Managing Virtual Teams: Strategies & Best Practices

Empower your team to stay aligned, no matter where they are.

Remote work desk

"Are they actually working or doing laundry and watching Netflix all day?"

"Is our company culture getting disrupted?"

"Are we on the same page about this issue?"

If you are managing a virtual team, these are likely some of the concerns you may be having.

Remote work is no longer a niche trend – virtual teams have been on the rise for years, and studies indicate that they are here to stay. According to the State of Remote Work 2019 report by Buffer, 99% of remote workers would like to continue working remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.

Matthew Hollingsworth, the Director of Operations at We Work Remotely, says, “We truly believe now is the time for remote work to become the norm. We see hundreds of thousands of qualified people come to WWR each month looking for remote work and have seen the companies that embrace it leading the way in attracting the best talent.”

However, managing virtual teams comes with a set of challenges that can lead to serious problems if not addressed early on. Let's dive deeper into what virtual teams are and how they can be managed effectively.

What is a virtual team?

A virtual team (also referred to as a distributed or remote team) is a group of teammates working from separate locations and time zones. Working from home or a shared coworking space, virtual teams rely on online communication and collaboration tools to stay aligned.

According to one study by Upwork, 63% of companies today have remote workers, and their number is likely to continue increasing. Today, Automattic, Zapier, Buffer, and GitLab are successful as 100% virtual teams, and more and more companies are following their lead.

Virtual team remote work policy

Remote work policy example in a company wiki (created in Nuclino)

Benefits of working as a virtual team

The appeal of working as a virtual team is easy to understand. Here are just some of the advantages that remote working can bring:

And yet, despite all of these benefits, we have recently seen large companies like Yahoo and IBM walk back their remote work policies. Managing virtual teams is a challenging task and many remain unconvinced that the benefits of embracing remote work outweigh the risks.

Challenges of managing virtual teams

Successfully managing virtual teams comes with a unique set of challenges and overcoming them takes time, practice, and patience. Some of the hurdles you will likely face include:

Yet none of these are impossible to tackle with the right managerial approach.

Tips for virtual teamwork

All these challenges can be overcome by doubling down on the fundamentals of good management – establishing clear goals, running great meetings, communicating clearly, and leveraging team members' individual and collective strengths.

Here are the basic best practices for making this happen:

Find the right communication and collaboration tools

Managing virtual teams is impossible without technology, and fortunately, you have a lot of solutions to choose from. Approach this decision carefully and make sure the combination of tools you select really does make your job easier. After all, the more tools your virtual team has to manage and keep track of, the more time they have to spend not doing meaningful work.

Here is a list of popular options for you to consider:

Create a centralized knowledge base

Working as a virtual team means that you can't simply tap on your colleague's shoulder each time you have a question. Sure, you can always send them a Slack message, but if the issue is blocking you, having to wait for a reply may slow down the entire team. Instead, you may want to try and empower your team to find answers on their own by creating a shared internal wiki or an intranet portal.

Let it be your virtual team's single source of truth, the first place they check when they have a question. You can use it to share your employee handbook, information on operating procedures and workflows, your brand guidelines, release checklists, FAQs, and more.

Crowdsource it and encourage your entire team to contribute and keep it up-to-date. Investing in such a knowledge base early on can save you a lot of effort down the road, making it easier to onboard new members and avoid repetitive questions.

Virtual team internal wiki

An example of an internal wiki in Nuclino

Hire the right people

While this tip may be obvious, the way you evaluate your candidates changes when you are hiring for your virtual team. If the person will work remotely full time, clear and effective communication becomes the most critical skill. Some people may be exceptionally qualified, yet struggle when working remotely.

Try to arrange several rounds of interviews via multiple mediums to see how well they communicate through writing, on calls, and face-to-face. Make sure to be transparent and give your candidates a glimpse into your company culture to help them determine if it’s a good fit from their perspective as well.

Create a remote onboarding process

Just because your team is remote, doesn't mean you should skip the hands-on onboarding process and expect them to be independent from the start. Make sure that remote employees have sufficient guidance by creating a new employee onboarding checklist for them, assigning them a mentor, and adding them to your company knowledge base.

Establish a shared goal and ensure accountability

It is vitally important that your virtual team has a shared goal and a common understanding of how progress will be measured and how results will be evaluated.

It can take many forms, starting with your company vision and mission, followed by your yearly and quarterly business goals, and finally your team's specific objectives each month or week. Establishing perfect clarity on these is one of the first things a manager needs to do when managing a virtual team.

With virtual teams, it’s inherently more difficult to establish accountability, because there is no easy way to observe engagement and productivity. Address this by setting clear expectations for each role and having regular check-ins and status updates. These status updates can be done asynchronously, using a document collaboration tool such as Nuclino.

Don't try to micromanage but get your remote team members to commit to specific deliverables and timelines, with milestones that can be easily tracked.

Virtual team status update in Nuclino

An example of a sales team status update in Nuclino

In the end, none of the challenges of managing a virtual team are impossible to overcome. The trick is to get strategic about the tools at your disposal and ensure your leadership team is prepared. “Managing virtual teams can be challenging, but addressing those challenges head-on is worth the effort,” says Julie Wilson, the founder of the Institute for Future Learning and instructor at Harvard University.

Nuclino: Your team's single source of truth

Nuclino

Nuclino is a unified workspace that helps you organize all of your team's work in one place. Instead of digging through the chaos of files and folders and drowning in endless meetings and notifications, Nuclino allows your team to break out of silos and collaborate more thoughtfully.

Try it for free

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