Good morning, team! Or should I say good night? Working across time zones has become the norm. Your developer works from Hungary, the marketing expert in London and the accounting person in München: International – and thus mostly virtual – teams are on the rise. Virtual teams might even be the future of our workforce. But managing a virtual team is not always easy. It differs from traditional team management – except for one thing.
Co-working Or Teamwork?
What is a team? What is teamwork? I can see you raising your eyebrows now. What a question! Who on earth does not know what teamwork is? It might surprise you (or not), but people have googled that exact sentence: “What is teamwork”. So please, lower those condescending eyebrows, relax your face and think again. Truly and deeply. What defines a team? Usually, teamwork means collaborating on the same project, game or task. Successfully or not, effectively or not, a team is a team: teamwork basically means working together.
Once upon a time, working together automatically meant „in-the-same-room“ together: sharing a physical and geographical space to talk, exchange ideas and make plans. Nowadays, „working together“ means something different. Something deeper. Let me put it this way: You must have heard of co-working spaces where freelancers and start-ups share desks and rooms to save on rent. Co-workers share a physical space to work, a pretty close one sometimes. But usually they do not collaborate at all. That’s why we call them co-working spaces and not team-working spaces. So now, tell me: Are co-workers working together? As in teamwork? No, usually they aren’t. And why? Because they are not sharing the same goal. And this is what makes a team a team.
Effective Virtual Teamwork
To work together as a team is one thing. To work together as a virtual team is another. And to work effectively as a virtual team is a third. Ineffective teamwork basically is co-working: working side by side, but not towards the same goal. Which is not a bad thing in itself, but usually not what you want from your team. And not what you want AT ALL from your virtual team. Because virtual teams, by definition, won’t work side-by-side unless they have a shared goal.
Rule number 1 to successfully manage a virtual team: Create shared goals.
Your virtual team-members don’t have a desk to share, no coffee machine to gather around. They have no connection to each other – except that they are working for you. Most of the time they work on completing their own tasks, often with no knowledge of their team members’ tasks. So please: communicate your goals. Set clear projects and tasks. And always make sure that everyone knows what the team is working on. Together. (For example by using our smart team viewer. Just sayin’…).
How to Manage Virtual Teams
Managing a virtual team could be so easy: you assign tasks to the right people, they work on it and let you know when they are done. No prolonged meetings, no hidden (or not so hidden) tensions between teammates, nothing of the personal stuff you need to think of when working with humans. But wait! Even though your team is called “virtual”, the teammates are actual people. Real individuals with all problems that come with being human. They might fall sick on day, be depressed the other, or simply be miffed because they task they wanted to work on had been assigned to someone else.
Rule number 2 to successfully manage a virtual team: Don’t forget you’re working with real people!
And as real people, they come with all the good stuff, too. Compassion, empathy, fun. To create an effective virtual workspace, your team needs to have a space to express all of that. To be able to have a funny Skype chat that does not entirely relate to their virtual office. To be able to share the private stuff online without anyone listening in. And yes, to be able to vent about something or even someone – and then to find a solution for the problem together.
Teams Across Borders
Working across borders has its downsides, different time zones being the most obvious. The 9-to-5 working day might be outdated already – with a virtual team, it is not even feasible. Talking face-to-face is impossible, and even scheduling a Skype conference might be difficult. So what to do?
Rule number 3 to successfully manage a virtual team: Use one (and only one!) tool for communication.
For starters, organize the way your team communicates. Decide on one channel, and one only, for the whole team. And no, I don’t mean e-mail – in fact, many successful international teams have stopped using e-mail entirely. Instead, they use smart tools (like Slack, for example) that let you archive and organize your discussions, halt and start them at your or your team members’ convenience. Using one single channel for team communication will provide you with the virtual office space you need.
Why Virtual Teams Need Cloud Computing
Virtual teamwork is virtually (excuse the pun) impossible without the cloud. Because cloud computing lets you create a shared space, kind of a virtual office, where it all comes together. Communication, project management, finances and budgets, even time tracking and business intelligence: if it’s in the cloud, the information is accessible to all team-members, at any time.
Rule number 4 to successfully manage a virtual team: Use a smart cloud solution.
Let’s say your graphic designer in Amsterdam needs some numbers from the accountant in Honolulu to create a stunning chart for the presentation of your (very detail oriented) marketing guru in London: without the cloud, the virtual (e-mail) conversations about this would become endless. With a smart cloud solution, all of them will have access to the right files whenever they need them, changes and updates included.
The Future of Teams is Virtual
If experts are to be believed, the future of teams is virtual. And as such, they require a new means of management. But the one thing that remains the same is the fact that in any team, it is real people working together.
The big secret to successfully manage a virtual team: Virtual teamwork is real teamwork!
Virtual teams might be sharing a virtual workspace, but they are real teams. That’s the big secret to successful virtual team management: virtual collaboration is real collaboration! Only if you treat your virtual workforce as the human beings they are, the magic of working towards a shared goal, also known as real teamwork, will happen.
Ab big cheers to all of you real teams out there!