When I began doing most of my work online as the head of a virtual team, I realized that the first problem I needed to resolve was a personal one -- and kind of an embarrassing one: I would lounge around on the sofa with my laptop perched on my knees, as I drifted between work and sleep. And I always shuddered at the thought that my virtual team was doing the same.
Having a virtual office isn’t different from having a physical one, or at least it shouldn't be, if you want any semblance of success. So, it should make no difference that you're online.
But there are differences. Consider the issue of security: You don’t leave your office unlocked, and in the same way, you don't leave your virtual office unguarded. My first piece of advice, then, is that if you are going to make or receive online payments, you'll want to invest in a virtual private network (VPN); if you can’t afford the big boys, choose a cheap VPN service and stay protected. This is vital.
Next, if you're working at home, create a special space where you can focus on work. Better yet, set up a workspace away from home. Once you, as the manager, have created some order at your end, you'll have the moral high ground to demand the same from your virtual staff.
A virtual staff is understandably more difficult to handle for obvious reasons: no direct supervision, no structured workplace, different geographical locations which may cut across nations and time zones. Given those constraints, the following tips will help you manage your virtual work team better in spite of the constraints.
1. Be specific and detailed in your demands.
I kept getting such a variety of quality in delivered jobs that I would often fight off a migraine just trying to harmonize them. Using emails to correct errors didn’t seem to work, because often a different kind of error would then crop up.
I soon realized that the problem started with me, so I took time to put together a detailed guideline covering all aspects of the business, from minor to major. I accompanied this with a proper sample of what I expected.
This move dramatically improved the quality of the work that the staff did in a short time. If you expect a clear outcome, then give a clear example. The aim is to set professional standards, because setting professional standards contributes to being efficient and puts people into the right mindset. The devil is always in the details.
2. Specialize your team.
Talk about trying hard to fit round pegs into square holes! In fact, that is exactly what many virtual team managers try to do, and it is usually nearly impossible to make things work this way.
The virtual nature of your staff leaves little room for close supervision and teaching your team how to do particular kinds of jobs.
After working a while with my team members, I began recognizing their individual weaknesses and strengths and the kinds of jobs that each of them did with ease. According to those observations, I switched up positions and started delivering specialized jobs. This yielded a noticeable rise in the quality of the work done and reduced my stress considerably.
The advantages of such specialization are numerous, Team members enjoy their work, and I have less need to stock Aspirin.
3. Create a virtual meeting place.
Emails are a good way of communicating and receiving instructions and job orders, but are a poor means for proper discussions. To get around this, I created a group on WhatsApp, where I added all my team members. Other options are available, and the choice will vary from manager to manager, since online platforms, social media and instant messaging apps abound.
Investing in video conferencing may be another very reasonable option if your budget can manage it. The idea is to remove the impersonal feeling that email gives, and instead bring some personality to your communications.
For me, creating a virtual meeting place was a life saver, as it seemed to revitalize my virtual workspace. There is a strange power in seeing someone’s face for the first time; happily, the internet now allows for that too.
4. Utilize the overlap in working hours.
It is often a struggle when your virtual team works in different time zones; it's difficult to make demands that are binding on all team members. It is also difficult to fix meetings or get urgent communications responded to quickly.
I had to study the time zones for all staff and determine the time of my day that overlapped with their work hours. We mutually agreed to always be online at a certain period of the day because it was generally convenient. You should do the same and utilize those few hours, fix regular meetings and send urgent correspondence across.
5. Set up reward systems to motivate your team.
I began paying slightly higher when I made a greater demand, like a demand that required a job to be done in much shorter time. I would also give extra stipends and encouragements to team members who showed consistent quality work. Trust me, people don't want to sit before their computer for hours on end, but they will if you give them a reason to.
Setting up a kind of meritocracy is a good idea. It worked for me.
6. Give more jobs to the best of your team.
The good thing about virtual teams is that oftentimes only you are aware of how much work you give each team member and how much each is paid, so there is little room for the rancor and jealousy that may brew in a regular office workspace.
There is no need to be masochistic, so reduce your headache quotient by giving a greater volume of jobs to the people who show consistent quality.
7. Establish some order in your personal work systems,
Working with documents on your computer can get messy; you need to create proper systems and arrange jobs for different clients and team members in different and properly named folders. You also need to avoid the mess that emails can bring. So, explore the various ways you can manage your emails for greater productivity. Tools like Hiver can help you keep a sane email box.
Also, set up reminders for jobs so you can send reminders and alerts to your team and avoid failing a client or forgetting the time demands on your team members. This saved me a lot of stress and made the job much easier. It’s like having a efficient file cabinet.
Add these tips to your work routine and your team will run like a well-oiled engine.