How to Manage Your Virtual Tech Team

The idea of being part of a virtual team is something thatremote teams many technologists embrace. However, those same people often shudder at the idea of managing such a team. They imagine worst-case scenarios with missed deadlines, lazy developers, and failed projects.

Is managing a remote team as bad at they imagine it though?

Not necessarily. While there are certainly challenges to managing a remote team, proactive steps can prevent these challenges from becoming issues. All you have to do is be willing to adapt your normal project management styles to the unique needs of your remote technical team, and you’ll be just fine. We’ll explain how to do this in today’s blog post.


1. Build a Strong Team

The first step in successfully managing a virtual team is to start from the ground up and build a strong remote team. Only choose those individuals you’re sure will work well remotely, in that they either have a history of telecommuting successfully, or have come highly recommended as self-motivated technologists by previous employers.

Without being self-motivated, the members of your team aren’t going to perform at maximum capacity, which is only bad news for your project. Choose your players wisely then. Once you’ve picked your dream team, set them up to succeed by ensuring they have all of the equipment (both the hardware and the software) they’ll need.


2. Plan Your Project

In many ways, planning a virtual team’s project is no different than if you were planning for an in-house team’s project. You still have to speak with the clients, determine project goals, scope, budget, and timeline. You know the drill.

However, because your team is remote, there are several additional considerations. You’ll have to plan how you’ll communicate with your team members, how you’ll deal with different time zones, and how you’ll keep track of everyone’s responsibilities. This planning will take time, but it will save you numerous headaches in the end.


3. Have a Kickoff Meeting

Even though you’re not all together, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a kickoff meeting. It’s still necessary, and is made possible for remote teams via Skype or Google+ Hangouts. Pick a tool, and have everyone conference in.

During this meeting, it’s important to introduce everyone so as to build a sense of team, and then go through the project plan – the goals, timeline, scope, individual responsibilities, and communication expectations. Even if the plan is written out for your team, having a “face-to-face” interaction ensures that everyone is on the same page.  The project will only be a success when everyone has a common understanding of project goals and individual responsibilities.


4. Communicate

Communication is key for both in-house and virtual teams. For the latter, however, it’s difficult to keep in touch; you can’t just pop over to see Bob or Sally. You have to make the time and effort to speak with them through email, phone or video chat. That’s exactly what successful remote team managers do.

While it is time consuming, the best virtual team managers consistently communicate with all team members to ensure that they’re on the same page, know their responsibilities, and are on track with their projects. While they often use email for this, meetings and status reports are just as important of communication tools.

1. Communicate Through Regular Meetings

As a virtual team manager, you should schedule regular team Skype or Google+ Hangout meetings. They don’t have to be long, maybe 15 to 30 minutes max, but they’re certainly important. They give you face time with your team, and allow for everyone to understand both the project’s status and issues. Collaborative problem solving often occurs during these sessions, enhancing project quality.

When scheduling these meetings, make sure that you have a list of things to discuss and that you take into account different team members’ time zones. Making these meetings convenient and productive will improve meeting quality.


2. Communicate Through Status Reports

Requiring every team member to submit a weekly status report is another way to keep in touch with your team. In this report, they’ll list what they’ve done throughout the week, any issues they had, and what they’ll be working on in the coming week. This ensures that your team is staying on track, and that you know about any arising issues that need to be addressed. Status reports keep your remote team accountable and you in the loop.


5. Keep Your Team Motivated

While some people have no problem remaining motivated throughout a project, most people lose a bit of steam as time goes on. This is especially true for virtual team members who oftentimes struggle with drive when they aren’t surrounded by a team.

So how do you combat your virtual team’s motivation decline? One way to do so is to build a team environment. It’s difficult with a virtual team, for sure. However, by taking the time during weekly meetings to have everyone mention what they’re doing over the weekend, or by encouraging them to send funny emails on Fridays, camaraderie is built. Your team then truly feels part of a team, one they don’t want to let down, and motivation remains steady throughout the project.
In so many ways, managing a remote team is similar to managing an in-house team. You still need to build the team that’s right for this specific project, as well as plan and communicate. However, these last two things take extra time and consideration when it comes to a virtual team. You need to determine the best way to communicate and build relationships with people who you won’t see on a weekly basis. It takes an extra effort, but if you consistently do it you and your remote team will be on your way to success.

What tips do you have for others managing virtual tech teams? What’s your biggest struggle with manging such a team? Let us know in the comments section, or join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn.

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Thanks to Marshall Astor for the use of their respective photographs.