Over the last decade the “geography of the workplace” has shifted dramatically. Today’s workforce has become more mobile than ever, and every day, more and more people are working from virtual offices, client sites, home offices, coffee shops, airports, hotels, and any number of remote workplaces.
In the US alone, 20% of the adult working population (26.2 million) in 2010 were teleworkers . It has also been reported that there has been an 80% increase in “telecommunicating” employees from 2005 to 2012.
It’s because not only do remote teams allow businesses to reduce costs and recruit talent more efficiently, but they also increase productivity and even worker engagement. In fact, a 2009 Aon Consulting report.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that transitioning to a fully “virtual team” is totally without risk or challenges. Virtual teams can also be very hard to get right. When team members lack the ability to interact face-to-face, it can be difficult to build trust and to manage conflict. Communication is also often more challenging, particularly among global virtual teams, making it more difficult to overcome cultural barriers, which, in turn, can greatly impact your virtual team’s effectiveness.
So what can you do to maximize the productivity of your virtual team?
Here are a few suggestions.
Communication is usually less effective in virtual teams than it is in traditional teams. The lack of informal, everyday conversations that co-located employees take for granted can lead to feelings of isolation, which can hinder your team’s effectiveness.
To combat this challenge, arrange to have face-to-face meetings with your team once in every quarter. This will allow you to develop interpersonal connections using eye contact and body language. If that’s not at all possible, at least use video chat on your meetings.
Each of your teams should have a chat room that’s open at all times. This should be used for both work-related and non-work-related stuff so it can imitate office banter. Just make sure that the chatroom doesn’t become too distracting that it significantly lowers productivity.
Facilitate collaboration and organize work with your virtual team by using online collaboration tools. This would make it easier for them to perform tasks collectively on the cloud. One tool that you can use is Nutcache where can keep all your project-related documents in one cohesive place, eliminating the need to go through your emails for finding previous versions of documents every time. You can also use this tool keep and create attachments, worked hours, invoices and expenses.
Tracking work hours is crucial not only for better time management, but also to be able to pay your team members accurately, especially if they’re working on a per-hour basis. This is also important to calculate the time each of your team members take to complete a task.
A tool like Time Doctor can be very handy for this task since it will show you exactly where your team member’s time is spent. It also tracks users’ activities during their work time and when excessive amounts of time on Youtube, Facebook, or other personal web browsing are detected, Time Doctor will give users a nudge to ensure that they are still working. Other features include Screenshot Recording, Payroll setup, integration with other softwares.
Make one-on-one performance management and coaching interactions a regular part of the virtual team rhythm. You can use this opportunity to not only check status and provide feedback, but to keep members connected to the vision and to highlight their part of “the story” of what you are doing together.