Virtual teams have become more and more prevalent. Yet while 50% of the US workforce has jobs that are compatible with partial telecommuting, only 2.8% are actually working from home. Which means companies need to get up to speed with the remote revolution. Virtual teams are more productive, efficient, they save money on overhead, and result in happy and motivated employees. Dom Price, a work futurist at Atlassian, argues that "decades of experience has shown us that being under a microscope doesn't lead to intrinsic motivation."

However, once you decide to move towards a distributed team, there is a learning curve to managing a remote organization. Check out these 5 best practices for a newly virtual-companies.

Slow Down to Speed Up

'Slow down to speed up' is a business concept that is similar to the adage; measure twice, cut once. In an instantaneous digital world, we want results and we want them fast. However, hastiness is not the answer when setting up a successful virtual team. A Harvard Business Review study found that companies with slow and deliberate strategic approach ended up averaging 40% higher sales and 52% higher operating profits.

In this case 'slowing down' refers to creating strategy and processes for your virtual team, making sure the proper tools are in place and taking the time to set appropriate expectations. Explore possible roadblocks and how to counteract them. When management and HR teams slow down to lay a solid foundation for a virtual company, work will definitely speed up afterward.

Master your Communications Plan

There are two steps to creating a communication plan for virtual organizations:

Step 1: How will you communicate?

You need to select a program that your virtual team will use for communication. If you want a simple (and free) chatting system, your team can use Skype. Slack is one of the most prevalent chat programs, with multiple tiers of service. Some business software solutions include chat programs; the Atlassian suite offers Stride (formally known as HipChat) if you are utilizing G-Suite for business their version is Hangouts.

Step 2: Establish a protocol for communications

Once you select your chat program, it's important to set up ground rules for chatting and communication. Some remote workers find communication via chat to be more disruptive than an actual office environment. Have your team utilize away messages; available, on a call, trying to focus-chat if important, unavailable, etc. Make sure the staff respects statuses, as well as honestly uses them, not just hanging out with a red dot on their Skype all day. You could even outline protocols for what scenarios require an email, chat, phone call, or our next point, a meeting.

Meeting Structure

It is integral to have a well-structured and defined meeting schedule for your company. Organizations with small teams often find weekly team meetings beneficial. While difficult to coordinate, especially when dealing with multiple time-zones, company-wide meetings are very valuable to your organization, even if they only occur quarterly. Global social media company Buffer focuses on creative and interactive all-hands meetings where they include physical activity breaks, Q&A, and smaller break-out sessions afterward.

The key with large meeting is to make them short (hour or less) with a focused agenda and a dedicated moderator driving the meeting.

One-on-one meetings with workers and their managers are also important. Remote workers often feel like they lose the 'open door policy' with their bosses, when there isn't a physical door to open.

Manage But Don't Micromanage

Management of virtual teams can be challenging, there's no way to casually drop by and ask about a status report. "One of the main differences between starting a project with a virtual team compared to managing an in-house one is that you need to pay more attention to avoid micromanagement." explains Pawel Ha of Apptension (SaaS company). There is a delicate balance between setting clear expectations/benchmarks and trusting they will happen.

Tools such as project management software can be utilized for collaboration and to ensure that employees are staying on-task. A few examples include:

  • Confluence- part of the Atlassian suite that we discussed earlier, Confluence is a content collaboration software, they main pitch is organization-wide transparency.
  • Trello - an application that uses organizational boards (similar to Pinterest) to foster team collaboration. (**While Trello was technically purchased by Atlassian last year, it still functions individually as well)
  • Basecamp - integrates multiple services such as discussion boards, storage, scheduling, and also offers its own chat function.
  • Asana - highly customizable web-based program that organizes teams into 'workspaces.'

Practice Feedback

You can't high-five someone in a virtual office or have a team lunch to celebrate closing a deal. On the other side of the coin, it's also not easy to give constructive criticism via a webcam. Feedback is an integral part of any management model, and when you are on a virtual team it takes finesse. Feedback structure can be something that you lay out with management and HR in your initial company policy, specifically with formal write-ups/reprimands. However, these policies also need to be adaptable and evolve with your company.

Positive reinforcement can be more frequent and less structured. Buffer starts their all hands meetings with a celebration section where they congratulate both work and personal milestones. With a remote team, recognition can go a long way!

Ready to go remote?

Distributed teams are becoming the way of the future, but many companies are still not ready to go fully remote. By applying and adapting these best practices you can lead your virtual team to success. Is your organization ready to take the plunge?