7 Tips for Bringing Virtual Teams Together

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Virtual companies can often run like well-oiled machines, with high productivity and work-life balance for employees, well, in balance. I founded the 1 Million for Work Flexibility movement because I know just how valuable work flexibility is for both employees and for companies. 

Still, managing work from home teams can be a challenge, and it can be isolating for some workers. That’s why it’s worth the effort to establish practices for your distributed teams that foster a team culture and help keep everyone on the same page. Here are seven ways to help your workers create—and maintain—strong ties.

1. Find a virtual equivalent.

This is the most fundamental tip that I’ve used as a manager of a completely remote staff. I have approached it by asking myself on a regular basis, “What would we do if we were in an office setting?”  Then I try to come up with what the best virtual alternative would be to whatever is going on. This approach allows me to consider the pros and cons of what the office equivalent would be, but also to anticipate what an employee might be used to which can help in the strategy.  This logic underlies many of the following tips, as well, but can be used in almost any remote management situation.

It’s worth the effort to establish practices for your distributed teams that foster a team culture

2. Make the most of meetings.

It’s understandable if your team groans when they get yet another email for yet another meeting. After all, if your team is large, not everyone might get a chance to speak during the meeting and could feel that it’s a waste of time. That’s when you need to get creative with your time—and your team’s time, too. For example, you can try connecting various departments (who don’t normally get the chance to interact) in smaller brainstorming sessions where everyone’s voice is heard.

3. Create a community.

At FlexJobs, we like to celebrate! We acknowledge staffers’ birthdays and anniversaries with the company through our online message board, Yammer. We even have cookie exchanges during the holidays. But beyond festive occasions, we try to connect personally with each other. We’ll hold casual calls between team members. And since we know that there are stressful days, we hold virtual yoga sessions every other week for team relaxation, too.

4. Provide clear communication channels.

Without being able to swing into a colleague’s office with a quick question, communication can easily break down when you have distributed teams. That’s why it’s super important to keep your telecommuting team talking—literally. “It is no secret that a lot can get lost in translation when you are communicating with someone online, whether it’s through email, text message, online chat or any other of the endless ways to communicate through the web,” writes Rilee Chastain for the Sococo blog. “It can be hard to judge someone’s tone.”

When people work from home the tendency can be to communicate solely via email, but it’s crucial for employees to see (and hear) each other, too.

When people work from home the tendency can be to communicate solely via email, but it’s crucial for employees to see (and hear) each other, too. Talking over the phone gives people a chance to clarify things, hear each other’s voices, and share a laugh. In addition to instant messaging, message boards and sites like Yammer, or even virtual workspaces like Sococo, can provide an extra level of connectivity for workers all over the world. Since no two workers are alike (and therefore communicate differently), it’s important to provide them with all of the tools that will help foster communication—and productivity.

5. Create interdepartmental jobs.

Sure, you may have hired a new person to do research for your company, but did you know that the new hire is also a social media maven? Identifying the skills that your employees have—and then tapping into them—can not only make for a happier employee, but also strengthen the company as a whole. On our writing team, for example, most of the writers are members of other teams (research, client services, human resources, etc). Their depth of knowledge of the company makes them better writers, and helps the team stay in-the-know about company happenings.

6. Focus on the goal.

When workers toil away in their home offices day in and day out, it can be easy for them to get caught up in the daily minutiae. Losing sight of the company’s overall goals and purpose can be damaging for their motivation—and your bottom line. You want your employees to have meaningful work that they are proud of, and that’s why it’s crucial to create measurable goals that your employees can use to gauge their own progress. In addition, you should schedule individual meetings with them so they can keep you abreast of any potential issues. By creating metrics that your employees can use to judge their own performance, you’ll ensure that both you and your employees stay on track.

You want your employees to have meaningful work that they are proud of, and that’s why it’s crucial to create measurable goals that your employees can use to gauge their own progress.

7. Get together.

While everyone is working in a virtual environment, your employees still lead very real lives beyond their home office or the local Starbucks. Since it can be tricky to form relationships with your employees (and them with each other) without meeting in person once in a while, you’ll need to organize events that bring them together. The best way to do this is by creating retreats, and a lot of the top virtual companies do just this. Companies like Buffer and Sqwiggle are well-known for their retreats. In fact, Joel Cascoigne, CEO of Buffer, wrote a great blog post about  why he and his team go on international retreats three times a year. Yes, retreats are a great exercise in team building, but there’s more to it. Employees get to experience new cultures and “grow more open-minded,” and Joel claims that during the retreat, “We get an insane amount done during the week together.”

Having a distributed team doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be isolated or only interact with their group. By making the effort to foster friendships across company lines, you’ll create a more unified workforce, despite the distance.

 

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Copyright: redrockerz / 123RF Stock Photo

Sara Sutton Fell is the Founder of 1 Million for Work Flexibility, an initiative dedicated to promoting flexible work options for all. She’s also the CEO and Founder of FlexJobs, an award-winning, innovative career website which lists thousands of professional-level jobs that offer flexibility like telecommuting, flexible scheduling and freelancing. Sara is committed to flexible work options, and she and her staff of 40 people all work from home offices and have flexible schedules.

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