You found our guide to creating successful virtual teams.
Successful virtual teams are remote colleagues that work productively together. The nature of remote work calls for higher levels of trust and increased communication, and these teams use that use technology and team building best practices to collaborate from a distance. Since employees do not inhabit the same physical space, leaders and teammates need to employ different tactics to effectively cooperate, communicate, and excel at high project standards.
This success is a subtopic of virtual teams and how to manage remote teams.
This article covers:
- What does a successful virtual team look like?
- What makes a virtual team successful?
- How do virtual teams work together?
- How do you manage a virtual team successfully?
- Successful motivational techniques for virtual teams
- Communication strategies for successful virtual teams
- Effective virtual team building activities
Let’s get to it!
What does a successful virtual team look like?
A successful virtual team delivers consistent, timely, high quality results. These individuals are able to work with minimal supervision and are masters of self-discipline. Team members strike the perfect communication balance, touching-base regularly, though not spending a majority of the time in Zoom meetings or on messaging apps.
Teammates are able to impart ideas quickly and effectively, in part because coworkers understand each other well thanks to impressive online team building. These colleagues display support and encouragement through online channels and present a unified front to any challenges that arise.
There are several characteristics of successful virtual teams, including inclusivity, constant communication and responsiveness, trust, flexibility, and resilience. The best remote teams function like a community, enthusiastically welcoming new members and offering support to current team members. These individuals reach out and reply regularly and depend upon each other. Great remote teams utilize and involve all team members.
Online communication channels like Slack and Microsoft Teams serve as useful thermometers for the well-being of remote teams. When virtual teams are healthy, these platforms contain a plethora of helpful advice and words of encouragement.
Learn more about trust building.
What makes a virtual team successful?
Certain factors contribute greatly towards a virtual team’s success. These include communication, emotional intelligence, resilience and adaptability, motivation and self-discipline, clear goals, and a sense of purpose and belonging. The following section explains each element in greater detail.
Communication ensures that all members of a team move in the same direction towards the same goal. A lack of communication results in confusion, time loss, and frustration. Because remote team members do not work in the same physical space, communication becomes rarer and more intentional.
Virtual communication takes new forms, as well. In place of a quick phone call or a pit stop near a desk, remote teammates send instant messages and emails, schedule video meetings, and update assignments in project management tools like Trello and Asana.
Remote communication looks much different than office conversations, but is just as vital to a team’s success. In fact, communication is perhaps even more important in virtual workspaces, since employees tend to perform tasks independently while working from home. To ensure that these initiatives align with the rest of the group’s actions, exchanging ideas and giving updates regularly is key.
Here is a list of virtual team communication tips, a list of communication books, and list of the best Slack apps that support successful virtual communication, and a similar one of the best Slack channels for work.
And here is a list of online collaboration tools.
2. Emotional Intelligence
Remote communication is important, though not always ideal. One downside of virtual communication is that intent is harder to convey. Video calls lack physical presence and body language. Employees can misinterpret the tone of text in chats or emails. Possessing a high level of emotional intelligence helps teammates determine the true meaning and intent behind a message, and prevents misunderstandings and conflict.
Also, detecting variations in colleague’s temperament is much harder from afar. Sensitive and empathetic virtual office mates are more adept at noticing changes in teammates’ moods and offering much-needed support.
3. Resilience and adaptability
In many ways, remote work is like the wild west of workplaces. Though experts have written about traditional workplace methodology for decades, the world of working from home is a whole new frontier to explore. Reinvention is par for the course, and new rules form constantly.
Virtual employees must be flexible and willing to experiment, since even managers and industry experts depend on trial and error in the age of internet work. To adapt, remote teammates must be willing to endure hiccups, overcome obstacles, and learn from missteps. As the internet landscape advances and the world of work rapidly evolves, victorious virtual teams are the ones that change with the times and adjust gracefully to shifting conditions.
4. Intrinsic motivation and discipline
Remote work involves less direct management and immediate observation, which calls for more self-discipline and self-driven work ethic. The teams that succeed most often in virtual environments are teams that know how to self-motivate and power through the work despite the distractions and temptations of home.
Virtual offices lack the reassurance and instant feedback that exist in physical offices, which means that employees must know how to overcome doubt and finish the work even without the daily dose of face-to-face cheerleading from coworkers.
Effective remote teams are ones that feel connected to the company mission and inspired to complete the work even in the secluded setting of the home office.
If motivation is lacking, check out this list of ways to motivate employees and this list of ways to boost employee morale.
5. Clear goals
The work huddle looks much different in virtual offices. Formal check-ins happen much less frequently within remote teams, since meetings require scheduling and you cannot merely drop by your boss’s or colleague’s cubicle for an impromptu touch base. Thus, all employees should have a clear understanding of the goal from the get-go to guarantee a smooth and frictionless process. By imparting clear instructions and purpose at the start of a project or assignment, remote leaders ensure that each member of the team has an easy-to-follow roadmap. Visualizing the end result helps teammates reach objectives successfully.
You can get a strong start with virtual onboarding best practices.
6. Sense of purpose and belonging
For most people, having a “what” to work on is not as vital as having a “why.” Employees long for meaningful and purpose-driven work. In a home office the worker must have a solid understanding of how individual tasks contribute towards the goal since managers and coworkers are not around to reinforce the point. If leaders explain how assignments fit into overarching plans, and if remote employees express gratitude for teammates’ contributions, then employees will be able to better understand the impact of their efforts.
Triumphant teams feel connected to the work and company culture, but also to each other. Many remote workers report feelings of loneliness and isolation, which leads to lower engagement and productivity, and ultimately higher employee turnover. The healthiest virtual teams identify as colleagues even without sharing a physical office space. These coworkers bond through a shared workload and value system, but build relationships that extend beyond the realm of job responsibilities.
You can create this sense of belonging via virtual team celebrations like virtual retirement parties.
How do virtual teams work together?
To an outside observer, online collaboration is almost indistinguishable from solo remote work; both appear as an individual typing on a computer. Yet there are distinct ways that remote teams work together online, namely through delegation, technology, and conversation.
Teams consist of separate parts working together towards a common goal. In the case of virtual teams, many miles and borders separate teammates. Remote work involves much more independent work, which means virtual teams must delegate effectively and assign a manageable workload to every team member.
Leaders often divide assignments and projects, but many teams also take initiative to claim or dispense tasks accordingly. Remote collaboration takes a great deal of trust, but most virtual employees recognize that no one individual can achieve the company’s objectives alone, and embrace the skills and experience of online peers.
Consider this list of team building skills to develop.
In traditional offices, collaboration often takes the form of groups of workers gathering around a conference table, hovering near a computer screen, or huddling together in a hallway, kitchen, or other communal space. In virtual offices, all collaboration takes place via screen, facilitated by software and technology.
Virtual teams use project management programs like Trello and Asana, communication platforms like Slack, video conferencing software like Zoom and Skype, and cloud-based sharing software like the G-suite to effectively complete tasks. These tools help teammates resolve questions and issues, clarify ideas, brainstorm, and update progress with minimal workflow interruption.
Here is a list of the best remote work software, and this one has project management software.
Effective remote teams hold efficient online conversations. Whether discussing concepts on video call, asking and answering questions via chat, or brainstorming via whiteboard or Google Docs, virtual teammates exchange ideas to collaborate.
Presented with less opportunities for professional or casual conversations than in physical offices, workers in virtual workplaces tend to be more effective communicators. The limited conversations remote teammates carry out tend to be more productive and time-efficient. Colleagues need to adapt discussions to text or emails or web meetings, and thus tend to distill conversations down to the most essential elements, getting straight to the point.
You can boost remote employee communication by asking either or questions.
How do you manage a virtual team successfully?
Virtual leadership requires an altered approach, which we explain more thoroughly in our post on managing remote teams. The list below outlines steps leaders can take to shepherd virtual teams towards ideal online collaboration. Learn more about virtual team leadership.
10. Provide the proper tools
One of a manager’s key responsibilities is to provide employees with the information, skills, and tools necessary to complete tasks. At minimum, provide your teammates with the software to complete day-to-day duties, including a business email address, access to a shared Google drive, communication tools like Slack, and video conferencing software, such as Zoom or Skype.
Ensuring that your remote teams possess adequate cyber security measures protects clients and employees alike. You may also want to equip your team with hardware and equipment that helps perform the job. Many companies furnish remote teammates with office furniture, computers and routers, and may even permit employees to reimburse percentages of phone and internet bills. Supplying the necessary tools frees up remote employees to focus on working, instead of the mechanics.
Here is a list of virtual meeting software that will help.
11. Set clear expectations
Working from home is a highly independent process. For remote employees and teams to thrive in this kind of environment, leaders must set clear expectations. This means managers should communicate the flexibility of working hours, quality guidelines, expected turnaround times, standards for use of company brand or equipment, and any other policies or procedures that may affect an employees’ day-to-day duties. By establishing clear protocols and outlining the desired end results, leaders empower remote employees to confidently complete work. With clear expectations, outcomes are more favorable, doubts evaporate, and all teammates can more comfortably depend on one another.
You can achieve this clarity with a work from home policy.
12. Schedule regular check-ins and be available
Though remote work involves high levels of self-guidance, leaders should still oversee the organization’s progress. As a virtual team leader, schedule recurring check-ins every week or two with your teams and individual workers to ensure that everyone stays on track. Even when teammates do not have many updates to share, meetings reinforce the spirit of unity and the concept that remote employees function as part of a larger unit. Between meetings, you can touch base with teammates through messages and project management tools. An occasional “how’s it going?” reminds team members that you are there to answer questions or offer support.
Of course, employees may need help at precisely the moment you message or schedule a meeting. Though you have your own robust schedule and tasks to complete, you should make yourself available to your teammates. Designating times of the day when teammates can immediately reach you and responding to all inquiries promptly prevents delays and bolsters a sense of teamwork.
You can ensure regular check-ins with virtual 1 on 1s.
13. Make connections and impart company culture
When you manage a remote team, you oversee a collective, not just a handful of individuals. Building bonds between virtual team members is crucial, because teammates depend on each other. As team leader, one of your roles is to stimulate interactions and foster relationships. You can forge links between teammates by establishing online spaces like chat channels and online groups, and by planning regular virtual social events.
To keep remote teammates connected to organizational culture, provide regular updates and communicate company values and missions.
By forging connections to other employees and the organizational culture, you make remote employees feel less like solo workers and more like members of the team.
You can develop company culture via virtual happy hours and on virtual retreats.
Learn more from these company culture books.
14. Engage employees
Employee engagement is less observable in virtual offices, but is absolutely vital. Disconnect can lead to disengagement, while virtual engagement strategies lead to boosts in performance and morale. Remote employees cannot interface directly with teammates, but online experiences can facilitate face-time, solidify company culture, and supercharge the virtual work experience.
Here is a list of improv games you can play with remote teams, and you can also host workplace competitions.
If you have both in-person and remote employees then you can do hybrid team building activities too.
Successful motivational techniques for virtual teams
Motivating remote employees can be a challenge, especially since energy and environment can vary dramatically between home offices. The techniques on the following list can help energize and engage virtual teammates to boost productivity and team mood.
15. Online team building games
Social contracts are often more powerful motivators than incentives like awards and money, as this article from the Harvard Business Review explains. When we develop relationships, we feel more responsible to fulfill obligations that affect other people. Unfortunately, in the absence of remote team building strategies, our virtual coworkers can sometimes seem as anonymous as YouTube commenters, albeit much more pleasant.
By playing fun online team building games with our remote colleagues, you establish bonds that spur all team members to perform at high levels.
For example, you may want to do virtual escape games or virtual murder mysteries.
Check out this list of virtual games to play with coworkers for more ideas and this one with games to play over Zoom.
While most workers do not work only for the praise, acknowledgement can be a powerful driver. While working from home, colleagues may not be able to observe the effort of a single team member, but teammates can salute the results of those efforts. Recognizing a virtual worker’s achievements reinforces the idea that coworkers notice and appreciate a job well done.
You can create digital spaces where managers praise employees’ accomplishments and virtual teammates can shout out peers, such as celebratory Slack channels, employee of the week sections of emails, or digital whiteboards dedicated to coworker kudos. The majority of folks can perform at high levels without applause, yet knowing that you are not playing to an empty crowd from time to time can certainly uplift a remote teammate!
Here is a list of employee appreciation quotes to help.
You can also highlight accomplishments with an employee of the month program.
17. Goal visualization
Setting clear goals is a crucial step in ensuring a team’s success, visualizing those goals is a mighty motivator. Folks tend to pursue reachable goals more intensely than distant goals, and envisioning the target can help the finish line feel closer. For instance, perhaps you are writing a novel, and create a spreadsheet that tallies up chapter word counts. Or, maybe you vow to walk 2,000 miles over the course of a year, and shade a box of a graph every time you reach a ten mile mark. Abandoning efforts is more tempting when you do not track progress, but adding up small wins and picturing the end reward propels you towards the finish line.
For remote projects and initiatives, incentivize your employees by explaining the desired end result, sharing how the group will celebrate success, and breaking down the process into measurable steps. You can create online trackers, set milestone events on cloud calendars, and host regular update and cheerleading sessions to stoke your team’s momentum.
18. Positive Feedback
Feedback is important for any team, but the practice is especially essential for virtual workplaces. Without constructive criticism or affirmation, doubt may start to build. Self-conscious employees might second guess performance and lose momentum, while overconfident employees may overlook opportunities to improve.
By providing regular positive feedback, you empower remote teams to perform optimally and capitalize on existing strengths. You can provide feedback through evaluations, audits, recurring meetings, shout-outs in team channels, and encouraging messages. Feedback lends a sense of structure to the virtual workplace and emboldens employees to perform rapidly and take more risks.
19. Purposeful meetings
Remote employees are susceptible to Zoom fatigue, so every video conference call should have a clear point. Of course, sometimes the reason behind the meeting is to facilitate team bonding and face-to-face contact, and that is fine, too. Recreation allows teammates to bond and blow off steam, so calling a social meeting is acceptable as long as you respect your teammates’ time and do not over-schedule hangouts.
If communication happens via email, group chat, Slack, or some other communication medium, then you should spare the group the hassle of scheduling the meeting and avoid interrupting your colleague’s workflow. When you do call a meeting, have an intent and an agenda, and keep meetings short and on task so employees stay focused.
Here is a list of virtual meeting etiquette tips.
Communication strategies for successful virtual teams
Communication is one of the most crucial components of remote work. The strategies outlined below provide a blueprint for successful virtual team conversations.
20. Casual conversations
While physical offices feature community kitchens, employee lunchrooms, hallways, meeting rooms, copiers, water coolers, and other spots where employees can randomly chat, virtual offices typically lack spaces for casual conversations. You can foster connection and encourage regular communication between remote teammates by forming virtual breakroom areas.
To make a virtual breakroom, simply designate a team chat, Slack channel, video conference room, social media group, or other web-based location where remote teammates can meet, unwind, and talk about topics other than work. These spaces can take any form, including online games or virtual reality experiences. Of course, the chats could also be as simple as a virtual icebreaker you email to the whole team. The correspondence medium is not as important as the spirit of the conversation.
Check out this list of icebreaker questions to get conversations started, and this list of icebreakers for virtual meetings.
21. Conversation guides
Ideally, you should outline communication best practices for your virtual teams, so all employees know how and how often to correspond. Guidelines might include sentiments such as:
- cc managers when emailing other departments
- respond to Slack announcements with emojis when possible to avoid cluttering channels
- post general questions publicly so colleagues may benefit
- set status to away or do not disturb during meetings
- reply to all messages within twenty four hours
By establishing ground rules for communication, you save employees time and trouble and pave the way for successful and satisfying conversations.
22. Commitment to communicating
There is a whole list of possible excuses for why we miss meetings or forget to reply to emails. While occasional oversights are understandable and forgivable, repeat offences can cause frustration, erode trust, and lower remote employee productivity and morale. Communication is especially important in remote workplaces because employee interactions are much more rare. One of the most essential communication strategies for successful virtual teams is simply to commit to communicating regularly.
You should plan for regular meetings and check-ins with your team to ensure that all group members stay on track and feel supported. If you need to cancel those meetings, then reschedule promptly, or at least touch-base informally with your team to confirm that there are no pressing issues that need addressing.
As the leader of a virtual team, you should decide on a minimum number of times per week to communicate with your teammates and hold yourself accountable to your plan. While you may encourage your crew to contact you anytime, some employees might fear bothering you and hesitate to reach out. A quick and simple, “need anything?” from time to time can reassure your employees that you are around and have their backs, and can signal that you care.
23. Correspondence cues
There will be times when your team is most active or alert, and certain channels that guarantee more responses or quicker replies. Also, your dispersed team may work out of various time zones, meaning that employees may not all be live at the same time. While experts can offer advice, there is no one hard-and-fast, etched-in-stone commandment for remote communication.
You will need to observe patterns and adapt depending on what your team prefers and what methods achieve the best result. These practices may shift as your team changes, which is perfectly fine. By paying attention to your team’s correspondence cues and adjusting your communication style to fit your crew, you can improve your online discussions and boost the group’s productivity.
Effective virtual team building activities
Interaction and engagement are two major factors of effective virtual team building activities.
Remote employees can consume online entertainment from sources like YouTube and Netflix, but those venues lack a participation factor. Impactful online team building activities incorporate cooperative elements, such as quizzes, polls, group discussions, and creative prompts. These exercises involve all attendees and make for a more memorable experience.
Virtual events also provide teammates an opportunity to connect with peers. Working from home is often a solitary experience, with coworker interactions limited to occasional messages or meetings. Remote team building activities give online employees the chance to socialize and encourage camaraderie amidst distributed teams.
Lastly, effective remote team building exercises are ongoing. Team building is a constant effort, and hosting regular activities establishes a sense of community between dispersed employees. You can schedule online events like trivia competitions, online game nights, and virtual happy hours at regular intervals, and can also prompt casual daily interactions through channels like virtual breakrooms, social media groups, and online peer shout-out spaces.
Here is a list of benefits of team building, and this list has many fun virtual team building activities to start with. If you work on Slack, then here is a list of games to play on Slack.
The main characteristics of successful virtual teams are trust, communication, adaptability, and engagement.
Successful virtual teams adapt to the cyber landscape and learn how to collaborate while not inhabiting the same physical space. Because the nature of remote work shifts quickly, outstanding teams are agile and adaptable, open to change and experiment. These teams utilize all available tools to beat deadlines and turnaround impressive results. Communication is key to these groups’ success.
The best virtual teams know exactly how and how much to communicate with teammates. Furthermore, these team members do not limit conversations to work topics. Great distributed teams consist of members who have solid rapport, support each other, and hold each other in high regard, even if group members have never met in person.
Behind every successful online team is a skilful and savvy remote team leader. These leaders adjust management styles to meaningfully connect distanced teammates and message out clear directives. Outstanding virtual leaders strike an optimal balance between providing instruction and support and allowing employees the autonomy to self-direct and decide the best courses of action.
Next, check out this list of ways to improve company culture, these remote employee engagement ideas and ways to promote employee wellness.
We also have a list of ideas for building successful employee referral programs, list of team challenges to do virtually, and list of ideas for virtual wellness programs.