According to research conducted by OwlLabs, over 60% of US employees work remotely at least some of the time — while 49% of remote workers are already working virtually on a full-time basis. With so many people taking advantage of this increased flexibility in their work lives, knowing how to manage virtual teams has become an essential skill for managers.
Virtual marketing teams offer many advantages, including lower costs, increased productivity, higher employee retention, and greater access to top talent. But managing virtual teams can be tough, as remote working comes with unique challenges. It’s more difficult to promote communication, collaboration, and transparency when your marketing team isn’t co-located.
With that in mind, first, let’s briefly define a virtual team. Then we’ll walk you through five top tips for managing virtual project teams.
What is a virtual team?
A virtual team is any group of employees who are spread across different geographical locations or time zones. Virtual teams are also sometimes called remote teams, geographically dispersed teams, or distributed teams.
Since they are not co-located, virtual teams communicate primarily through electronic methods (such as video conferences, emails, online chat, etc.) and rarely, if ever, interact in-person.
Virtual marketing teams may include employees temporarily pulled together for a specific project, or permanent project teams. Everyone on the team may be virtual, or only a portion of them may work remotely, while the rest are co-located.
If even one of your team members works remotely part-time, you may face many of the challenges of managing virtual teams, and you can benefit from the following five tips.
1. Define your work systems
A key consideration of how to manage virtual teams is figuring out what work systems and tools need to be in place. When your marketing team isn't co-located, having the right tools and software in place to promote collaboration and communication is vital.
Some of the work systems and tools needed for successfully managing virtual teams are:
- Instant messenger: A tool like Skype or Slack can help promote a sense of community and virtual team building as it gives teammates a quick, informal way to communicate.
- Screen capture: Screencasts or capture tools like TechSmith or Evernote Web Clipper enable you to share what you’re looking at when someone can’t lean over your desk and look at your computer screen.
- Screen sharing: A screen sharing tool like join.me or Loom makes it easier to walk teammates through documents, presentations, or project work while you’re on a call.
- Cloud file sharing: When people aren’t working out of one office, they may not be able to access files shared on a local server. Using cloud storage and sharing tools such as Dropbox or Google Drive lets people access the documents and files they need from anywhere, at any time.
- Collaboration software: A group collaboration tool will facilitate your task planning and execution. Shared visibility and a centralized database simplify virtual team management by keeping everyone on the same page.
2. Establish how you will communicate
Different people on your team will likely have different communication styles. But without some ground rules on how information is shared, important updates can be overlooked, and key instructions can be lost.
Each virtual marketing team will likely have its own communications and guidelines. Here are some suggestions to consider:
- Instant messenger is only to be used for informal communications.
- Any formal information should be communicated via email, and a copy stored in a central knowledge base.
- Anything that requires an immediate response should have “URGENT” at the beginning of the subject line.
- When a team member is taking time off work, they must create an email “out of office” message that states when they are away and when they will be back.
- Meetings should be done using video conferencing or screen sharing tools.
You may also need to establish guidelines around how frequently virtual meetings will occur. For instance, your team may decide to hold a weekly virtual meeting every Monday morning or have an informal catchup every Wednesday featuring virtual team building activities for work.
Be mindful of different time zones and workdays when scheduling any group chats or meetings that all employees need to attend.
3. Introduce visual workflows
Managing virtual project teams means working to ensure everyone is on the same page, even when they’re not in the same room or even the same time zone. A great way to keep everyone aligned is by using visual workflows.
Visual workflows like Gantt charts and Kanban boards help team members quickly and easily see where the project work stands. At a glance, anyone with access can tell what work is waiting on them, who is next in the chain, and what’s about to come down the pike.
Your team will be able to know what they’re supposed to be working on, what everyone else is working on, and how it all integrates together. This simplifies your job of managing virtual teams, as you won’t have to constantly tell people what they need to be working on or who to pass it off to next.
4. Establish clear deliverables
Successful virtual teams understand the importance of establishing clear deliverables. When you can’t just pop into your boss’s office to ask for clarification, all information must be provided upfront.
Managing virtual teams also means you can’t stop by people’s desks to make sure they understand assignments and are progressing as expected.
To reduce the potential for delays, errors, and rework, all deliverables and project tasks should have the following information:
- What outcome or deliverable is expected
- Who is responsible and accountable for the work
- When is the activity or task required to be completed
- What resources are required to complete the work
Keep in mind that, when defining deliverables, your outcomes should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based.)
5. Track productivity
Tracking productivity is essential for any marketing team, but it becomes even more critical when managing virtual teams. Low productivity is a risk when teams are working from somewhere other than a traditional office.
However, with the proper tools and guidelines in place, remote employees can have greater productivity than those in a centralized office.
One way to boost productivity is by instituting project time tracking. Tracking productivity helps hold employees accountable and encourages them to improve their time management. Time tracking also enables you to manage your resources better and ensure workloads are efficiently assigned.
Need to know more about how to manage a virtual team? Wrike can help!
Wrike offers marketing project management software that promotes collaboration and communication. It allows you to bring your teams together in a single platform designed to break down silos and keep everyone on the same page. Try it for free today.