Various like-minded, skillful personals syncing and collaborating efficiently as a team is the mantra of any business’s success. But, as a business owner, managing even an on-site team is not an easy task, let alone a team of remote workers.
While there are thousands of tools/tips all over the internet promising you a perfect virtual team management plan, your international business needs more sophisticated strategies, communication, and collaboration techniques for the purpose.
This article provides you with every bit of knowledge you need for managing virtual teams in order to run your international business smoothly. From solutions to identify your business needs to effective collaboration of virtual teams, this article is in your corner to make your business flourish in the international market.
What is a Virtual Team?
Just like a “real” team, a virtual team is a group of individuals who work on a shared project and are dependent on each other. But unlike usual teams, virtual teams are not co-located but rather dispersed in different geographical locations. Therefore, they are often referred to as remote teams or dispersed teams.
If the team members don’t even meet, then how do they collaborate with each other?
Virtual Team utilizes several internet technologies to make the collaboration happen despite the cultural and geographical differences. They rely on telecommunication like video calling, teleconferencing, group chats, emails, and many more. This allows the team to communicate and cooperate with each other with no time delays.
How does a virtual team help in productivity?
Collaborating with teammates from anywhere and anytime boosts the productivity of both the employees and the employer. A remote work report from Owl Lab suggests that 77% of employees feel more productive and satisfied when working from home in a virtual team.
For an employee, a virtual team reduces the time and stress of travel and provides a more flexible work-life balance. They get the facility to work from their home or wherever they feel comfortable, which results in a fresh, open mindset and reduced anxiety.
Likewise, virtual teams allow employees to connect from all corners of the world, creating opportunities to share different ideas and approaches among people with different cultures. This can often lead to better, faster, and more efficient solutions to a problem.
Additionally, businesses can save a lot of money from additional costs of resources like office infrastructures and setups. This emphasizes investing the saved money in new ideas and solutions to scale up the business even more.
Importance of Virtual Teams in International Business
An international business is a business that has a global market and trades its goods and services across geographical borders without being limited to only one specific region. Therefore, it is important for them to have access to employees around the globe to serve the global customers. And what’s the most efficient way to manage international employees?
“Virtual Teams”, of course.
From regular day-to-day meetings to handling legal issues, business partners and employees can collaborate on various cloud platforms to work on a project efficiently. Virtual teams are highly flexible, too, they are not chained to any specific operating hours and location, which helps international businesses to scale up to newer regions with ease.
What are the benefits of managing virtual teams effectively?
A business can enjoy a lot of benefits by effectively managing virtual teams. From an improved work-life balance for an employee to several financial benefits for the employer, the list of its merits goes on.
Improved work-life balance
Working remotely saves time on transport and other travel stress, giving employees more time to be productive. Also, they can choose their own flexible work schedule to balance their work commitments along with other responsibilities, activities, and personal time.
Virtual teams often give employees the freedom to choose their own workspace that suits their workstyle and personal needs. This allows them to focus on their work more effectively by reducing distractions, which can ultimately prevent the need for long hours and overtime as well.
One of the benefits of virtual teams is that, if you manage them properly, then they are huge cash savers.
Businesses don’t have to spend money on office infrastructures, real estate taxes, rents, and cleaning & maintenance bills. Along with these directly reduced costs, businesses can enjoy indirect cost savings like benefits from increased productivity, no relocation charges, and many more.
Likewise, remote teams reduce the personal expenses of employees as well. They don’t have to spend money on transport and gases, car maintenance, eating out, and many more. These little savings can give employees a morale boost, too.
Virtual teams rely on several sophisticated technologies to make team communication seamless and streamlined. Managing the remote teams with proper tools like video conferencing, cloud collaboratory platforms, and project management softwares can improve the overall collaboration of team members.
Use of project management softwares by virtual team managers provides better organization of tasks, tracking, and coordination among team members. This helps businesses for smoother workflows and brush up the collaboration among colleagues.
What are the challenges of managing virtual teams?
Although a business gets a ton of advantages from virtual teams, sometimes the management can be pretty challenging. Some of the challenges a business will more likely to face while managing virtual teams are discussed below.
Trust, belief, and a healthy relationship with your teammates are a must, especially when you work on a shared project. And maintaining them isn’t as easy as it sounds, mainly when you don’t have face-to-face in-person interactions.
Studies have shown that non-verbal cues and your body language, like the way you react, move, and listen, are some important factors that build the feeling of trust. And these kinds of interactions are difficult to maintain in virtual teams.
This lack of trust and bond can result in breaking down the collaboration.
Employees can withhold information, ideas, or assistance, which could be a potentially innovative and problem-solving idea that will now be a missed opportunity. Also, when trust is lacking, team members may become demotivated and may feel that their efforts are not valued, decreasing their commitment and overall productivity of the project.
When thoughts of different cultures meet, it can be an added advantage as well as can create misunderstandings and communication gaps. Humor and jokes of one colleague can be easily misunderstood by the other because of the difference in styles, norms, and cultural gaps.
Without regular in-person meetings, there has always been a high possibility of information misinterpretation. This can be a huge challenge for team leaders and members to complete the project with desired results.
As the world map is stretched to vast distances, time variations among places can create a management hazard for your virtual team. Meaning, if one member of your team is about to start a day, another may be wrapping it up. So, the work schedule of everyone may never technically align if you try to rudimentarily imply your time zone upon the team members.
In order to combat that, you can go along with a workflow that can also be suited to flexible work schedules. But, if your business cannot compromise besides a certain timezone, you should hire your team members accordingly and also should work on properly communicating what time of which timezone is relevant for you as well as your team members.
What are The Strategies for Managing Virtual Teams?
With benefits, there come challenges. To cope with those challenges, team leaders can use various strategies to properly manage and grow their virtual teams. Here are some key strategies that you can apply as a team manager to head your virtual teams to success.
Hire the right people
“Hire tough at the start, to manage easy later.” This has always been a slogan for successful companies to manage and oversee virtual teams. Team members need some specific skills and qualities, like communication skills and motivation, to make the virtual team successful. So, it is important to hire professionals who can express themselves virtually and are comfortable with remote working.
To recruit the right professional, firstly, make sure you are searching for talent and not just to fill up the position. This will allow you to look up not only for technical skills but also cultural skills that will fit the culture of your organization. Eventually, it gives the business a high employee retention rate and long-term success.
Moreover, you can ask some questions like, “Where do you prefer to work and why?” and “How do you use technological tools to communicate and manage the project?”. Asking these questions, will you give some insights of how they will work in a dispersed environment.
Set clear expectations and goals
Setting up clear goals and expectations for your business let’s all the team members know that they all align with the organization’s needs and objectives. This will provide a basis for holding team members accountable for their work. When everyone knows what is expected of them, it’s easier to evaluate performance and address any issues that may arise.
Remote workers often lead to miscommunicate and misunderstanding. By setting clear expectations, you reduce the confusion, mistakes, and need for constant clarifications.
To maintain clarity on expectations and goals, virtual team managers and members should engage in regular virtual meetings to discuss, define, refine, and review goals. Managers should keep track of records and establish some benchmarks for employees. This allows you to compare and analyze the growth of performance and also helps the employee to get guidance for improvement or exceeding expectations.
Use the right communication tools
Choosing the correct communication tool for your dispersed team is as important as choosing the proper instrument for an orchestra. Just as the maestro must carefully choose and combine instruments to play melodic music, team leaders and managers must thoughtfully select and integrate communication tools to orchestrate a successful collaboration.
Remember, in both cases, if you select the wrong tool, the outcome may be chaotic and dissonant.
Well, there are lots of communication tools available in the market, like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc, but what suits you entirely depends on your business. To choose the correct one, start by identifying your business needs. Factors like team size, technical proficiency, and the nature of your projects are crucial to consider. Research the key features along with the pricing that matches your company’s budget. After all the research, don’t forget to read reviews and seek feedback from organizations that use the tool. This will give you some perception of how the tool actually works.
Be flexible and supportive
As mentioned earlier, differences in cultures, time zones, and geo-locations create difficulties in understanding team members and overall management of the team. Flexibility allows you to adapt to these diverse settings and fit in with the unique needs and preferences of each team member.
Being flexible and supportive can help reduce stress, anxiety, and burnout, promoting better mental health and overall well-being among team members. This helps to boost employee motivation and morale, making them more likely to stay with the company for a longer term.
To be more flexible, recognize the difference in the work hour preferences of the employee. If possible, adapt the work management according to the individual’s circumstances, such as by offering part-time work routines. Likewise, support your team members by providing regular feedback and celebrating their achievements, even if it’s through virtual means, like video calling and posting on social media.
Create a culture of trust and collaboration
Till now, you have already known the importance of trust and collaboration while working on shared projects and the challenges that a business may face with its lack.
Encourage team members to voice their opinions and ideas and be open to constructive criticism. Ensure that everyone is heard and respected. Lead by being an example and demonstrate to your employees how to trust, be open, and be committed to collaboration.
Likewise, trust is built by making personal connections. So, managers can set aside a certain portion of time during official meetings for casual conversations. Your team can’t go to grab a drink at some cafe or bar but can obviously organize some virtual drink parties or plan for a virtual movie night. Spending time like this, will get you to know the team members and build a relationship and trust with them.
A well-managed virtual team is undoubtedly a strong competitive advantage for any international business. Likewise, the various strategies discussed above are considerably helpful in accomplishing one.
But, you should also take into account that no single strategy magically works for the persistent success of all teams. It really depends on the notion of constantly working on the important aspects, elements, desires, goals, and needs of the overall team as well as teamed individuals.
Moreover, consistently observing and monitoring the progress and efficiency, faithfully retaining team members, taking and implementing feedbacks, while understanding and trying to resolve even minor problems can make a huge impact in effectively managing a virtual team.
What is the best way to manage a virtual and dispersed team?
There is not only one best way to manage a virtual team. Dispersed and virtual teams are a little tricky to manage, so a team leader needs a combination of strategies according to the business needs. Here are some ways you can use to get the most out of your virtual and dispersed team.
Communication Tools: Choose the right software based on team size, technical skills, project nature, and budget. Seek feedback from current users. Consider virtual phone numbers for cost-effective international calls.
Trust Building: Foster trust and collaboration by promoting open communication, setting a positive example, and forming personal connections within your virtual team.
Motivation: Keep your team motivated to enhance morale, engagement, and productivity. Motivated team members are more likely to meet goals and excel in remote work.
How can managers empower virtual teams?
Managers can empower their virtual teams by using different techniques and strategies. To start, trust is the cornerstone. Managers should place trust in their team members, giving them the freedom to make decisions independently. Open and honest communication is equally vital, as it encourages team members to share their thoughts and ideas openly, fostering a sense of value and belonging.
Moreover, don’t underestimate the power of recognition, feedback, and support. Regularly recognizing individual and team achievements, along with providing constructive feedback, is a morale booster that keeps the team aligned with their goals.
How is a virtual team different from a real team?
Virtual teams are also indeed real teams. The term “virtual” may make you think they don’t exist in real-time, so they aren’t real. However, virtual teams and the bonding between team members exist in real-time, but unlike any ordinary teams, the team members are physically and geographically separated from each other. They communicate and collaborate through the internet and other technological tools dissimilar to the immediate and spontaneous physical interaction of the members of traditional and regular teams.