The rapid development of communications technology has fundamentally changed the modern workplace. One of the biggest changes that have resulted from these innovations is the proliferation of virtual team collaboration. According to IWG research, 70 percent of professionals around the world work remotely at least one day out of the week. Companies are increasingly turning to virtual teams to meet their needs, with a little over 30 percent going completely remote, according to a 2019 Buffer survey.

As the future of work becomes increasingly virtual, organizations must take steps to ensure that they have the right tools and policies in place to manage successful virtual teams.

What is a Virtual Team?

While the term “virtual team” might conjure up images of people strapping on high-tech goggles to visit a digital workplace (which IS a thing), it is more often used to describe remotely-distributed teams that connect and collaborate using a variety of online tools.

Of course, remote employees don’t have to be separated by hundreds of miles or multiple time zones to be part of a virtual work team. They could just as easily be on the other side of town as they could be on other side of the world. The defining aspect of these teams is that the members do not occupy the same physical space (at least, not often).

Virtual teamwork provides a number of benefits to organizations. From a purely economic standpoint, they can significantly reduce operating costs by cutting down on the need for a large office space. The turn to remote employees has enabled the growth of coworking spaces, allowing small companies to grow their business quickly without a corresponding increase in their overhead expenses.

By leveraging virtual teams, organizations can draw upon a much broader talent pool. Rather than restricting talent searches to local markets, they can use remote working arrangements to recruit skilled workers from around the world. Since virtual teams aren’t required to be in the same physical office space at the same time, they can be more efficient with their time as they complete their work.

How to Motivate Virtual Teams

Despite their advantages, managing virtual teams presents a number of challenges for organizations and team leaders. Perhaps the biggest challenge is finding ways to inspire and motivate remote employees. There is a tendency for team members to become detached from their coworkers and lose sight of how their performance impacts the rest of the team. Without some system in place for promoting accountability, virtual work teams will struggle to collaborate effectively.

One of the best things virtual leaders can do for their teams is to build strong relationships between team members. When remote employees have strong connections to one another, they have a better sense of how their individual efforts contribute to the team’s success as a whole. If they don’t follow through on a commitment, for instance, another team member may not be able to complete their work, which will prevent the team from accomplishing its goals.

How to Manage a Virtual Team

Without modern communication tools and technology, remote leaders would find it impossible to manage virtual teams. Information needs to be able to flow freely between team members and collaborative resources must be accessible at all times.

Leaders must also be able to monitor and coordinate with team members to ensure that everyone is productive and engaged. Simply trusting everyone to log on and complete their work whenever they want can create significant problems over time. If certain tasks are not being completed or new impediments emerge, virtual leaders need to deal with these issues immediately rather than learning about them only when a deadline is looming.

Virtual leaders need to establish clear procedures and processes when the team is formed. Daily check-ins and regular virtual meetings orchestrated through video conferencing software are a good way of helping the team develop a sense of continuity and purpose.

By doing this, team members will know they’re being held accountable for their work. Plus, they can bring up any issues or problems they’re confronting. If anyone needs additional resources, team leaders will know quickly and be able to address the situation before it has a chance to undermine the team’s productivity.

How Virtual Teams Could Communicate Effectively

Relying on older, less robust tools like email is a recipe for disaster. Successful virtual teams need to be in constant contact and be able to access resources in ways that support collaborative mobile work. Cloud-based software is a necessity, providing a common virtual workspace that every member can contribute to and reference.

For example, messaging software like Microsoft Teams allows team members to communicate with one another instantly and easily. These tools also allow them to share resources quickly and collaborate on a variety of projects.

Project management software is another invaluable tool that allows virtual teams to communicate more effectively. These programs make it easier to view pending and completed tasks, allowing team members to understand how their work fits into a larger whole. They can communicate with one another regarding specific tasks, provide data and resources, and move various tasks along to other team members for review. Project management software also serves as a communications hub for any virtual teamwork while providing a high-level overview of what the team is working to accomplish.

5 Virtual Management Systems to Try

There are a variety of virtual team collaboration tools that organizations may find effective. While many of these tools perform the same general purpose, there are several differences in functionality that may make one program better suited to a specific virtual team’s needs than another program.

Video Conferencing Software

Virtual team members benefit greatly from being able to see and interact with one another through video. These programs are far more effective at building relationships and facilitating conversation than traditional phone conferencing.

Some examples include:

Instant Messaging Software

Being able to communicate quickly and directly helps virtual teams to be more efficient. Messaging tools make it possible for team members to check in with each other as easily as walking over to an office coworker’s desk.

Some examples include:

Project Management Software

Collaborative work boards make it possible for virtual teams to keep sight of what tasks need to be completed, what work has been done already, and what due dates are approaching. They also make it easier to clarify who is responsible for specific tasks.

Some examples include:

Time Tracking Software

Virtual team leaders often need to keep track of whether team members are putting in the correct amount of work and are managing their time effectively. These tools are especially helpful when it comes to promoting accountability and keeping deliverables on schedule.

Some examples include:

Document Storage and File Sharing Software

To collaborate effectively, virtual teams need to be able to utilize the same resources. Cloud-based programs that allow team members to access files, documents, applications, and other resources at any time and from anywhere are essential for any effective virtual team.

Some examples include:

Virtual teams have opened up a new universe of possibilities for today’s organizations. By implementing the right tools, they can leverage talent from around the world to deliver better products and services to their customers.

While managing virtual teams successfully requires a slightly different approach compared to traditional colocated teams, their unique advantages make it well worth the time and effort to implement the necessary processes and tools.

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About the Author Ingram Leedy

If you are looking for someone who lives on the leading edge of technology innovation, Ingram Leedy has a unique ability to predict the future digital trends.

As CEO of Protected Trust, he is helping business leaders see the world in new ways by connecting people and technology to achieve more.

Before people knew what it meant to be online, he connected people to the Internet with Florida's first internet provider, iThink.

And at the age of 8, he was writing software for a new medium of communication called computer bulletin board services. The idea was to help exchange messages before email.

His parents never really knew what he was doing – it was something with computers.

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