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How to Build Effective Virtual Teams

In a recent survey, PGi found that 79% of respondents had the ability to telework at least one day a week. This is a huge victory for flexible work advocates everywhere, but it also means that we’re seeing an increased number of either fully or partially remote teams.

The added challenges and barriers facing virtual teams mean that managers have to take extra care to develop the internal dynamics, processes and workflows that keep teams productive and successful.

Here are four areas to focus on to build effective virtual teams:

Communication

Communication is the cornerstone of any effective team, in-person or virtual, but the gravity of its importance increases significantly when dealing with remote workers. Communication is all that remote workers have, and if it’s being ineffectively handled, remote team members can often begin to feel isolated and out of the loop.

Focusing on “better communication” is a vague suggestion at best. Rather, focus on intentionally overdoing it; in other words, go out of your way to communicate even the smallest details to your remote team members, the kind of information you take for granted that they can’t glean from an overheard conversation or casual hallway chat. Check-in regularly on how they feel about their role and their contribution to the larger team as a whole. Reiterate key takeaways, decisions and action items through email or IM after team meetings to ensure that the remote members understand what’s expected.

You can eventually scale back once you get a feel for each member’s needs, but at first, don’t be afraid to over-communicate.

Predictability

For teleworkers, flexibility is one of the most appreciated benefits. However, that flexibility can quickly become stressful if it’s accompanied by an unnecessary amount of unpredictability within their day-to-day workflows. It’s often not as easy for teleworkers to roll with quickly changing demands and priorities, particularly if those changes are being driven by off-the-cuff interactions with in-person colleagues.

As a remote manager, it’s your job to establish the guidelines that will create a predictable environment for your virtual team. Your team should be keenly aware of both your expectations of them and what they should expect from you. It’s also good practice to have regularly scheduled check-in times, whether those take the form of recurring team status meetings, one-on-one meetings with each member individually or some combination of those strategies in order to mitigate surprises and keep everyone on the same page.

Virtual and Physical Team Building

Actively engaging in team building activities is essential for any team, whether sitting together in an office or collaborating remotely across distances. Virtual team building activities in particular offer a departure from the norm of collaborating across distances and offer an opportunity for a fun change of pace.

But one thing to keep in mind is that even with virtual teams, there’s a bonding element created by in-person interactions that’s difficult if not impossible to replicate online. If schedules and budgets permit, you should try to bring your virtual team together at least once a year for a day of meetings, activities or just hanging out. The rapport that a mini team “retreat” of sorts can build is invaluable to your team’s dynamic and ultimately, its success.

A Variety of Tools

Technology powers all aspects of business, but for remote workers, it’s their lifeblood. Everything remote workers do is driven by the technology they have at their disposal, whether it’s online meetings, shared team workspaces or just quick check-in calls or texts from their smartphones.

When building a virtual team, it’s important to remember that everyone collaborates differently. Just because remote team members are all accessed the same way—through technology—does not mean that there should only be one technological medium for that access. Pigeonholing every interaction into the same tool is ultimately limiting, as each team member has their own unique strengths and weaknesses that extend to their communication styles.

As a manager, ensure that you’re providing a variety of outlets for communication and collaboration so that each team member can find their own productivity.

To learn more about the dynamics that create successful virtual and in-person teams, download PGi’s free eBook “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work” today!

About Sean O'Brien

Sean O’Brien is PGi’s Chief Administrative Officer. He oversees the company’s Legal, HR and Program Management organizations and manages Corporate Development, M&A and Acquisition Integration. In addition, Mr. O’Brien leads Corporate Strategy, Executive Communications and Global Facilities Management.

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