Virtual teams have the potential to be far more productive than teams that are located in the same physical office. But in order for that to happen, you have to get the fundamentals in order.
Prior to the pandemic, there was this assumption that the work-from-home setup was prone to abuse. But if this new remote work movement has shown us anything, it's that sleeping in, sweatpants, mid-day video game sessions, and hangouts with friends are not staples of working from home. In fact, research suggests that remote workers may actually be more productive.
According to a two-year study of 500 employees at a massive organization, remote work actually improves employee productivity by an astounding 13 percent. Furthermore, it cuts attrition in half and saves the company roughly $2,000 per employee on rent alone.
In other words, remote employees are already productive. The bigger challenge is figuring out how to make remote teams productive. And if you can learn how to unlock this secret, exciting things will happen. Here are a few tips:
Get Specific With Expectations
Your team needs to know what your expectations are for them (as individuals and as a collective group). Don't assume that anything goes unsaid. Be clear and overt - over-communicate everything. This includes specific instructions and expectations for:
How deadlines are communicated
Proper chain of command
Availability and time off
Etiquette and dress code for Zoom meetings
Preferred communication platforms and tools
Communicating all of these ideas will feel like overkill, but the goal is to make sure everyone understands the importance of being on the same page. Take this aspect seriously!
Create a Goal System
This suggestion goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. If you want to generate meaningful results with a virtual team, it's helpful to implement an Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) system to create alignment and encourage engagement around measurable results.
In this system, objectives are your desired goals. Key results are the tangible measurements you use to track progress towards these goals. John Doerr, one of the founding fathers of the OKR movement, encourages team leads to put it into the following framework: "I will (Objective) as measured by (this set of Key Results)."
While there's too much to go into in this article, you should know that OKRs are commonly used by companies like Walmart, Google, ING Bank, and Spotify. You can learn more about specific ways to develop an OKR system with this resource.
Use the Right File Storage Solution
Productive remote teams are always organized teams. Files, documents, and data must be available with just a few keystrokes; otherwise, processes get bogged down and team members lose focus of what they should really be doing.
Remote teams are highly encouraged to build centralized workspaces through cloud-based project management software. A solution like this will keep your team organized and on track. Not only that, but it creates an anchoring effect in a work environment that can easily feel fragmented.
If you aren't careful, you can easily end up with a communication overload situation where employees feel as if they're drowning in information and rules. To prevent your team from feeling like a one-way street, you should encourage feedback. And, perhaps most importantly, act on the feedback when it's helpful.
By acting on feedback, you show a degree of respect for your employees. They recognize that you see them as valuable people, not just a means to an end. This may require totally revamping your feedback loops to prioritize inputs from everyone.
One of the bigger challenges with virtual teams is an inability to directly monitor everything employees are doing. In one sense, this creates healthy trust and separation. In another sense, it leaves the door open for issues to go unmanaged.
It's wise to implement a system of accountability that provides oversight without creating a "Big Brother" effect. One way to do this is to encourage peer-to-peer accountability. Pair up employees and have them check in on each other daily. These reports then get uploaded to a specific location on your project management system for all to see.
If you can tap into the core of virtual team productivity, you'll discover unlimited potential and opportunities for new business growth. Start with the techniques discussed above, and then look for business-specific applications that will take your company to the next level in this new world of remote work!