Have you always managed a virtual business? Or do you manage a team at a company that finally switched to fully remote work operations?
Whatever the case may be, one thing is certain: managing virtual teams is very different from leading team members in an in-office environment. It goes well beyond losing the ability to pop by your team member’s cubicles each day to say “hi” and ask them to go to lunch.
Are you wondering how you can manage your virtual team to the best of your ability? Do you want to ensure that your virtual team members feel supported and can maximize their collaboration capabilities?
Well, there’s no need to start Googling! In my experience of managing a fully remote team for the Live Lingua online language school for many years, I have discovered the below tried-and-true tips to effectively manage virtual team members.
5 Tips On Managing Virtual Teams
From surefire ways to creating a positive remote work culture to optimizing workflows, try out these hacks to master managing your virtual team effectively.
1. Create Positive Remote Work Culture With “Virtual Water Coolers”
We all know how important the good ole water cooler has for in-office work environments. The water cooler is where employees bump into each other throughout the day and tell each other stories, laugh about happenings in the business, plan post-work events, and bond. The water cooler plays a key role in creating a positive work environment where coworkers feel connected to each other.
That said, a “virtual water cooler” plays the same role as a physical water cooler—it is an internal communication channel that allows remote employees to connect and talk about subjects other than work.
For example, it can be a designated #FUN Slack channel that is dedicated to chats about hobbies outside of work. Or, it can be an online forum or a private Facebook group for just your team members to talk about hobbies.
You may think that a virtual water cooler would just distract your team members from the projects at hand and impede their productivity and work output.
However, we have found that implementing these internal communication channels helped create a positive work culture in our virtual business, amplifying employee morale and motivation.
Why? Well, it’s because these virtual water coolers gave our team members the chance to have non-work-related discussions. This helped them get to know each other more personally and bond (which can sometimes be hard to do in a fully remote business environment).
Creating these connections ultimately helped our team members become friends who provide support and encouragement during challenging times. Also, it helped improve communication and collaboration throughout our entire company.
Tips for Your Virtual Water Cooler
If you want your business’s virtual water cooler to be successful, there are several rules to follow. First, ask a fun question in the virtual water cooler every morning to get the conversation started.
For example, ask something like “Where do you hope to travel next and why?” This is a great way to help your employees get to know each other better.
Also, don’t force anyone to participate in the virtual water cooler, as that would just cause stress. If one of your employees hasn’t shared any insight for the day, don’t ask them to contribute. They may just be busy with projects and can reply when they have time.
If people feel forced to contribute their thoughts each day, it can lower their overall morale.
Lastly, try to always acknowledge what others say in the virtual water coolers—no one wants to feel ignored. Social recognition can be key to increasing morale.
According to Psych Central, “Social recognition is essential to psychological safety and business success. It lets everyone know they’re noticed and valued, boosts productivity, and strengthens work relationships.”
2. Maximize Productivity with “Open Communication” Timeframes
One big challenge in a virtual work environment is that team members may not know if their coworkers are busy working on important projects and can’t be distracted.
They may sometimes email their busy coworkers or bombard them with Slack messages, which distracts and prevents them from focusing on the deep work they need to complete. This, in turn, can cause a lot of stress for the coworkers who are distracted and lower their productivity and work output.
According to Harvard Business Review, “Organizations that build a culture around minimizing distractions will enjoy the compounding benefit of a focused workforce and will leave their people feeling less stressed and ultimately more fulfilled.”
Therefore, as the team leader, it would be in your best interest to designate certain “open communication” timeframes for your team members.
You can let your entire team know that unless there is an urgent project or crisis that needs to be discussed, they should keep all communication between certain hours, such as in the morning from 9:45 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. and later in the day from 2:15 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
During these “open communication” timeframes, your team members will know that they can email coworkers or send messages in the virtual water cooler without distracting anyone from major projects that need to be completed before a deadline.
3. Encourage Your Team Members to Practice Time Blocking
Because they are working remotely, your team members will have so much autonomy and freedom in how they structure each workday. However, this can be a recipe for disaster if any of your team members lack discipline and don’t plan their days well.
So, help them be as productive as possible each day by encouraging them to schedule out each workday using time blocking.
Let them know that blocking out time for the three most crucial projects they need to finish each day—and also scheduling time blocks for miscellaneous tasks like responding to emails—will help them increase their productivity and work output each day.
They won’t waste a single minute trying to figure out the next task to focus on, as each day will be fully scheduled out.
4. Hold Your Virtual Team Members Accountable and Show Gratitude
One of the top ways to motivate remote team members is to hold them accountable for their work projects and ensure that they know how much you value their hard work. This is because if they know you are pleased with their work performance, they will want to continue excelling.
That said, one surefire way to hold your virtual team members accountable is by setting up a weekly video call with each of them to ask about where things are at in projects, any issues they are struggling with, and future tasks they will focus on.
You can also hold your virtual team members accountable by using project management software (like Basecamp) and asking all of them to share ongoing updates on what they’ve finished or are in the process of completing.
Another way to hold your team members accountable is by setting designated start and stop times for each of their workdays, then asking them to email you right when they sign on to work.
Even better, ask them to provide a quick outline of the projects they plan to tackle for the day in each of these emails. Your team members will then know they need to hold themselves accountable for completing or making great progress on the projects outlined in each morning email.
Finally, if your virtual team members hold themselves accountable for their projects, show your gratitude for all their hard work!
According to Psychology Today,
“Most powerfully, expressions of gratitude lead employees to feel socially valued and to believe that their actions make a difference in others’ lives, which motivates them to be helpful, cooperative, and go the extra mile for the organization and those around them. These kinds of prosocial behaviors at work make organizations more adaptable and more attractive to current and prospective employees, thereby contributing to organizational effectiveness.”
That said, you can show your gratitude by sending your team members an e-gift card for a popular coffee shop chain or a day spa in their area. This simple-yet-impactful gesture will amplify their morale and show them how much you value their efforts, which will motivate them to continue working hard and excelling.
5. Online Collaboration Tools Are Key
Project management software will help keep your remote team members accountable and everyone updated on which project milestones have been completed, what’s next on the agenda, and who is responsible for various tasks.
My favorite project management software is Notion. It offers various functions that have helped me stay on top of completing all of the projects I continually have for Live Lingua. Notion has been key in helping me bring my company to new levels of success.
Also, other online collaboration tools that I recommend using are the Google Documents and Google Sheets apps for remote collaboration and editing important business files while on the go.
You can share the Google Sheets and Google Documents with your virtual team members and select whether they can only view the files or have the ability to make comments or directly edit them. You can ask them to make edit suggestions, which you can approve once you look them over.
Even better, if you realize you don’t like a recent draft of a document, it is so easy to revert to an older version of it.
To Wrap It All Up
If you’re looking for ways to manage your virtual team much more effectively, consider following the above tips. Implement virtual water coolers to create a positive work culture, designate open communication timeframes to maximize productivity, and encourage your team members to practice scheduling out each workday with time blocking.
Help your team members hold themselves accountable for their tasks and then show them your gratitude for their hard work. And don’t forget that online collaboration tools like project management software will help streamline workflows.
Following all of these tips should help you manage your virtual team members better than ever.
Featured photo credit: charlesdeluvio via unsplash.com