Managing Virtual Teams

Good team management is tested by having employees in remote locations. Success depends on creativity when adding exciting new tools that will assist you with your good old-fashioned management skills. Using strategies, tips and tools can make managing your virtual team productive and a lot of fun.

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1. Use solid management practices

Your overall management style should not differ between in-house and off-site teams. As you would with any project, assess company objectives and criteria for success. Assign tasks according to team member strengths, factoring in risks. Clearly express expectations, objectives, criteria and benchmarks. Insist on full and accurate formal status reporting. Follow up. Establish a known routine of maintenance, reporting, re-aligning and communicate an 'exception' handling process.

2. Select the right tools and technology

There are thousands of tools available to keep your team in the loop. Of course the oldies but goodies should still play a big role: phone, instant message, email, web conferencing. Ready to add something new to the mix? Many online tools have free trials so you can make the most of new web applications with a rapid test run. Remember to have your IT support team look into any security issues or policies that may need to be addressed.

3. Seize opportunities for social interactions

Find tools that foster communication and trust. It's important to ensure all team members are on the same page about what's happening in the organization as well on their dedicated projects. Social networking tools make it easy to keep the lines of communication open at all times, building deeper relationships and lessening isolation among geographically dispersed peers.

4. Establish and express standards and processes

The newness and social aspects of online tools can be exciting, however, it's important to determine standards and protocols as to how and when your team will use social networking tools. Some tools, such as web-based invoicing or time-tracking applications, can assist in setting these standards. And online resource management applications can facilitate project processes and store all your knowledge-based information in one place.

5. Start simple

Begin with one or two easy-to-use social networking tools. Choose ones that are well-established and match your industry, such as or Linked-In. Find out which tools your staff is currently using and determine if any are appropriate for company-wide adoption. As the comfort level grows, so can your team's participation in new tools.

6. Consider team demographics

When selecting the right tools, ensure they meet the needs of the diverse individuals who will use them. Do these tools assist in solving some of the typical challenges for virtual team members, such as adjustments to differing time zones, cultures and languages? Ensure that older individuals are comfortable with the newer technologies you select and that younger ones recognize the benefit of using tried-and-true tools.

7. Foster creativity, sharing and co-creating

For companies to grow, they must now rely on internet collaboration and emphasize individual contributions. Give team members the control to brainstorm, share research and generate new ideas online. Use social networking tools that capture personal observations, invite comments from other team members and distribute new knowledge. You'll be surprised at the innovations that occur once thoughts, groups, and connections converge.

8. Enable learning

Create virtual learning environments online to record best practices, process improvements and lessons learned on all projects. Re-evaluate regularly the tools and technologies used to manage projects to determine if they continue to meet project and team requirements. New tools or the combination of tools (or mashups) arrive on the market by the hundreds weekly. Something that was not available six months ago may solve your project or business problem today.

9. Create transparent communities

Open and clearly defined business communities provide opportunities for virtual teams to assist one another, collaborate and build trust. Tools that enhance transparency, such as instant messaging and online workspaces, allow team members to find out who is busy, in a meeting, out of the office, or available to talk at the moment. Face-to-face meetings, whether online or in person, do even more to strengthen bonds and facilitate communication.

10. Celebrate and publicize successes

Mark personal and project milestones as occasions for celebration throughout the project life-cycle. Be creative in finding ways to acknowledge achievements as a whole team. Learn what motivates each person on the team or what type of reward would be appreciated. Sharing your success in and outside the organization will inevitably inspire your team to even greater accomplishments.

Final Thoughts

Remember, a little creative thought and the appropriate tools can assist you with your good old-fashioned management skills. The proper mix of these elements will create an environment where your virtual team management life will not only be productive, but also a lot of fun.

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