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How to Build a Great Virtual Team

How to get the right people, doing the right work, in the in the right places
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Not every employee wants or needs to be in the office with the rest of the team. Real estate is expensive. And sometimes the best talent isn’t local. The solution is obvious: telecommuting.

But just because someone wants to telecommute doesn’t mean they’ll be good at it. And having a lot of remote workers can make it harder to build and sustain a corporate culture. So how do you make telecommuting work for your company? 

  • Find people who have successfully worked from home in the past.  They will probably be better-suited for a virtual job than folks who have always worked in an office environment.

  • Find people who really, really love working from home. The benefit of being able to work from home is a big bargaining chip with these folks.

  • “Virtualize” existing team members who require little management.  You will find that some people can do their job well without being told what to do more than once. While these employees are gold on their own, they are also more likely to be effective virtual employees, which can lead to savings beyond their already low management costs.

  • Make effective use of online project management tools like Redmine and Basecamp. These tools can greatly improve and simplify communication between virtual team members and the office-based team.

  • Build a culture of effective electronic communication. Instead of pulling your whole team into a conference room every time you have a thought that needs sharing, try using video chat tools like Skype or Google+.  This can make it easier to collaborate with your virtual team, and can also streamline communication inside the office itself.

  • Pick the right jobs to virtualize. Software engineers, graphic designers and accountants are often good candidates, because they spend a lot of time on their computers anyways. Be wary of virtualizing client-facing jobs, which are always more successful when done in-person.

Virtual jobs can save real money, but you need careful planning, employee selection, and communication to see results. Letting the wrong people work from home and on their own terms can be extremely costly.  However, empowering the right people with this enormous benefit can greatly expand your potential talent pool and save your company serious overhead dollars.

Last updated: Aug 1, 2012

BENJAMIN WALD | Columnist

Benjamin Wald is a successful technology entrepreneur and investor. Ben?s passion for social impact, software and education support his ambition to change the world through technology. He is now the Managing Partner of Spartan Systems.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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