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What are Virtual Teams and How to Manage Them (2020 Guide)

What are Virtual Teams and How to Manage Them (2020 Guide)

Interested in learning about virtual teams?

Virtual teams are #trending these days as tons of companies transition to remote work due to COVID-19. 

And chances are, you’re already part of a virtual team!

However, while many teams have been working virtually for decades, for some of us, it’s unfamiliar territory! 

But how do you orchestrate effective communication with your team when you’re not in the office anymore?

And more importantly, how do you manage a virtual team

No, Miranda, it’s not a catastrophe!

With the right practices and tools, virtual teaming becomes a cakewalk!

In fact, all of us here at ClickUp have been working remotely too!

But that hasn’t stopped us from releasing impressive new features every week, right? 

In this article, we’ll cover what a virtual team is and its three key benefits. We’ll also highlight five practices for easy virtual team management

This article contains:

Let’s get cracking!

What is a virtual team?

A virtual team is a group of individuals who collaborate on work from different geographical locations or time zones

Also called remote teams, geographically dispersed teams or distributed teams, they rely on various communication tools to work together. But being geographically dispersed doesn’t necessarily mean that team members should be in different countries or continents!

Members can be in the same city and still be part of a virtual team

For example, in light of COVID-19, Miranda Priestly and her assistants, Andrea and Emily, would be working from their New York apartments instead.

But remember, virtual teams have been around way before COVID-19 came around. 

So why did teams go virtual pre-Corona?

Let’s find out.

3 key benefits of virtual teams

Sure, working from home gives you the flexibility to work from your bed, in your pajamas. 

That’s actually a bad move — for your productivity as well as your body.
Plus, neither Miranda nor your boss would be thrilled seeing you in pajamas during team meetings.  

But deciding where you work from and what clothes you get to wear aren’t the only benefits of working in a virtual team

I mean, if those were the only benefits, Miranda, like some other team leaders, would have second thoughts about going virtual!

Let’s take a close look at three key reasons why virtual teams are amazing:

1. More cost-efficient than traditional teams

Who doesn’t like saving money?

And that’s something you get with virtual teams — they’re more cost-efficient than traditional teams.

How?

In geographically dispersed teams, members are responsible for their workspace. 

So employers, like Miranda, don’t have to spend on:

  • Office hardware like computers and desks
  • Utilities like internet and electricity
  • Office rent and maintenance
  • Work transport and other staff facilities 

But Miranda’s not the only one cutting costs here.

Virtual employees, like Andy and Emily, also save money (and time) on daily work commutes like expensive Uber or subway rides! Plus, they won’t have to head to Starbucks to grab a cup of coffee for Miranda (and maybe even for themselves!). 

2. Be part of a globally diverse team (and cater to global clients)

Unlike most traditional teams, a virtual team is geographically dispersed.

You can hire talent from anywhere around the world, helping you build global virtual teams. For example, Miranda could hire a PA from Milan to manage her Italian operations — all while she operates out of New York! 

But it doesn’t end there. 

Another benefit of building global virtual teams is that you get to bring diversity into your company culture. Your team members could be from different cultures and backgrounds — bringing different skills and ideas to the job. 

As this opens avenues for team learning and creativity within the team, you’ll be able to explore ideas and solutions from various perspectives — leading to a better decision-making process!

This way, Miranda will be less likely to hear such “groundbreaking” ideas:

Additionally, with a remote workforce of people from various time zones, your company can now operate 24×7. Now you’re able to cater to clients from across the world, helping you grow your business

3. Maintain a healthy work-life balance

As a virtual team member, you’ll get to enjoy a healthy work-life balance. 

How?

To start with, you don’t have to go through the hassle of a daily commute anymore. 

Plus, if you have flexible work hours, use those to pursue your interests.
Like Andy, who’s finally able to take that writing course she’s been putting off for months. 

You could also spend more time around your family or friends to build healthier relationships. 

But what about the pandemic?

Don’t worry if you can’t meet them in-person, use a video calling app to overcome the distance for some quality virtual bonding!

This way, you’ll be able to lead a healthy work-life balance — which, in turn, translates to better productivity and job satisfaction

5 practices to make virtual teaming work for you

You now know why virtual teams are so alluring, even for leaders like Miranda Priestly. 

Sure, they have tons of amazing benefits. 

But how do you manage geographically dispersed teams?

Don’t worry. 

Here are five practices for effective team management of virtual teams:

1. Choose the right virtual technology

How would Miranda discuss a new project with Nigel, Runway’s art director, when he’s in Paris? 

She can’t show designs over a phone call, of course. 

And emails? That’s so last century!

Luckily, she only needs the right set of virtual tools to:

  • Communicate project requirements to Nigel
  • Show him the various designs for the magazine
  • Collaborate with her team over the project and see how it’s progressing
  • Monitor her assistants’ productivity

Here’s the virtual technology  your team needs when they’re working remotely:

A. Instant communication tools like Slack

Slack is a popular instant messaging platform that’s used by distributed teams all over the world. Instead of sending countless emails to your entire team, just use Slack to maintain effective communication with them.

Some of its features are:

  • Channels: create channels for project or team-specific communication. For example, Miranda can have a specific channel for her Fall catalog project
  • Voice and video calls: have quick audio or face to face calls with your Agile team members
  • File sharing: share images, videos, PDFs and other files with your team quickly 
Alternatives
  • Fleep: an instant messaging tool that helps dispersed teams communicate
  • Flock: a simple communication app for small teams and businesses

B. Video conferencing tools like Meet

Google Meet (previously known as Google Hangouts Meet) is a video conferencing app that lets you have face to face meetings with your virtual team members.  

It comes with features like:

  • Video conferencing: host virtual meetings for detailed virtual project discussions or just for casual chats to build team cohesion
  • G Suite integration: quickly join virtual team meetings from your Google Calendar
  • Mobile apps: have virtual meetings on-the-go with its Android and iOS apps

Now Miranda can discuss magazine designs with Nigel even if they’re thousands of miles apart. 

Alternatives
  • Microsoft Teams: a popular video communication tool for virtual team members
  • Zoom: a video chat software for virtual group and one-on-one meetings  

C. Remote project management tools like ClickUp

ClickUp is the world’s #1 virtual project management tool. Used by 100,000+ teams in companies from startups to corporate titans like Google, Nike, Netflix and Airbnb, it has everything you need for managing your projects remotely.

Whether you want to plan meetings, assign tasks to members or track how everything is progressing, just use ClickUp! 

Plus, it integrates with tons of virtual tools, like Slack and Zoom, to help you manage your projects across multiple apps too.

It’s the perfect virtual team management tool for any project manager, like Miranda, who needs maximum productivity and efficiency.

Here’s how ClickUp helps you manage dispersed teams:

1. Assign tasks to your team members in a single-click

To assign a task in ClickUp, just click on the task’s assign icon and choose the team member you want to assign it to. 

Want to assign multiple members to the same task?

ClickUp’s got that covered too — just use the multiple assignees feature and voila!
You can assign as many members as you want.

But that’s not all; you can also:

  • Break down tasks into subtasks and assign them to help teams complete them easily 
  • Add task priorities to let your team know which tasks are urgent and must be tackled immediately
  • Set access rights to control who sees what and what permissions they have in your project space. (Super useful for protecting this season’s upcoming designs!)  
2. Create project-specific task stages and track them with ease

Most virtual project management tools have statuses to help you track project progress.

However, most of these are random statuses that are irrelevant to your project

I mean, can you imagine using a status like “app testing” for a content writing task? 

While Miranda could be a bit harsh with her words, we get it!

Irrelevant task statuses are only going to make things harder for you and your team!

This is precisely why ClickUp lets you create customized task statuses that accurately reflect your project stages. 

For example, you can create a “customer review” stage for your Agile software development project. Or an “internal review” stage for a graphic design project using Kanban or Scrum.

This way, you’re not limited to task statuses that have nothing to do with your project!

And to know what stage a task’s currently in, you only need to look at its status.

No more calling up your team at midnight to find out how things are going!

But do you prefer your tasks in a list format, rather than as a Kanban board?

Switch to ClickUp’s List view with a single click!

 

3. Quickly know what your members are working on 

When you’re managing distributed teams, how do you keep track of who’s working on what tasks?

By using ClickUp’s Box view!

A project manager, like Miranda, can use this to know quickly:

 

  • What tasks their virtual team members are working on
  • What has been completed so far
  • Who has too many tasks 

 

 

This helps her know how tasks are moving and evenly distribute the workload to avoid overworking her virtual employees to maintain their productivity.

4. Collaborate with your team members on tasks and projects

ClickUp gives you a dedicated comment section in each task to help team members collaborate over it easily.  

Add task details, link relevant files and also tag members in your comments for better collaboration over the task. 

You can even create tasks out of comments and assign them to a specific team member. This way, they won’t forget to respond to your comment and will address it ASAP. 

D. Productivity monitoring tools like Time Doctor

Worried that your remote workers are browsing Facebook during work hours? 

With Time Doctor, that’s not an issue.

Time Doctor is a productivity monitoring app that’s used by companies to monitor their remote employees during work hours. You can also use it to track accurately the time they spend on their tasks.

Some of its features include:

  • Distraction management: prevent your remote employees from watching Netflix or browsing social media during work hours
  • Detailed reporting: analyze the productivity of your virtual employees with tons of advanced reports
  • Web and app monitoring: know what websites and apps your remote employees access while they’re working
Alternatives
  • Toggl: a simple time tracker and productivity tool for remote workforce
  • Clockify: a timesheet app for tracking your virtual team’s work hours

2. Create standard processes for better team management

Having the right collaboration tools isn’t going to help you manage your team when they work remotely.

You also need clear processes to ensure that your teams work efficiently — especially when your members are geographically dispersed or working from various time zones

Let’s look at Miranda’s situation.

Her team could be working from NY, Paris and Milan. 

So she needs to establish clear-cut procedures to eliminate needless delays and clarifications about anything — from task updates to the timings of daily meetings.

Here’re some tips to help you out here:

  • Set common availability hours across the team. This helps you navigate time zone differences and have real-time collaboration over important tasks
  • Ask members to update task statuses in ClickUp and alert their project manager on Slack as they progress through the task
  • Create a standard onboarding process to bring in new hires into the team.
    For example, you can have team meetings as part of your onboarding process to help new hires socialize with other members 
  • Define timings for meetings like daily Scrum and regular check-ins
  • Create documents for these guidelines using ClickUp Docs to help new members in the onboarding process

This way, everyone will be on the same page about company processes even if they’re working remotely!

3. Don’t micromanage your team

If there’s one thing leaders shouldn’t be doing when managing virtual teams, it’s micromanaging them.

Here’s why it’s unhealthy for you and your team: 

  • Employees will start distrusting your leadership
  • They may lose confidence in their own skills
  • You waste your time over managing and end up suffering a burnout
  • Your team may see leaders as ‘control freaks’ and spend their time looking for jobs rather than doing their work!

So what can you do instead?

Start by believing in your team’s skills and help them achieve success in their tasks, just like Agile and Scrum teams do!

Leadership should also:

  • Tell them what’s clearly expected from them. This way they’ll have a clear idea of their roles and responsibilities 
  • Adopt a fail-forward attitude. If someone makes a mistake, give them constructive feedback instead of openly criticizing them
  • Encourage members to become virtual team leaders themselves to boost team effectiveness 
  • Ask for their inputs and feedback to involve them in the decision-making process

4. Encourage team bonding to form successful virtual teams

For successful virtual teams, you need members to connect and bond with each other emotionally.

But how does that help?

Team bonding builds team cohesion and effective communication between members. This, in turn, improves their productivity and virtual teamwork.

Traditional teams bond over group building activities like regular chit-chats or water cooler conversations — both of which are impossible virtually!

But how can a virtual team do this when they’re working remotely?

After all, you only communicate using tools like Slack and Meet. 

Here’re some virtual team building tips for you:

  • Have a #random channel in Slack just for casual conversations with your entire team
  • Text your coworkers (when they’re not working, of course) for some non-work banter
  • Encourage members to share personal photos of their pets or places they’ve traveled to
  • Host weekly virtual meetings for some team bonding sessions
  • Engage in virtual team building activities — the deserted island scenario and a weekend movie night are some popular team-building activities 

We’re pretty sure Miranda and her team probably bond over watching hilarious runway fails during virtual team dinners.

This way, even if your members work remotely, they don’t have to feel left out.

Just use team building activities and your communication tools to keep your entire team feel connected.

Quick tip: Check out this article for some fun team building activities that boost team cohesion and virtual team work.

5. Foster a global company culture

Many dispersed teams call themselves “global virtual teams” because their members live in different countries. 

But being global is much more than that. 

Members need to avoid cross-cultural mishaps and also develop a global virtual mindset. 

And for that, you should develop a global company culture

Start by appreciating each other’s diverse backgrounds. 

This helps members respect cultural differences and develop friendly leadership attitudes — creating a safe environment for everyone to communicate and work together.

Conclusion

It’s clear why virtual teams are becoming increasingly appealing when compared to traditional teams. They’re cost-effective, globally diverse and allow you to maintain a healthy work-life balance. 

And it looks like they’re here to stay — even after the pandemic!

However, managing virtual teams can seem challenging. After all, your team members could be geographically dispersed, even working from different time zones.

But with the tips and tools we covered here, virtual team management becomes a piece-of-cake. 

And since you need the right set of tools to start building effective virtual teams, why not sign-up for ClickUp today? It has everything you need to manage your virtual teams and tasks remotely!

In fact, Runway magazine named it an essential fashion accessory for high-performing teams in 2020.

Isn’t that right, Miranda?

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