As I start on my second decade working at Weber Shandwick, it recently struck me that I have only worked on virtual teams.

My career at Weber Shandwick Seattle has given me the opportunity to work with more than 25 other offices worldwide (I counted!), with experts in virtually every practice area. It’s given me insight into a number of different perspectives, which has helped me make better strategic business decisions for my clients.

With opportunity comes challenges. While technology has helped connect the virtual teams that I’ve been a part of for the last 10 years, the future will offer even further opportunities to bridge the gap. Will our future meeting rooms be filled with affordable 3D teleconference capabilities so that we can really feel like we’re right next to our colleagues, regardless of location?

Who knows, but no matter what, there will always be challenges. Over time I’ve learned a few keys to success that are essential to managing your virtual team, big or small.

Be Human: Understand that the success of your team is contingent on them truly enjoying working on the account, and acting as advocates of your client. First and foremost, you have to look at what you need to meet your client’s business objectives. That means nothing if the team you’ve established doesn’t feel motivated. Listen to them and understand how they envision their careers developing.

• Find opportunities for 1:1 engagement with all team members. Whether that’s a regular monthly phone check in, an impromptu video Skype chat, or a coffee next time you’re in their city, it’s critical to get direct feedback on what’s going on day-to-day.
• If you’re chatting over IM/email about a subject and it’s taking more than a few messages to garner a clear understanding, make a phone call. It will alleviate frustration, save time, and show them that you want them to succeed.

Install Structure: IM. Skype. VTC. Google+ Hangouts. Establish an effective, productive procedure for communicating and make sure your team is in compliance. I’ve grown up in an IM culture. Sometimes I’ve discovered that my team never received certain IMs I’ve sent (and vice versa) so make sure you’re communicating pertinent information through phone and email. Document your conversations in email and outline clear action items with specific deadlines.

• Set up standard meeting times, agendas and status documents. Whether it’s an Excel document on a shared drive, or a Google doc, it’s important for you to have a pulse on all your team’s projects. Ask that they update those documents regularly, which is imperative if your client is asking for project updates.
• Call for mandatory cell phone-free zones during select meetings. Even sports teams realize that athletes spending time on social networks can get in the way of personal interactions. Give it a try; you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Enlist Local Leaders: Make sure you have strong leaders in multiple time zones. Especially if your client is in another time zone, you must identify a group of people who can respond quickly to requests.

• Talk to your team and get a sense of their interests. In our industry, there will always be opportunities to lead new projects and keep particular team members in mind when assigning new tasks.
• If you work with those in the Central and Eastern time zones, try to set up calls for early morning. If fires need to be handled in the morning, you have the rest of the day to reschedule.

These are just a few tips, but let’s hear from you! What tips do you have?

Image courtesy of karindalziel.

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