3 Keys to Leading Successful Virtual Teams


Virtual teams are emerging as an important resource for organizations in the ever-divergent global business market. There is an increasing number of remote workers, who must effectively be led in a collaborative effort.

It takes a highly skilled team leader to build, manage, and successfully maintain a virtual team, especially due to the challenges faced such as differing cultures, beliefs, time zones, and languages. This article covers three keys that are essential to successfully leading a virtual team.

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When it comes to leading any team, especially virtual teams, communication is of the essence. Sitting at the heart of all human interactions and relationships, communication is like a fulcrum on which potential is amplified. Team function and remote work, for that matter, simply would not exist without communication.

Since you and your team don’t share the same physical space, you have to be even more effective at communicating. There are several important tactics and practices that can be applied to any project or objective.

For one, you have to schedule regular communication. Set a regular time for reporting both progress and potential pitfalls to the team. A simple 30-minute conference call can be remarkably productive if when you set expectations ahead of time and let everyone know what needs to be accomplished in that time frame.

In keeping regular communication, team members need to know what’s expected of them on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, staying aligned with the company’s vision and mission. Make sure you engage in communication that saves time, rather than killing it. This means no drawn-out e-mail conversations that could be solved with a 30-minute conference call.

Set clear rules for communication, especially when it comes to responsiveness. For example, you may use IM for anything that could be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Be clear on what matters are considered urgent and appropriate mediums for each situation.

Set up regular check-ins so you can discuss what you’re working on and how everything is going. All team members should be familiar with each other’s current projects, responsibilities, etc. Having such routines in place can reduce stress by creating a feeling of safety and familiarity.

A major part of collaboration and communication in the modern business world is technology. It is your most important tool and your team can’t function without it. Developments in collaborative technologies are making virtual teaming easier. But with that being said, going with the best technologies for your team does not necessarily mean choosing the newest or most robust. Don’t sacrifice reliability in an attempt to be cutting edge.

You can decide on the right tools by properly considering the needs of your team. You don’t want your team to struggle to get connected or waste time trying to make certain elements work. This will undermine the whole endeavor. Keep it as simple and effective as possible.

The communication between geographically distributed employees can be aided with the following tools and techniques:

  • Email
  • Voice calls
  • Instant messaging
  • Application sharing
  • Video conferencing
  • Social networking
  • Document management

Consider the advantages and disadvantages of these technologies and find a proper context for their use. Office 365, for example, has the already familiar tools that you can use to virtually collaborate on a project, including email, the cloud, shared calendar and Skype. In addition, mobile access to all these tools allows more efficiency and productivity among your team members. Just imagine what your work day would be like without your email inbox and all your business documents at the palm of your hand!

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When it comes to working with virtual employees, motivation is a hot topic. When teams work remotely, there is no easy way to observe productivity and engagement, so it’s inherently harder to push accountability down to your team.

You want to be explicit in getting your team members to commit to intermediate milestones and track their progress. On top of that, you want to effectively motivate your team and actually facilitate a secure, positive working environment so they’ll motivate themselves.

Remote work is known to boost productivity, in turn saving employers and employees money, all while increasing collaboration and improving employees’ work-life balance. Having defined deliverables and tracking commitments provides that important “push” to keep team members in a focused and productive state. Lead by example and let your team members take on some responsibilities such as mentoring new employees.

There are a number of exercises you can do to effectively build and motivate your team. Remember that your remote team members can’t commute or go on a break together, so how do you still make them feel connected? Introduce coffee meetings, or have a coffee-break video conference. This ensures a good communication flow, higher morale and a positive start of the day.

Another exercise is using the power of photos to connect. Start with an icebreaker such as a photo game. You can play “take a picture of your mug” and allow team members to share a part of themselves with their colleagues, just as they would do in a shared physical office. There’s also the option of having an online movie night. Have a popular movie that everyone watches on their laptops with a live chat running so team members can share opinions on the movie. You can have a short discussion afterward just as if you all went to the movies together.

Leading a virtual team takes a special kind of skills and knowledge. You have circumstances and challenges to deal with such as communicating across different cultures and locations, all while maintaining productivity and keeping team members motivated. Make sure you have effective systems of communication and technology in place to make the job easier.
Bio:  Sandra Moncada is a cycling enthusiast, who frequently escapes to hang out with her literary and movie heroes. She is vitamin D’s biggest fan, who is passionate about meditation, Pilates and beating stress. When she’s not floating in the ocean or her outdoor pool, she loves to write about lifestyle improvements, self-development and stress-relief methods. You can connect with her on Twitter @SandraMoncadaOh