How to Build and Manage a High-Performing Virtual Team

TSP • @myTSPnet


Smart companies realize that if they want to remain competitive, they need to embrace virtual teams as part of their workforce. A virtual team is composed of employees who are not located in the same office, have different working hours or work across multiple teams simultaneously. In a study by Workforce Futures, 83% of employees felt that they did not need an office to be productive. Because of this sentiment, workers across all generations are seeking more flexible jobs.

Virtual teams not only increase your talent pool, but they save on costs and infrastructure, allowing you to invest more in innovation and growth. Although building and managing virtual teams can be challenging, virtual teams are becoming a necessity. Outlined below are four methods for building and managing high-functioning virtual teams.

Building and managing a virtual team begins with developing the right strategy. View going remote as a competitive advantage rather than a one-off tactic to help managers and employees excel in the workplace. Clearly communicating this advantage will help you attract top virtual talent. Hire people who already fit your culture profile. For example, the most successful virtual workers are self-motivated.

In order to avoid internal friction and disagreement, it's important to align your leadership team. Training and workshop opportunities can help managers understand remote employees’ mindset — they'll gain valuable strategies for integrating virtual employees into the company. When managers emphasize the value of their remote workers, traditional employees will begin to view the virtual workers as a part of the same team, despite differences in physical location.     

Creating a digital infrastructure is imperative for virtual teams. Minimally, all managers and employees should have access to email and telephone, with the ability to easily conference across regions. Tools like Slack and Google Docs are the backbone of a diversified workplace. These collaboration tools make it easy for teams to seamlessly work together.

In addition to facilitating the creation of company culture, platforms like Zoom allow for an employee’s body language, demeanor and personality to come through. Tools and platforms provide a forum for celebrating success while fostering workplace relationships.

By emphasizing team processes, managers will encourage the building of relationships between remote and traditional employees. In order to ensure participants in a virtual meeting know what is expected of them, it's important to focus on increasing predictability and influence through processes. Empowering your team will help reduce their urge to multitask and instead encourage them to remain engaged throughout the meeting. Don't focus only on results — until you pay attention to the leading indicators, processes and relationships, results will remain unachievable. When proposals are made during meetings, it's necessary to check your understanding. Don't assume agreement from silent team members — you must obtain explicit verbal agreement.

Workplace relationships are important because they determine the effect to which we feel valued, included and safe. Trust increases with transparency. Remote employees should vocally express the rationale for their actions and decisions if they want to form productive relationships with traditional employees. Try externalizing your thought process by providing frequent updates that communicate both what's known and what's unknown.

Along with trust comes appreciation. Focus on what's working and express this to your manager or employees. When employees go above and beyond on the job, provide individual attention and acknowledge their accomplishments. Empathy must be incorporated into every aspect of a relationship. Actively listen and refrain from passing judgment — express acceptance of questions, challenges and differing opinions. Finally, the need for rapport is undeniable. Encourage relationship-building activities that are not specifically related to work. For example, share personal information about yourself and your vision of success.

Developing a communication plan that addresses the information needs of all stakeholders is a crucial step when building and managing virtual teams. Communication plans help managers and employees know what information is to be reported to whom and for what purpose. Regular status and progress reporting will ensure that everyone is on the same page.  

The goal is to minimize effort while maximizing visibility and information availability. For example, active reporting includes emails sent to project managers upon completion of critical tasks. Passive reporting, on the other hand, involves posting status information on a common website or dashboard. Enhance your virtual team’s identity by clearly communicating progress to those on a need-to-know basis.    

The challenge of building and managing virtual teams can be addressed by taking a flexible, yet disciplined approach that is tailored to the needs of each situation. Successful virtual teams require the creation of a consciously engineered team culture that meets the needs of the team as a whole and of its individual members. When executed well, virtual teams are one of the greatest competitive advantages a business can have.