When Entrepreneur magazine reported findings by Harvard University researchers in early 2019 that open office plans are bad for productivity, people around the world who think for a living heaved a huge sigh of relief. And those of us who work virtually and are managing a virtual team smiled because we knew we actually have the best situation for working productively.
Recently, a friend who was considering a management position at a virtual company asked me what I really thought about managing a virtual team. She knew that I lead over 50 people located globally, but did I really feel like it’s a good idea? I gave her a strong affirmative, though there are four things you need to watch for in order for your team to be happy and productive: accountability, community, collaboration, and connection to the organization’s culture, mission, and vision. There are tools and methods that can help.
You want to know that people are doing the work assigned to them, especially if you can’t just casually wander by their offices.
Tools: Online project management software so everyone is aware of handoff dates
Methods: Daily standup calls, intermediate handoffs (i.e., don’t wait to the end of the project to get a handoff)
People should feel connected to their teammates and not feel isolated.
Tools: Use chat software so the whole team is on the same chat (like Skype) and make places for people to share out-of-work stuff, like Google+ community
Methods: Do the same things people do IRL but do it virtually: virtual coffee and donuts with the team, virtual lunch dates, celebrations when important milestones are passed.
Collaboration, especially in cross-functional work teams: People who think for a living (like Instructional Designers) can be so much in their heads! Discouraging silos for folks who work without the benefit of collaboration is always a challenge, and virtual teams have that challenge big time.
Tools: Software that makes collaboration easy—like G Suite products—is essential.
Methods: Make collaboration an important ritual in project work. Call it out in your project plans; ask teams to present handoffs together.
When we are far apart, it might not be easy to remember that, at SweetRush, we have a unique culture that shows up in all aspects of our work. Helping my virtual team connect to the culture, vision, and mission of the larger company means I need to bring it up all the time, and in lots of different ways. This won’t just happen—at least not at the beginning. You will need to think about how your culture authentically manifests and call it out so your team is very aware of it. My team is used to hearing me say, “Think about the downstream team—make it easy on the downstream team” and giving feedback with candor: two important aspects of our culture. But it takes multiple examples to make the culture visible when you are managing a virtual team.
At SweetRush, I am super fortunate that I get to work with the best of the best, in a culture that truly mirrors the best of my own values. Working virtually has allowed me to hire from a global market, not just in my own small town. And with a little effort, we have both the perfect, quiet environment in which to do our best work and a team who’s ready to collaborate and celebrate our day-to-day successes.