that you are being constructive and presenting them with solutions and not just problems.

Positive Recognition for Employees

No employee is above some type of recognition. As a manager, it is your job to make sure that your team feels valued as a whole and as individuals. Posting positive recognition on team chat boards, social media, and on an intranet board are some of the ways to acknowledge your team members. Employees who feel valued are more engaged and work harder for the team and company. So take a moment and tell your team, and the individuals on it how well you think they are doing!

Training Never Stops!

As a manager, you should always be helping your team members be the best they can be. Allowing your employees to obtain new skills and training is one way to help them be their best. This training could mean learning a new skill for their current job or a whole new job. Supporting your team members to reach these accomplishments makes them more engaged in their jobs and their company. These employees will stay employed longer, because they don’t feel suffocated by their jobs. They feel like there are options for their career.

Effective Virtual Team Meetings

In any team, team meetings are important, especially when you have a remote workforce. Running an effective team meeting is a skill every manager needs to master. In this module, we will go over some tactics you can use to have an effective team meeting.

Have a Clear Agenda

When you are having a team meeting, it is important to have a clear agenda. An agenda is a list of topics that are to be discussed at a team meeting. Having an agenda helps the team members understand what must be discussed during the meeting and gives team members a chance to think of any additional questions they may have. An agenda also helps keep you on track during the meeting, so that unnecessary chatter is avoided.

Use Screen Shots or References

We discussed earlier about how people learn differently. Not everyone is an audible learner, some people require visual aids. Providing screen shots or visual references is a great way to help visual learners understand what you’re trying to relay to them. Visual references also help break up the monotony of a team meeting and gain some additional interest from the team members. Sometimes a funny picture that relates to the topic can also help break the ice. You don’t want your team members to fall asleep during the meeting, so try this tactic to help them stay engaged.

Create a Safe Place

Even virtually, a team meeting should be a safe haven for every team member. As a manager, it is your job to make sure that the members are comfortable expressing their comments or concerns with the group. You set the tone of the meeting as the leader, so it’s your job to create a safe place. Implementing a “no question is too silly” rule is an excellent way to create a safe place for your team. Also, asking the team members if anyone has comments, or questions helps. It gives the team members a chance to voice what is on their mind without fear of prosecution.

Team Meeting Don’ts

We have all attended a meeting that has gone south. Team meetings are a great way to share information to the whole team, but sometimes they can go off kilter. There are a few “don’ts” to remember when having a team meeting.

  • Don’t make the meeting too long- no one has a 6-hour attention span, especially for a virtual meeting.
  • Don’t hog the spotlight- let other people present topics from the agenda, it breaks up the monotony.
  • Don’t keep talking about the same topic-make your point and move on.
  • Don’t address only one person during the meeting- those conversations can be saved for one on ones.
  • Don’t forget to give pause for questions or concerns.
  • Don’t get frustrated or raise your voice.

Never let your team members feel like their question is insignificant.

Keep Happy and Motivated Virtual Team

Your team’s job is to complete the tasks they are assigned in an efficient way, while maintaining good quality standards. Your job is to make sure your team stays happy and motivated to accomplish those goals. Keeping your team happy and motivated is not hard to do if you know what to look out for. You don’t have to be in the same room with your team to keep them engaged.

Watch for Signs of Conflict or Unhappiness

With remote workforce, you do not have the luxury of looking at an employee day in and day out. You miss certain non-verbal cues to unhappiness like facial expressions. Did you know that there are other warning signs to recognize to help you see if your team members are not happy and engaged in their roles? People these days are very expressive, even when they don’t mean to be. If you notice that suddenly a team member starts writing very long / very short emails, when they use to do the opposite, this may be an indication that the team member is unhappy. Changes in the tone of communication is another indication of an unhappy teammate. Another obvious sign is that the person may start using emoticons that suggest they are not happy. If you see any warning signs, it may be time for you to intervene. Just because you are not physically there with them doesn’t mean you can’t see the signs.

Employee Feedback and Concerns

We have talked a lot about how important communication is, and how it is important for you to give feedback to the team. It is equally important for your employees to be able to give you feedback. Employees need to have an “open door” policy with their management team. This way they can discuss any concerns they may have about an issue before it leads to dire results. Virtual employees need to be comfortable giving feedback to their supervisors just as any other employee should. They may not be able to physically walk through your door, but that shouldn’t stop them from being able to give you feedback.

Give Opportunities for Additional Education

Offering training/educational opportunities is a great way to keep a happy team member. Allowing them to better their lives only strengthens that bond between the team member and the company. Many companies allow their employees to get reimbursed for college tuition. Offering college courses or reimbursement allows the employee to have more job opportunities within the company. Few people want to do the same position for the next 50 years of their life. Education gives the team member a chance to grow with the company. Education could include earning new certifications or degrees.

Impart Opportunities for Career Growth

Sometimes your employees have already gotten a degree or don’t need additional education. This doesn’t mean that they want to stay in the same position until retirement. There are always jobs available within the company for loyal and hardworking candidates. Keeping those types of employees are crucial for a company and the team dynamic. Career growth opportunities could mean promoting team members to the management team, or just to an alternate position. A poll according to Gallup.com showed that 32% of employees left their positions due to a lack of career advancement opportunities.

“Don’ts” with Virtual Teams

We have talked a lot about what you should do with your high performance team of remote workers, but now we will discuss what not to do. In this module, we will discuss just a few of the major “don’ts” for your high performance team.

Don’t Forget to Share Success

Communicating is what it is all about. You have to share with your team their successes. Praise is a great motivator, and helps keep employees engaged in their jobs. Next time your team completes a goal, take a moment to celebrate in the success of the team. You don’t have to throw a party every time your team completes their goal, but you do want to acknowledge their good work. Sharing your team’s success with other members of the company is also a great way to acknowledge a job well done.

Don’t Delay in Responding

As a virtual high performance team, there are times we don’t realize that we are failing in communicating with your team members. Sometimes when a team member communicates, you may want to get back with them at a later time. The delay of returning emails and phone calls is a big don’t in communicating with your team. Delaying communication makes a team member feel like their comments, or concerns are not important and that they are not important. No one expects a manager to stop what they are doing and instantly reply to a phone call or email, but it should be returned in a timely manner.

Don’t Assign Vague Responsibilities

When assigning responsibilities, you want to be as clear as possible. Assigning vague responsibilities is the easiest way to create chaos among the team. When team members are unclear about their responsibilities they become discontent and disgruntled. Specific direction is how you get your team on track to the road of success. If possible, responsibilities are best presented in written form for the team member to reflect on later if he/she has questions.

Don’t Lead as a Dictator

A high performance team is composed of highly motivated, and qualified individuals. They want to complete the goals they are assigned in an efficient manner, while maintaining high quality. These people are the best of the best, so give them some wiggle room. Not every decision can be made by team consensus, but a lot of them can. As a manager, you have to be able to decide when it is appropriate to let go of the reigns some. Team members need a voice to help them feel like they are important and really a part of the team.

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