Sales and customer service teams are changing. Rather than having people sit in cubicles for eight hours a day making calls, companies are now taking advantage of the latest cloud-computing technology to create virtual teams whose members are distributed across the globe, speaking with prospective and current clients in their individual locations.
While this model might seem intimidating, it can be easily applied across all types of businesses, no matter the size or sector. Ultimately, it can equip your team for success if implemented properly.
Virtual teams aren’t a passing trend. They hold real-world benefits, including the following:
A wider talent pool. Companies are no longer limited to recruiting local talent or those willing to relocate. Businesses can now focus on finding the best talent -- no matter where these people live.
Expansive coverage. If you’re targeting a market that spans several time zones, virtual teams can play a critical role. Virtual teams provide employees from coast to coast without requiring them to work past normal business hours.
Lower operating costs. Virtual offices have limited or no rental or utility costs, freeing up resources for other mission-critical endeavors.
Personal lifestyle benefits. Working for a virtual business gives employees advantages like flexible schedules and no commute: two benefits that brick-and-mortar businesses typically don’t offer.
Nonetheless, virtual teams aren’t immune to challenges. Here are a couple of obstacles I’ve experienced:
Effective communication. In a virtual workplace, an employee can’t simply walk down the hall to ask a colleague a quick question nor can he or she easily gather everyone for a spur-of-the-moment meeting. Instead, the employee must wait until colleagues respond to an email or take a call. These impersonal methods of communication can impede clarity and understanding.
Fostering office camaraderie. Even as humans attain the highest levels of sophistication with technology, they are social beings. They crave personal interaction and can struggle with work when an office doesn’t provide it. It’s more difficult to build trust and teamwork when people do not see one another every day.
As formidable as these challenges are, they can be overcome and prevented before they occur. Here are four strategies that can help virtual teams overcome obstacles:
1. Define expectations. As you prepare to evaluate employees' performance based on results, be clear about the results required and deadlines. Let members of the team know the metrics being used to assess their performance. Remember that some people need help to learnhow to be productive in a remote setting and may need time and training to adjust.
2. Communicate. Try to not make assumptions about which information has already been provided and what has not. Instead proactively provide and ask for information to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It’s easy for information to be accidentally filtered if a manager relies on several individuals to pass along information to their teams.
Ensure that all employees know the projects that everyone else is working on and the progress they’re making. Transparency is critical when managing a virtual team because it leads to enhanced collaboration and communication.
3. Capitalize on technology. It’s critical to make the most of technology in shaping a productive virtual team. Hold weekly video chats on Skype or Google Hangouts to simulate face-to-face interaction.
When sharing documents, cloud-based services like Google Drive and Dropbox eliminate the need to constantly email files back and forth. Enlist the help of cloud-based intranet software to combine these functionalities into a branded environment.
4. Invest in face-to-face interactions. Nothing beats in-person communication, so plan and budget for it. Annual retreats can have a huge impact. If virtual employees are located close to one another, encourage them to meet regularly to brainstorm, troubleshoot or simply get to know one another better.