May 2017

Working with Virtual Teams

By Hillary Evans

Increasingly, I find myself managing geographically dispersed teams, and often not in Briljent offices. For example, for my current Illinois-based project, I have worked with staff based in Springfield; Briljent staff in the Indianapolis office; three contractors based in Indianapolis that work out of their homes; and a client based in Augusta, Maine. Not one person on this project works in the same office or city as I do.

While this can be challenging at times, I have also found that with a little work, I am able to have a very effective team. Current technology makes collaboration and instant communication possible. Here are my top five tips for working effectively with virtual teams:

    1. Schedule frequent touch-base calls. These calls can be as little as 15 minutes, or longer as needed. I generally have a quick touch-base call with the client and each team member at least weekly (more often if needed.) This touch-base is a great way to connect on a human level. These calls tend to follow this format:
      1. How is it going?
      2. How are you doing?
      3. Is there anything you need to discuss or any issues we need to address?
      4. Here is, overall, what has been happening on the project.

      Make sure you spend a little personal time, as well. Asking simple questions about weekend plans or other fun things goes a long way to establishing a relationship.

    2. Schedule full team meetings as needed. These may not need to be weekly, depending on the project; but, you should get the entire team together virtually at least occasionally. This allows everyone to hear from the other team members about their issues, concerns, or celebrations on the project, and makes everyone feel as if they are in this together.
    3. Be available. Make sure your team knows your schedule and the best time to reach you. Make sure you follow up as quickly as possible if a team member reaches out to you. If you get an e-mail or voice mail and cannot talk right then, take the time to at least respond and state that you are in a meeting or busy, but you will be available later that day. Do not let e-mails and voice mails sit unacknowledged.
    4. Know your team members’ schedules. When working with contractors who may be working evening hours or fitting your client’s work in between other work, it is important to know how many hours a week and what hours they are likely to be working on your project. Even with Briljent staff, there is a wide variety of hours; some people come in early in the morning and are gone earlier in the day, while some start their workdays later. Know your team’s schedule and the best times to contact each member. Do not fall into the trap that if the person does not work in your location or the same hours you work, that you think they are “not working.”
    5. Be clear on your expectations. Ensure your team members understand what you need and by when. Insist that each person provides you frequent updates (phone or e-mail), especially for mission-critical deliverables. Explain that you do not like surprises. When establishing the expectations, spend time discussing by phone or Web conference, and then follow-up with an e-mail reiterating what you discussed.

These ideas are actually just good strategies for managing any team – co-located or virtual. One key thing to remember: if the person does not pick up the phone when you call, do not assume that means the person is not being productive. As long as you are getting and giving consistent feedback, you will know if the person is giving their best.

When working with Virtual Teams, teleconferencing becomes a very important tool.  For tips on making teleconferences productive, consider reading the blog post 10 Smart Tips for Running a Productive Teleconference by Greg Digneo of TimeDoctor.com.

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