What is the best way to manage a team that is virtual?
I now have several people on my team and most people are working virtually. Two of us are in the same city, but the rest are in different time zones. I would like to start having weekly staff meetings, but I am not sure how well that will work. What has been other people's experiences with managing such a diverse team?
I work a lot with leaders building high performing teams, both in the same office and virtually.
The core components of what someone needs from their leader are the same, the difference with virtual teams is how you do them, and a few other nuances. There's lots of good suggestions here about tools. Here is a link to a blog I wrote about top tips for leading a virtual team.
In terms of your staff meetings, that can absolutely be done and done well, but take care to think about the time zones and find a time that works for everyone (or rotate it). Also, if you can, find methods to host the meeting that are as close to face to face as possible (like Skype or vid conferencing). If you have to do it all by phone , you'll need to spend a bit more time on team meeting etiquette with everyone and have a clear agenda. Even if you only do it over the phone, I'd suggest using an interactive whiteboard function in a webex format and capturing key notes so that people can clearly a) follow the thread of the conversation and b) know that they are heard.
If you haven't done any contracting with the team, I would suggest doing that - you need to promote a sense of team amongst the team members so that they are as connected with each other as they are with you, and because they aren't altogether in the same place, you'll need to help them with that.
If you have any specific questions, feel free to get in touch.
Using the right (mostly free) tools can give you the right power to manage your team without having to be present in all the timezones or spending too much time on catching up every day. It depends a lot on how your business operates, but still there are some tools you can have a look at like Jira, BaseCamp, and Trello where you can manage and track your tasks, milestones and time depending on the methodology you follow to manage your projects. You can integrate them with other systems as well to automate tasks and notifications. I recommend Zapier in this, as you can setup them yourself (in most of the cases) and eventually at a very low cost.
However organizing at least one meeting per week is still crucial so you make sure things are on track, and moreover you make people feel as part of the company, its culture and its goals rather than just remotely working for their paycheck.
I hope this helps! Should you need any more advice, do not hesitate to get in touch.
Wish you all the best!
The tool suggestions are good. Have both video and chat available at the same time - it makes it seem more like an in person meeting if you can have side conversations. The problem is the time zones - it is very awkward when you have people half a world away. Consider rotating the inconvenience around the month. Everyone feels annoyed. Don't make anyone get up in the middle of the night, but 6am and 6pm will need to be considered. When I lived in California I had to work with people in England and India. Talk with them about who has to have the greatest inconvenience. Someone with a new baby at home may be working on warped hours anyway, for example. Be totally flexible (yourself) on the hours people work most of the time, but insist that the meetings are a key part of the job. People spread across the US seem like a minor problem to me now.
I have been involved in this kind of working environment for many years.
In my view it isn't complicated. You have to communicate effectively. That means listening to one another as well as passing on knowledge and instructions.
Skype, FaceTime, telephone conferences are great ways to keep in touch. I like the tools where you can see the other person / people because it helps in picking up the non verbal parts of effectively communicating. Other have recommended tools for sharing documents.
However it really isn't about the electronics. What makes teams work is a combination of personal connections and being united around a common purpose and feeling valued for your contribution to the team. Everything you do is to build and sustain that.
I also recommend creating formal opportunities to meet collectively at least twice a year. Depending on what your business is this can often be done productively and the cost will almost certainly get repaid in increased cohesion and productivity.
Happy to chat for more if you like.
All of the tool suggestions are great. I have been in an unsuccessful team where I worked from home in a city with no other coworkers. It shouldn't be a surprise that the issue that doomed the team was a communication. We had access to all of the free tools, but people didn't want to learn how to use them. They thought it was more work to connect with me than if I was in the office.
So I think that is the key. Keep communication up just like you were in the same building. Now that I run my own place all but one of my clients is in a different city. In terms of how we interact there is no real change. Time of day may be different for each of us, but the emails are the same, the meetings are the same.
1. Fix up a time (some may need to join at night or early morning).
2.If too many people, you need to group people in different regions and select 1-2 Representatives in each region to join the meeting only. Than get the representatives to conduct their meeting within their region.
3. If one timing cannot be done, you need to split your meeting in 2 timings to two group of people.
4. To have good meeting, you need to setup meeting policies + meeting template + procedures + expectation.
5. Tools to use - many very good suggestions here, you should look at them.
In my experience, it is very important to make proper decision on whether to bring everybody to such meeting or to arrange couple of groups. Or, even, to manage things on personal communication level. To me, it is crucial to have all the information that will be brought to the round table of high importance for every participant. Otherwise, you will have a group of "boring sitters". Then, if you decide that it is absolutely imperative to bring all your people to the meeting and you are dealing with PST vs EST (3 hours difference) the best time (again, to me) to run such meeting would be around 1:10 pm PST (California) - this will be equal to 4:10 pm EST (Florida). That's my five cents. Thanks, Igor.
For starter, diversity is not an issue since it is subjective often to the product managers standpoint however having a virtual team w/ different and diverse behavior or custom you will basically have the following barriers as a result of such diversity.
1. Complex and chaotic operational structure;
2. Deliverable monitoring & implementation; and
First barrier, you need to simplify and automate how your team operates like pre-tasks scheduling, designate tasks with respect to a team member's skill set, provide a time frame per tasks. Then create an ecosystem for these tasks such as ticketing or job order / request system between members or teams.
Second, be adept to the operation and its inherent probabilities, prepare a weekly sprint for it and make sure that everything in it are time bounded. The rest is you hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Lastly, you need to make sure on top of everything of the teams communication processes let alone communicating guideline instructions. Initiate a difficult exercise. One of example would be to get your team to play a multiplayer first person shotting game like Counter-Strike. You will understand how valuable communication is after your team of 5 engages 30 enemy players and manages to win. From thereon everything else that makes an effective team will fall into place.
In addition, apply a team management methodology rather than just application tool(s). I suggest you make an agile and PRINCE2 approach in your organizational or operational structure of your team. Goodluck!
A virtual Team needs structure. Do you know how they like to communicate? What time zones are they in? Setting expectations before hiring is always an advantage, as is hiring the right team members for the right projects. If you don't have a communication plan set up, then I would start there. Determine how they like to communicate - written, audio or visual - and then pick the tools that can optimize that structure. Also look for ways that the team can work together and share information or files. Sometimes this is done through a project management system, and sometimes through weekly calls that have a team building purpose - such as a brainstorming session, or virtual "Egg Hunt" - Keeping the team engaged and looking for ways to improve the process is critical.
Having managed virtual teams that were coast-to-coast, as well as global (US & India), the reality I discovered is that - regardless of age and regardless of management level - virtual work can be for anyone, but, is not for everyone. As a result, one must use care when assembling a virtual team, as well as adjusting a new or existing team over time. Further, the team leader must be honest with their own management style meaning that if one micromanages/ if one hovers/ if one expects instant-access to subordinates/ if one is inclined to not trust ...then managing a virtual team is not the best situation for that manager.
From my experience, those best suited for virtual work are those who are comfortable delegating (and being delegated) responsibility, then trust in both directions that ownership is taken, that expectations set will be managed to, and that support is available as needed. Related to this, an effective virtual team will have (or develop) a culture where virtual workers are comfortable reaching back to leadership for timely support on issues/challenges encountered.
The above is a 80,000 foot view that gets more complex depending on the industry, the role virtual workers have (i.e.: outward facing company ambassadors vs. inward facing administrative support, etc.), whether the product/services/functions supported remotely are mature with defined processes or pioneering, typical interval/sales cycle length [if sales team] etc. That said, a team of responsible, trusting members can be virtual on innovative offerings where business/economic/ technical models are being pioneered.
These observations have parallels to the traditional work environment. Some people are hard wired to need face-to-face interaction with colleagues ...whether for camaraderie, insecurity, office politics, etc. Those type of people will typically not be comfortable in virtual working relationships - whether they are heading a virtual team or in a virtual team.
Once the responsible, trusted people are in place, there are countless effective tools for communicating/tracking/etc. I'd go so far as to say that while touching base weekly is fine (team call or one-on-one), effective virtual teams can be on their own for longer periods of time (depending on variables above like sales cycle length) . The effective virtual team will have a culture that is comfortable with as-needed spikes in communications - be it top-down or bottom-up ...depending on challenges of the day faced by virtual workers and/or the team leader.
(FYI - my experiences with virtual teams are with managing sales/business development for emerging eCommerce initiatives. Over the years my virtual teams have ranged in size from 3-4 to ~2 dozen. I have also been a virtual worker with my leadership in other parts of the country, as well as on the opposite side of the planet.)
Hello S. I read your question several times to establish what you wanted and needed. I find that you understand the need for effective communication, to determine what makes communication effective, and the need to accommodate the various time zones so that each member of the team is comfortable.
But what I noticed more than anything else was your desire to get things off to a good start and this has left you with some uncertainty and a desire to make the right choice from the start. The question of what others have done is a good one as reinventing the wheel is a waste of energy and if one can find best practice then it is worth modelling.
The issue for you however, is grounding your confidence and authority as the leader of this team. You know that weekly meeting will keep the team connected and performing, however, I perceive that you are seeking certainty as to the extent the meetings would guarantee quality performance and it is this that seems to be the issue. No one can guarantee this for you. The answer lies in how much you trust yourself.
A good leader will begin to understand his team on an individual basis, digging down to establish the key skills, motivators and areas of resistance to directions, once this is known the magic mix is in getting the team to gel first on the common understanding of the project, as everyone will be asking themselves 'what do the other thinks of me?' so they will not want to expose their short comings but will want to boost on their skills which can be intimidating. Initially you will need to focus on the common understanding of the project and solicit team input as to how they see their roles playing out during its development and implementation to determine who may be a natural lead at each stage, who is the problem solver and who is the natural finisher, then use those skills where the project gets stuck.
Having done that you will find it easier to get into deep dive supervision to support the individuals which in turn will reap dividends when the team meets. people who like to work independently also need feedback, encouragement and connections.
I hope you find this useful. Inbox me if there is a specific question you want answered off-line.
A number of our team members are spread across U.S. timezones so when we need to virtually meet, we'll typically meet at or after 9am pacific time. This way, no one is having to do before or after business hours. We'll usually use a conference call service. For day to day project management, we use Basecamp to keep everyone on task and organized.
Google hangouts are the best way to do it. All you need to do is invite them to the meeting.
Hello Thomas, I have managed virtual teams in most of my projects. One of my observations has been a sense of 'lack of control'. I think this may be the chief thing bugging you.
One of the key ingredients of virtual teams is mutual trust and proactive reporting. When members trust each other (across hierarchies) to do their jobs sincerely, much is taken care of. With proacrive reporting - where team members voluntarily share updates makes life even more easier. However, managing teams virtually also requires tools. Leveraging skype,Lync, Hangouts etc are effective means for quick meetings. More detailed meetings could be hosted on a dedicated platform such as gotomeeting etc. Development can be shared thru various collaborative software (plenty in open source). Process wise, my recommendation is to have daily standup meetings first thing beginning of the day, but for not more than 15-20 mins. These should instill a sense of control in you, and a sense of active participation and collaboration amongst your staff.
Perhaps you would benefit from having a look at the line of books edited by Hugo Messer - all free from http://bridge-staffing.com/ebooks/. They are written by people who have been there and done that and displays their various experiences and thoughts.
Besides, I suggest that you in most projects make sure that you collect and share various information about the project and other work. As the team members cannot easily just go and ask, they tend to re-invent the hot water or stay without a solution, unless you tie them together by information sharing and easy chat and video meeting possibilities. A good tool for this is Bitrix24. The other tools mentioned in this thread are good too, but GotoMeeting, Trello, etc. all have very different objectives. Bitrix24 is an overall, all-round tool for teams and companies.
Well I think you should have meeting to each one in the team experiences , that way you can set a plan for the team ,I think you shall divide the team according to sectors or area , organizing the team work will make a lot of differences covoring all sectors or area , ask them to report periodicly , accordingly you can make use of the reports from the team - then collaboration can be made within the team , in order to make the maximum effenciency & good results .
I am a business coach and 99% of my clients are virtual, I have clients in London, Dubai, all over the world. I use GoToMeeting. I provide sales training, time management, anything I need to make my companies grow. Every three to four months I do see my clients live/in person this way they know I am real.
How I run all my meetings they know my agenda and my outcome from the meeting, most of the time I run all the meeting for the CEO/company. If you need any feedback contact me.
What seeds are you planting in your business today?
This is a great question. Managing a remote team is really hard, knowing that you can't actually know what they're doing when you're out of your computer.
What I can recommend to you is using different tools that helped me personally manage my team remotely.
Here is some online software that helped me throughout my business:
1. Time Doctor - It is an online monitoring software that will track each software, websites or even desktop application that your team is using, it will also track the mouse and keyboard stroke so you can see who's not always in front of their computer and most especially you can track the time they rendered on their shift.
2. Trello - It will help you to manage the task of your team.
3. Todoist - Will give your team specific a reminder for a specific task.
4. Google application - Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Calendar, Google Drive etc. These tools will help you a lot too.
5. Slack/Skype/Messenger - You can use this as a means of communication for your team.
I hope these things will help you and your team.
All the best!
How well has trust been established do you think S. Thomas?
Organization, honesty and pro activity are key factors. Weekly meetings without a plan are wasteless and can make your team get so bored and that will translate into bad performances. I have been in so many situations and one of the things that may work for you is planning ahead of time (weekly or monthly your organizations goals; have a list of task and steps needed to be accomplished on that time. Become a great project manager with leadership skills). Keep in mind a list of the team members and their critical individual work on each of their projects. Communicate to the ones you really need to at a specific time, avoid lots of interruptions, be clear and share your concerns but give them the power to address solutions. Empower your people, talk to them on a more relaxed way. Let them know how improvements are coming up effectively and have meeting when you really need to, and with the people it really matters.
Don't forget one of the best meetings for them - The one in with you care for what they did together, in which you bring out their complimentary differences effectivelly. Bring them coffee if possible, and celebrate together your success before committing to next projects. One by one and well done meetings and plans make a big difference.