Develop Your Virtual Strategy
After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:
- Make a plan to use technology on your virtual team.
- Develop a communication strategy for managing your virtual direct reports.
- Describe the different types of virtual teams.
- Identify best practices and tips and tricks for creating culture on your virtual team.
In the early 2000s, Apple launched an advertising campaign called “Get a Mac.” Part of the campaign was the promise that Apple computers were “ready to go” out of the box and that they were compatible with PC peripherals. You might even remember the slogan, “It just works.”
When it comes to managing and collaborating with your virtual team, your goal is to lead a virtual team that’s so in sync that it just works.
To do that, you need to develop and implement your virtual strategy.
Your virtual strategy is your plan for how to best manage communication, collaboration, and virtual culture on your remote team. It addresses the pain points we introduced in the last unit:
- Virtual communication
- Virtual collaboration
- Company culture
Don’t have virtual direct reports? Not to worry. There’s a good chance that you do business with people in other offices, or who work remotely from home, or in other parts of the country or the world. We’re all one virtual team. #onevirtualteam. What you learn here can help you manage your business relationships with all virtual team members.
To prepare your virtual strategy, think about these pain points and answer the questions in this chart.
Getting Started with Your Virtual Strategy
Are you ready to start strategizing? Let’s start by talking about communication.
Virtual Communication Strategy
Your virtual communication strategy includes your technology strategy and communication best practices.
As a manager today, technology is at the heart of almost everything you do. In fact, there’d be no such thing as virtual collaboration or a virtual workforce without technology. Imagine that!
These days, with so many different apps and software available for your teams to use, it’s important to come up with a technology strategy that works for your team.
To communicate virtually, you need most of the following:
- Reliable internet access
- Hard line or mobile phone
- Computer and webcam
- Web conferencing software, like GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts
- Apps for collaborating online, like Slack, Quip, Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google Chat
When you’re up and running, there are a few more things to think about when it comes to technology.
Use hardware, software, and online subscriptions that your company has in place.
||Most companies already have certain hardware, software, and online subscriptions in place.
Learn which technology and online tools your team uses to communicate and collaborate.
||Your team might use different technology on a day-to-day basis than your company uses. Get to know what works for your team.
Explore new technologies that help your team best accomplish their tasks.
||Technologies advance and change quickly. Stay on top of the latest technologies that help your team best collaborate.
If you work out of your company’s office and your team works from home, take advantage of the resources you have available to you at the office. For example, rather than using your laptop’s webcam, schedule team meetings from conference rooms that have a built-in webcam and screen. That way your virtual direct reports can see you and the entire group that’s in the room.
As important as it is to see everyone, it’s equally important that your web conference audio is up to snuff. Make sure that the sound on your laptop or in your web conference meeting room is clear. Just imagine how terrible it would be if your voice cut out in the middle of an important announcement.
Finally, high-quality earphones are a definite must-have for members on your virtual team. You might even want to supply them with a good set.
So what’s the take-away about technology and virtual collaboration? The most important thing is that you have standardized modes of communication and technology that you use as a team.
Virtual Communication Best Practices
After you decide on which technology to use to communicate with your team, set up best practices for how to communicate as a team. This keeps the airwaves of communication clear and reduces the risk of miscommunication.
Here are some suggestions to help you on your way.
- Agree on which technology to use and when
- Set up rules for virtual meetings
- Clarify business hours
- Respect time zones
- Follow a plan to address miscommunication
When you decide on what you’d like your communication agreements to include, let your team know the ground rules.
Let’s take a closer look at what each suggestion entails.
Agree on Which Technology to Use and When
In the last unit, we talked about your technology strategy. Now let’s make sure that your team is clear on when to use each kind of technology.
As a manager you might have many direct reports. Do you have a preference for how they communicate with external stakeholders or clients? What works best in your experience?
For example, identify when it’s best to use:
- Instant messaging
- Web conference
The answer to some of these questions might be common sense.
Think about which channel of communication your team should use for different situations. Here’s a table to help you break down things even more.
||WHEN TO USE
Set Up Rules for Virtual Meetings
How many times have you pressed “mute” while dialed in to a web conference? Maybe it was appropriate for that meeting or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe you were even tuned out and working on another project while you only half listened. We’re not condoning this behavior. We’re simply pointing out that it does happen.
Because it’s harder to sense non-verbal cues (like if someone is paying attention) when you meet virtually, it helps to set up some rules for virtual meetings.
- Ask your team to limit background noise and avoid side conversations.
- Emphasize the importance of talking clearly and slowly.
- Let participants know when to use their webcams.
- Communicate when it’s okay for participants to press mute.
- Tell participants if the meeting is being recorded.
Tell your direct reports which web conferences are required and which ones to use their webcams for.
If your company’s culture is okay with it, let your direct reports know that it’s okay to dress casually during virtual meetings. Suit and tie not required!
Web conferences are a huge part of virtual collaboration, so having a plan in place, like what we just discussed, is more important than ever. You want to be sure that you’re respectful of the other participants.
Clarify Business Hours
These days, it’s most important that work gets done on time, and it’s often less important that a person works from 9–5. Some virtual employees start and end the day according to their own personal schedule.
As a manager, avoid miscommunication about when the work day starts and ends by stating if there are specific hours that you’d like your direct reports to be available and reachable online. Maybe it’s business-critical that your direct reports are reachable during the workday even if they complete their projects on time while working off hours. Clarify your expectations, but be consistent for all your employees.
Respect Time Zones
Just like it’s important to clarify business hours, it’s important to know where your team is located and when they do business. As a manager, set an example for the rest of the team by being respectful of other time zones.
When you meet with direct reports who are in different time zones:
- Schedule meetings within appropriate business hours
- Plan ahead and ask permission if you need to meet at an unconventional hour
- Specify the time zone when proposing meeting times
Follow a Plan to Address Miscommunication
You’ve put a communication plan in place for your virtual team, but what happens if you have a miscommunication on your team anyway? How do you address it?
When you work together in an office, you have the benefit of a quick side conversation to clear up miscommunication. Virtually, it takes a little more effort to set things straight.
Depending on what the miscommunication is about, it’s a good idea to have a protocol to follow when a rift in communication between you and one of your direct reports occurs.
Here are some tips to keep in mind to address miscommunication.
- Assume positive intent. Assume that your virtual teammates are doing their best to accomplish the team’s goals.
- Be timely. Contact your virtual teammates via phone or web conference within 24 hours.
- Ask questions. Ask, “What are your thoughts about how our phone call with our stakeholders went?” Or, “Can you help me understand the numbers on the datasheet you sent me earlier?”
- Be transparent. Explain your perspective and where you’re coming from.
By following these communication best practices, you’ll have a framework for how to communicate virtually as a team. It keeps the team on the same page and helps reduce the risk of misunderstanding.
Virtual Collaboration Strategy
So what’s the difference between a “virtual communication strategy” like we talked about earlier and a “virtual collaboration strategy?” Good question.
Your virtual collaboration strategy is more like a plan. It takes things a step further to explain best practices for working together collaboratively and getting work done as a virtual team. It addresses the process of working together and how to best manage relationships with direct reports on different types of virtual teams.
We’ll start off by talking about the different kinds of virtual teams. Then we’ll talk about ways that you can work together to collaborate virtually on each team.
Collaborating with Different Types of Virtual Teams
So what’s a truly collaborative virtual team look like? There’s no hard and fast rule! In fact, sometimes you can virtually collaborate with teammates while located in the same building or next door. It turns out that to be a virtual team, all you really need to have in common is that you use technology to communicate.
So why are we talking about different types of virtual teams then? Because, there are slight nuances in the way you virtually collaborate depending on what kind of virtual team you manage.
Here are some examples of different types of virtual teams.
|Teams with full-time virtual workers
||At least one person on the team operates solely out of a home office.
|Hybrid virtual team
||Includes people who work in the office and people who work out of the office or from other locations part of the time.
|Global virtual team
||Teams that have members in different parts of the world. They can be seated in offices or at home.
Of course, your team could have elements of all three of these types.
Teams with Full-Time Virtual Workers
Teams with full-time virtual workers have at least one person who operates solely from a home office. That means that you rarely see these team members in person.
If you manage a team that works full time out of their home office, establish rapport early on by scheduling frequent and routine 1:1s, trying to meet in person when they onboard, and making an effort to connect in person whenever possible.
We share more tips and best practices for managing full-time virtual employees in the next unit. But remember, when you manage full-time virtual employees, it doesn’t hurt to over-communicate. The more information you share with your full-time virtual directs, the better prepared they are to do their jobs.
Hybrid Virtual Teams
Hybrid virtual teams are made up of employees and direct reports whom you see in person occasionally. With technology being intertwined into everything we do, most people are part of a hybrid virtual team.
There are many different types of hybrid virtual teams:
- Employees who have flexible work arrangements and work from home some days
- Employees who are seated in an office other than the office that you’re seated in
- Employees who travel frequently or work in different locations
Hybrid remote teams also include global teams.
With so many different types of hybrid remote teams, the way that you collaborate might also be a hybrid between virtual collaboration and in-person collaboration.
Global Virtual Teams
Global virtual teams have members in different parts of the world, seated in offices or at home.
As we mentioned in the first unit, there’s a huge opportunity right now to collaborate with talented people from around the world. With that comes an even greater opportunity to learn about how your teammates and direct reports in other countries conduct business.
Just to get started, here are some quick questions to ask yourself when you work with members on your global team.
- Am I using language that translates and makes sense? Am I avoiding slang and jargon?
- Have we agreed on which hours are okay to communicate given our different time zones?
- Are there differences in the way that my culture makes business decisions, conducts relationships, and displays emotion?
- What’s the proper etiquette for communications between professionals?
- How do I manage communications with people from different cultures and different countries?
For more tips and suggestions on how to collaborate virtually across cultures, download our tipsheet called Global Collaboration from our Virtual Collaboration pack.
Your Virtual Collaboration Plan
To pull it all together and create your virtual collaboration plan, check out this chart. It helps you relate to the different kinds of employees on your virtual team.
|As a Manager Collaborating with:
|Full-time remote employees
|Employees who have flexible work arrangements
|Employees who are seated in an office other than the office that you’re seated in (you’re based in the Chicago office and your direct is based in your company’s New York office)
|Employees who travel frequently or work in different sales territories
Virtual Culture Strategy
Creating a strategy for how to help your team connect with your company culture is mission-critical. It boosts morale and keeps your direct reports from feeling isolated and disengaged in their work.
If you work in an office, there are things you probably take for granted. For example, maybe it’s a Tuesday and you arrive to work to learn it’s your co-worker Shakira’s birthday. Someone on the team ordered cupcakes. The team takes a quick 20-minute break to indulge in cupcake deliciousness and celebrate Shakira’s big day.
Or it’s a business-as-usual Wednesday. You check your email to learn there are logo-branded backpacks and water bottles left over from a company event. They’re on the 6th floor just waiting for you. First come, first served.
And let’s not forget about the day that your manager’s manager raved on and on about the positive impact of the project you worked on. Your team was so thrilled and took such collaborative pride in the accomplishment that you all celebrated after work… without your virtual teammates.
Do any of these scenarios resonate?
We hope so! Company culture and having fun with your co-workers gives your work days texture, and it helps you bond with co-workers so that you all do your best work.
Now imagine that you work from home. Sure there are perks. For example, you don’t need to spend time in the car commuting, you can run to the gym on your lunch break, and you can even be home when the rest of your family returns from work or school. Better yet, the fact that you work remotely might even give you access to a job and a career that would otherwise be unavailable to you. It’s great for work-life balance. And it’s likely that without the in-office distractions—like free cupcakes—you get even more work done everyday (and avoid late afternoon sugar crashes!).
But imagine working all day long without any social interaction from your co-workers. Imagine that you also received the email about free swag on the 6th floor (but you’re located more than an hour away from the office). No backpack or water bottles for you.
When it comes to company culture, it’s not always easy for your virtual direct reports to feel connected. As a manager, what are things you can do to help your virtual team feel more in-tune with your company culture?
At Salesforce we posed the question about how to build a culture for our remote teams on our Slack channel for remote teams called #Salesforce-at-home. We were flooded with great ideas.
Here’s what our own remote managers and employees suggested regarding strategizing around virtual culture.
- Coordinate virtual off-site volunteer sessions or decide to all volunteer at the same time. Even if you’re not together as a team, you’re together in your efforts to make the world a better place.
- Get together via Google Hangout to celebrate your team’s birthdays, everyone BYOC (bring your own cupcake).
- Share pictures of your home office on social media and create a contest. Categories for the contest could include best office setup, best view from desk, and biggest need for improvement.
- Start a group that is dedicated to creating remote culture and helping remote employees feel more connected to company events.
- Simulate a virtual water cooler experience. Use social media and video conferencing to get to know your teammates informally.
- Connect your team with other local employees. Company culture extends beyond the reaches of your team. Encourage your team to get together in person with other employees from your company who are located nearby.
Now let’s tie it all together when it comes to creating your virtual culture strategy with some tried and true virtual culture dos and don’ts.
Creating Virtual Culture
|Bring on the swag! If you receive an email about free swag, be sure to think about your virtual direct reports and take extra for them. Then run to the mailroom and send the goods.
||Stockpile all the swag for your friends and family.
|Remember to make announcements about other teammates’ birthdays or special events so that your virtual direct reports feel in the loop.
||Send leftover stale cupcakes in the mail or talk about how delicious the cupcakes were.
|Make small talk and learn about your virtual direct reports. Encourage the rest of the team to do the same.
||Keep things all business all the time.
|If you can, give your virtual direct reports the opportunity to travel to the office for important events, like your company’s annual kickoff or your team’s annual offsite.
||Tell your virtual direct reports, “Maybe we’ll put money in the budget next year for you to visit us.”
Let’s Sum It Up
Strategy is the name of the game when it comes to putting a plan in place for technology and communication processes that work for your team.
Having a plan for how to communicate, what tools to communicate with, and when to communicate sets a foundation that lets you collaboratively work toward your team goals. It helps you create a virtual work process that “just works.”
You build on your foundation by establishing amazing collaboration processes and creating a virtual culture that thrives. Next, we’re going to look at some best practices and techniques for managing your virtual team.
- 8 secrets to super-productive telecommuting
- 7 Free Easy-to-Use Online Collaboration Tools
- Making Virtual Teams Work: Ten Basic Principles
- Forbes Managing Virtual Teams: Ten Tips
- Engaging and Managing Remote Employees
- In U.S., Telecommuting for Work Climbs to 37%
- WFH Woes Be Gone: The Remote Worker's Routine
- Avoiding Cross-Cultural Faux Pas