12.02.201511 min read

5 Powerful Steps to Manage Virtual Teams

More and more small businesses are embracing the potential behind a virtual team – where some or all team members live and work remotely.   

Remote teams are an especially big draw for small businesses, as they both reduce the overhead costs associated with a traditional office and create a much larger pool of potential applicants. Additionally, remote working allows small businesses to offer the flexibility that many big firms may not.

Virtual teams can take many forms. Your team may live in the same geographic area yet work from home all or part of the time. In some cases there is no centralized office at all, with team members working, living and traveling around the globe while still carrying out their role. 

“Our entire staff works remotely from their dream locations around the world, and travels freely as they choose. Not only does that reduce our overhead, but also it increases staff happiness and empowerment substantially, which boosts motivation and productivity. It also allows us to hire the best talent regardless of where they live. And finally, it makes management easier because it requires our company to operate in a results-based economy instead of a time-based economy. “

Matthew T. Bowles, Maverick Investor Group

Moving away from a traditional workplace model also means that traditional management advice and operational procedures may not apply.  Managing virtual teams requires a specific set of tools, hiring practices and a laser focus on strong communication. 

5 Steps to Managing, Motivating and Staying in Touch with your Virtual Team 


1. Hire right + keep ‘em happy

With a virtual team, hiring can be both more challenging and even more important than in a traditional small business office. 

“Hire people that are way too qualified for what you're looking for, even if it requires a higher wage than planned. It can be really difficult to manage people remotely and the more qualified someone is, the less you're going to have to manage them!”

Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures

10 member fully virtual team

“Hiring virtually can be scary, which is why it's important to give it as much care and thought as you would if were doing it locally. To limit risk each member of my team started out with a smaller project to determine fit, working style and more. That enabled me to build trust with them quickly.”

Maggie Patterson, Intelligently Crafted Communication

Virtual team spread across North America

2. Create a virtual water cooler

In a traditional office environment, opportunities for social interaction outside of the business role abound. In distributed teams, however, these interpersonal relationships can be more difficult to build. 

“The virtual water cooler really allows the team to connect on a personal level and builder deeper relationships. It helps us all get an understanding of what makes people tick, what annoys them, their beliefs, their attitude to work and life. To do this we’ve created a couple of message groups where team members can post anything that’s not work related. It was through these groups that I found out the team was really into the show The Wire. From that I could quote lines from the show and I knew it would resonate, get a smile and make it a little easier when I’m asking where we are with the latest build of our product.”

Ed Morgan, Swoodle

25 member distributed team in Ireland, Spain and the US

“Set up a standing Google Hangout to a set URL. When we have meetings, people can hop in and out as needed - some show up early and make small talk. It makes the virtual experience more similar to the interpersonal experience and helps create those water cooler moments, which are hard to create when you work virtually."

Chris, Yoko Co

15 member virtual team

“Find at least two times a year where you can meet in person and work for a week together. Working remote is awesome, but working in person from time to time is needed to make the relationships a lot stronger. Our productivity has literally doubled as coworkers are working with each other a lot more effectively.”

John Rampton, Due

15 member partially remote team

3. Communicate

Just as you’ll need to go the extra mile to make sure your employees are building relationships with one another to help them be more invested in one another, you’ll also need to think outside the box and take extra steps to be sure your communication is frequent, detailed and on point. 

“I send a monthly email to everyone on the team. I keep it informal and as short as I can, but I use it to update everyone on any changes or developments in the business, introduce any new team members, remind people about a process or performance standard and to keep them updated on current projects  so everyone has an idea of what the company as a whole is working on, not only their own projects."

Ali Marsland, The Effective English Company

Team of 10 based in UK, USA and South Africa

“One thing that helps me teach them new tasks is screencast video tutorials. I use Camtasia to record both what I'm doing and what I'm saying. I taught my assistant how to grade student quizzes by recording a screencast video of myself doing it, and talking about how I determine the score for each question. She now grades them for me and it saves me tons of time!”

Caitlin Pyle, ProofreadAnywhere.com

Five member internationally distributed team 

“We have a practice of sending a status email at the end of the day to recap hot customer needs, call-out specific follow-ups, etc. It keeps the team on the same page and ensures consistency and top-notch customer service. We don’t want any customer needs to fall through the cracks.”

Dana Ostomel, DepositaGift.com

Fully remote team

"Have all staff on a regular structured video call. It is the one time that we all can see each other, know that there is a bigger business that has many moving pieces, and realize that each individual is responsible for a piece of work that directly impacts someone else. Seeing each other provides motivation and builds trust that a conference call or email cannot."

Jeff Lefler | CEO, FranchiseGrade.com

4. Rely on documented systems (and find the right tools to make them work)

“A big win for the team as we've grown is creating systems to streamline all of our operational tasks. From marketing to client onboarding, we have a documented system and everyone knows who needs to do what when. It's such a simple thing, but with a team where you can't just lean over and say ‘Hey,did you do X?’ it is critical.”

Caitlin Pyle, ProofreadAnywhere.com

Five member internationally distributed team

"We live and breathe by our CRM to organize a remote team across Canada/USA. Being able to operate from the same system and able to see the same info in live time is crucial to operating our furniture platform. If a client happens to call and whoever answers phone updates file, whoever is working on that file sees instant updates and pass tasks from one to the other easily. It’s really the backbone to staying organized, operations and driving sales of any SMB."

Kelly Fallis, Remote Stylist

5. Keep culture (and time zones) in mind

When managing virtual teams, it is highly likely that you’ll need to deal with challenges like different languages, cultures and time zones - issues that don’t often crop up with a traditional team. 

“Language is important– we have to be crystal clear and try not to use colloquialisms, especially when we’re getting technical and planning roadmaps. It’s not really productive to have one team laughing at some little quip and the others staring blankly not knowing what’s going on. If you’re not conversing in your mother tongue, be concise and err on the side of being over-polite; that way you’ll not offend anyone. 

Taking time to understand the culture (even the simple things like knowing the Spanish Team like a long lunch because it's their time to catch up with the family, while we in Ireland are at our desk with a sandwich) is important. 

And don’t get shocked if you hear a two-year-old crying when you’re on a video call – it might be lunchtime for you but it could well be bedtime in another location. It’s a good idea to ensure some overlap time – when all parties are available to come together." 

Ed Morgan, Swoodle

25 member distributed team in Ireland, Spain and the US

Like any employees, the real members of your virtual team will need to feel connected and integral to the success of the business – just as if they were working in an office down the hall.  

“In the end, you have to treat them the same as any worker in your immediate vicinity. That means a high level of respect, understanding and clear communication. You have to listen to them, feel their needs and stay in personal and emotional communication constantly. Don't assume out of sight out of mind, It is a living relationship ... never forget that.”      

Craig Wolfe, CelebriDucks

We would love to hear from you!

Do you have a virtual team?  What are your best tips, tools and techniques for getting the most from your remote small business team?  Please share in the comments below or reach out on social (don’t forget to tag @infusionsoft). 

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