As the power of online business and global communication technology grows, building a virtual business team becomes a more enticing option for small businesses every day. After all, having a virtual business team means not having to commute, being able to choose candidates based on talent not location, and having lower operating costs. Especially if you are working with a market in multiple time zones, having a virtual team can help make responding to the needs of your customers and clients even easier.
But virtual teams come with their own unique set of management challenges. A small business’ team needs to fit together smoothly: something that can be hard without regular face-to-face interaction. Luckily there are a number of management techniques you can use to keep your employees close-knit, no matter the distance.
Agree on Hours of Contact Beforehand
Even in a world of business speedup, the fact remains: all work and no play make employees stressed, tired, cross, and less likely to do their jobs well. Especially if your small business is in the customer-service field (and let’s face it, which business isn’t), making sure your employees are happy can be just as important as satisfying your customers. Make sure that all members of your team are aware of which hours of their day others are on-the-clock—when they should be available for timely communication with other team members—and which are off.
Email, Skype, and smartphones can make the ease of communication at all times of the day seem like a boon for small businesses. However, a healthy work-life balance is also essential. Clarify which hours your team members are expected to be available—and remember to account for any time difference.
Communicate Regularly and Openly
Never assume that team members can read each other’s minds—or yours. Like the game Telephone, what you say to one employee may become confused in transit to another. When multiple team members are working on a project, make sure they are all aware of not only their own role and deadlines, but the role and deadlines of the others, too; this will limit the cases where one member is waiting on another’s work to proceed. Steady, regular communication should not only be from the top down but from side-to-side and bottom-up as well.
Regular communication also helps to break down another barrier of virtual teams: lack of personal interaction. Humans are social creatures, and when one’s co-workers aren’t seen face-to-face, it can cause your employees to feel isolated. Encourage a small amount of casual “water-cooler” chit-chat between yourself and your team in order to build stronger interpersonal relationships; just make sure it doesn’t over-shadow the actual work.
Especially if they are unused to the increased freedom of remote work, your team members may need help keeping focused and on track. As the leader of your small business team, that’s your responsibility. There are many remote project management tools that you can use to track each individual’s progress on their portions of a project, as well as tracking work on team projects as a whole. Team management programs like Basecamp, Wrike, and JIRA can help you keep everyone on task, as well as share resources between team members.
Be clear about expectations and deadlines for each and every team member, and be available for them to come to if they have questions or concerns. If your employees seem to be falling behind or producing subpar work, don’t blow up—instead, schedule a private meeting. It may just be that more clarification on their responsibilities is needed.
To do all this, of course, you’ll need to use the right technology. BuzzAGeek’s team offers years of experience in helping businesses choose the perfect technology for them. We help you design and implement IT infrastructure solutions that will keep your business working with its technology, instead of fighting against it. We're always here to help!