How to Improve the Productivity of Your Virtual Team
Remote work structures and virtual teams are steadily becoming a common phenomenon in the business world, especially for startups and small companies. To give you an idea, the number of employees who work-from-home (not including the self-employed) has grown by more than 140% since 2005!
As a company, embracing the remote working style has all kinds of benefits. Most importantly, it allows you to secure talented employees from all over the globe. It can also eliminate the need for an office space, cut down on commutes, reduce overhead costs, and encourage a healthier work/life balance. However, making sure your workers stay productive five days a week can certainly be a gray area. Simply put, if you don’t have a rock solid plan, remote structures will not work in your company.
Here are some things to keep in mind.
Communication Is the Key
In a virtual team, communication is the glue that holds any operation or business idea together. If you are used to a traditional work setting, it can be easy to take the convenience of communication when coworkers sit within talking distance for granted. Now, while no remote setup will be able to mimic these in-person back-and-forth discussions, companies need to make sure they have a system in place that supports quick and exclusive internal communication.
Many companies make the mistake of thinking email alone will suffice for communication among virtual teams. The problem is that email is too general in the sense that messages come from a huge variety of parties. Emails will come in from clients, coworkers, partners, support teams, subscriptions, advertisers, etc. When it comes to internal communication, there needs to be quick responses and nothing can slip through the cracks. So, when operating remote teams, it’s highly recommended to use an instant messaging tool that is exclusively used between coworkers or departments. Look into tools like Slack or Skype and determine which would be ideal for your operation.
Understand Your Team Members
When push comes to shove, people have been (and always will be) the most important resource to any company, organization, government, or civilization as a whole!
In order to have a thriving group of remote workers, you need to understand their behavior and how their minds operate – prior to bringing them onboard. Remember, not everyone is cut out to be on a virtual team. When a home must function as a workplace for an individual, there are all kinds of distractions and roadblocks that can get in the way of productivity.
If someone is not fully invested in their job, these distractions become even more enticing. That being said, the key to hiring productive remote employees is understanding their passion and devotion to the work. For instance, many marketing agencies have a team of virtual copy/content writers. A key factor in the productivity of these individuals is their passion for writing. This is why many companies look for “pure writers” to join their virtual teams. Pure writers can be defined by what they do outside of business hours. In other words, pure writers see writing as both a hobby and a profession. Plain and simple, if someone is truly passionate about what they do, they will more than likely be productive in a virtual setting. This applies across the board.
When you are trying to understand your team members and whether or not they will thrive in the position, look for things they do outside of working hours. If some of their activities overlap with the job description, it’s a good indicator.
Use Different Measures of Productivity
Obviously, you are not watching over your remote workers’ shoulders throughout the day. That being said, measuring productivity purely based on the time they put in is not the most reliable solution. In order to properly gauge the output of virtual teams, you will need to define the key metrics with little margin for error.
Step one is laying out goals and timelines. Now, in a traditional office setting, goals can typically be broader and timelines can be longer – as you have a concrete vision of each worker’s day-to-day. In the interest of keeping your virtual teams productive, it helps to set more specific goals with smaller timelines. For example, if you are managing a virtual web design team, you can set daily goals as each designer should ideally produce X number of pages in eight hours of work. If you have remote writers, they should write at least X number of words each day, and so on.
Ultimately, hours worked should not be the only measure of productivity in virtual teams. The focus should be tilted towards the output. Moreover, you need to use a tool that tracks this. Many project management tools have features to measure output. Or, you can use something as simple as a Google Sheet for daily tracking.
Set up the Right Collaboration Tools
To expand on communication, the way your virtual team approaches projects and collaboration makes all the difference in how well the organization functions.
Everyone has their own way of staying organized and on top of things at work. When a team is working in close quarters five days a week, it’s easy for those involved to pick up on how others fit into the big picture. Unfortunately, remote teams do not always have this luxury. That being said, companies need to ensure that everyone involved in a project is on the same page from A to Z and collaboration is seamless.
The tools you use for project management are critical for defining your company’s internal workflows and keeping a unified vision. Fortunately, as the scope of remote organizations continues to grow, there are all kinds of solutions out there to fit the need. Trello, Basecamp, Asana, and JIRA are a few versatile programs designed to help companies of all shapes and sizes improve productivity.
Take an in-depth look at your remote departments and critically assess the needs of the day-to-day. Use this information as the driving force behind your tool selection.
Create Standardized Work Processes
Regardless of what project management tools you use, the most important piece of the puzzle is that you have defined processes within each program. More importantly, everyone involved needs to have these protocols understood down to the smallest detail. Plain and simple, mistakes happen when people break protocols or don’t have a full grasp of what they involve.
Let’s use an SEO agency with virtual teams as an example. In this context, you are working on a campaign to produce high-quality, search engine-friendly content for a client. Now, if the virtual team is made up of junior content writers, editors, SEO specialists, and outreach representatives, you need to have a rock solid process in place so all the output from these parties is done in perfect harmony.
A good process to produce an SEO-optimized piece of content for a target website might look something like:
- SEO specialist conducts keyword research.
- Outreach representative researches the target website.
- Outreach representative sends the chosen target site to the writing team.
- SEO specialist sends the list of target keywords to the writing team.
- Editor sends requirements to the junior writer.
- Junior writer formulates content ideas and sends them to the editor.
- Editor finalizes ideas and sends them to the outreach team.
- Once approved, the outreach team gives the writing team the green light to start writing.
- Junior writer sends the final content to the editor.
- Editor proofreads the content and sends to the outreach team.
- Outreach team submits the finalized content to the target website.
Regardless of what the task(s) are, there needs to be a definitive process for everything, as improvising in a virtual team can lead to trouble. Keep in mind, the collaboration tools you use should work to supplement your defined process and contribute to the overall productivity of the team.
The term “micromanagement” tends to be a bad word throughout the business world these days. However, in a virtual setting, the extreme lack of micromanagement is a concept that must be approached carefully.
Ensuring that a virtual team stays productive will never be easy. Output in these work structures all comes down to the processes and tools in place. Shoddy communication, inconsistent protocols, unmotivated workers, and gray areas are things that will doom any remote team. If you can iron out these details and trust your employees to follow the rules, having remote teams will certainly live up to the hype.