Virtual Teams – Definition, Management, Benefits, and Improvement
Thanks to the streamlined development of IT and telecommunication technologies, a growing number of organizations prefer building virtual teams and remote groups and running outsourcing projects using virtual team management. Internet technologies allowed businesses to hire remote team members, communicate with outsourced personnel in real-time, and manage projects at any time from different locations.
You can use various means of virtual team communications to track tasks and work schedules of your remote colleagues. The importance of virtual team management takes the primary role when you need to control the effort and time of remote workers. Let’s find out what a virtual team means, how to manage it, and why you may need it.
What is a virtual team?
The definition of a virtual team is relatively new to project management and collaboration.
A virtual team (aka “virtual workgroup”) is a group of people who participate in common projects by making collaborative efforts to achieve shared goals and objectives. These people perform tasks and jobs in a virtual work environment created and maintained through IT and software technologies.
This term often refers to teleworking teams or those groups of people who use telecommunication technologies – mobile IoT and Skype, for example – to share information and co-operate and collaborate in real-time. Virtual team management is the foundation for managing remote/telecommunication-based teamwork.
There are two types of virtual teams, such as follows:
- Global virtual team. As a rule, these teams are located in different countries and cities all over the world. They can be employees of several companies which join their efforts and resources (incl. people, technology, money) to perform shared outsourced projects and achieve common goals.
- Local virtual team. Members of a local virtual workgroup usually belong to the same company. That company is either big or small, and it has enough resources (technology is essential) to establish and maintain virtual team workplaces and organize its employees into a productive remote group.
What is virtual team management?
The combination of activities for assembling, building, organizing, controlling, and supervising the virtual teamwork is called virtual team management. It is an essential part of project team collaboration.
Virtual team management includes, but not limited to, the following processes:
- Assembling. Probation periods are the first measurements to be applied when starting with remote teamwork organization. The team leader should decide on those people who meet all the requirements of probation periods.
- Training. During this process, the team leader sets expectations as to future virtual teaming and then develops and applies a group training methodology to teach the team members how to meet the expectations.
- Managing. This process means using telecommunication technologies to manage ongoing tasks and jobs of remote group members.
- Controlling. The team leader establishes performance measures to assess and evaluate team performance. This person needs to find out whether the team is on the right track and can achieve project goals on schedule.
These are the major processes of virtual team management. However, there can be subsidiary processes that allow for a better of understanding the virtual teams phenomena.
What are the benefits and drawbacks?
Some of the advantages of virtual team management are (but not limited to) the following:
- Reduced rents and technology savings
- Lower transportation costs and less time spent on commuting
- Instant communication and information exchange
Some of the disadvantages of virtual team management are (but not limited to) the following:
- Poorer control of virtual groups (this may result in reduced trust in virtual teams), because there are no direct control tools
- Problems to establish good virtual team leadership (comparing to “physical” team leading)
- Unfitness to the projects which require on-site control and management
How to improve virtual team collaboration
As mentioned, virtual team management offers tangible benefits to your project or business; still, you have to address some distinct challenges. Many project managers struggle to create a truly “collaborative” virtual culture.
These two essential steps below can help you build a productive virtual team and improve remote collaboration.
1. Use a single collaborative system for virtual team management
Make sure that everyone in your remote team uses the same virtual application and database to manage inbox, chats, to-do lists, shared documents, spreadsheets, and other essentials of your projects. For example, you can successfully manage your virtual team remotely from anywhere with any device by adopting innovative cloud products such as Citrix VDI and Cloud QuickBooks Hosting from Apps4Rent.
Remote employees often spread information across multiple systems and tools. For example, using Gmail for emailing, Zoho for CRM, Slack for real-time communication, and Skype for video conferencing can be okay to some extent.
However, as your projects grow and you onboard new remote workers, your team has to deal with multiple data sources and various apps, which will ultimately create clutter and lack of control of team performance.
2. Enable automation to get more things done faster
As artificial intelligence, IoT, edge computing, and other emerging technologies become increasingly prevalent, project managers and team leaders seek ways to improve process management and collaboration in virtual team environments.
Automation is among the simplest ways to help remote teams get rid of routine tasks and focus on more value-adding activities. It allows for maximizing ROI on human capital (including virtual teams), while reducing time and effort needed to get things done.
For example, let’s take online sales and lead generation. Here are at least three things that workflow automation can offer for remote sales teams and marketers:
1. Simplify lead data capturing by enabling web forms and pop-up invitations as well as automated follow-up emails and smart notifications for customers. Examples: Insightly CRM, Zoho, Pipedrive.
2. Shorten total lead time by as much as 35% by allowing for chatbots and intelligent virtual assistants to serve online prospects and customers. Examples: livechatinc.com, Zendesk AI-powered chatbot, chatbot.com.
3. Delight customers by gamifying lead generation. The secret here is, instead of wasting time on cold messages via phone, social media, or email, your sales reps will focus on analyzing customer data. Your team gets insights about what a given prospect is seeking and what product or service is best to offer. Quizzes, video guides, and interactive HTML5 mini-games are examples of how you can gamify lead generation and help your local and remote teams get more deals.