Flexible working, off-shore resources and virtual teams mean that today’s managers spend more time not sitting with their team members than with them.
There’s a degree of trust involved when you can’t see what your virtual colleagues are doing. Are they prioritizing the right tasks? Are they going to get the work completed on time?
Keeping your virtual team on track can be a big headache for managers. However, a few changes to your work routine and you can be sure that whatever the task, wherever the individual, you can have confidence that they are on track with their work. Here are 5 tips for ensuring your colleagues working virtually stay on top of their work priorities.
1. Keep in Touch
First, your team won’t stay on track unless you keep in touch. Have you heard the saying, “out of sight, out of mind?” It means that if you aren’t reminded of something, you soon forget about it.
Create opportunities to stay in touch with your team. Go beyond those regular checkpoint meetings and find other ways to touch base. Just a personal phone call once a week can be enough to remind people that they have tasks and responsibilities.
This sounds very simple and is probably something you do most of the time anyway. However, it becomes more challenging in large and very dispersed teams where there are fewer time zone opportunities for overlapping hours in the working day. When you can’t get in touch with your team whenever you want to, you have to plan those little interactions and conversations more carefully.
The benefit of doing it is that small issues can be resolved before they become bigger problems. You’ll hear about what is blocking them from making progress and can step in earlier to keep the work on track.
2. Use Online Tools
Technology is fantastic at bringing you closer. Online tools like iMindQ, a fantastic mindmapping tool, make it easy to work on ideas together. Share your screen, annotate mindmaps, create project plans and flow diagrams and do it all as a team.
Look at the different technical options available to you and get some set up to support the work of your virtual team. When you work together you have more chance of keeping everyone on track and making sure that they all know what is expected of them.
3. Involve Their Managers (Carefully)
Sometimes all the polite requests in the world don’t get you the results that you are after. There comes a point when you need to escalate the performance of a team member, and that can be hard if they don’t directly work for you.
Whether you a project manager, colleague or another member of a matrix team, if someone is responsible for doing something and they aren’t giving you the reassurance that you need to know that the work will get done, you can talk to their manager.
However, approaching it as a formal escalation (“Bob isn’t doing what I asked. Can you talk to him please?”) isn’t going to get you very far.
It’s more collaborative, and you’ll get better results, if you frame it as a request for help, and explain why you are asking. “Bob is working on XYZ for my project. I’d like to line up the Marketing team as they need to do ABC when Bob is finished. Is it going to be OK to book that for Monday as per the schedule?”
Keep your formal escalations for when you really need them.
4. Vary Your Strategies
It can be very easy to fall into the trap of using conference calls at the same time following the same format. When they work, they are great for keeping project team members on track. But it can also be useful to once a month or so do something different.
- Video conferencing if you normally use audio
- Audio if you normally use video conferencing
- Breaking the team into smaller, functional groups and meeting with those teams.
- Skipping the meeting and sending an email update
- Meeting in person (if you can arrange this it’s probably the best tactic you have for encouraging participation and keeping people on track when working virtually most of the time).
Mixing it up helps keep the interaction fresh. Different environments appeal to different personality types too, so you might find someone who doesn’t participate much on the phone comes alive on video, or someone who is quiet in a group call is very talkative on a one-to-one basis.
Using different strategies for engaging your team can help you uncover the obstacles for progress and prompt you to talk together about other challenges. You can’t resolve problems and help the team get back on track unless you know the problems are there, so finding the best ways to talk to everyone can help keep the team focused.
5. Ask the Team to Own Deliverables
Finally, people are more likely to keep their work on track if they feel a sense of personal responsibility. Ask – and act as if – team members own their deliverables. Whether it’s a project task, the regular monthly reporting, or something else that’s important to your business, delegate as much of the responsibility as you can.
You may even find that they take the initiative and report progress to you!
These 5 tips should help you keep your virtual team moving in the right direction. They should give you the confidence that the team’s work is getting done and that it’s on track. What other tips do you have for working with teams in a virtual environment? Share your ideas in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
About the author
Elizabeth Harrin is the author and award-winning blogger behind A Girl’s Guide To Project Management. Review her other predictions for hot business trends on her blog.