Wake up, make coffee, switch on the laptop. Day in, day out. In times of pandemic, our lives can get severely monotonous. Working from home, many of us feel disconnected from the company, so our motivation (and sometimes discipline) may drop. 

In today’s situation, our home office is both a home and an office. To make it work, companies need to use a combination of the right tools and motivational corporate culture. 

Luckily, our software development teams have long since adapted to remote collaboration. We specialize in creating digital workplaces in our Kyiv office, but this time we had to go through some rearrangements to recreate the comfort of our office at home. We have learned a thing or two from this experience and would gladly share it with you.

1. Customize your workplace

Hardly anything is more annoying than having to work with a poor IT infrastructure, let alone sitting in an uncomfortable chair for hours on end. We took care of it on the first day of quarantine and took our screens, cameras, and even chairs home. So, if you don’t have a comfortable chair and a big screen at home, maybe there’s an opportunity to have them delivered from your office. With remote work becoming the new norm, it probably makes sense to invest in these supplies. Think how comfortable it could be being able to adjust the height of your chair or PC screen. 

The sofa sure is inviting, but a workspace akin to your office one guarantees better productivity. The right environment will help you achieve higher levels of concentration and get into the work groove quicker. If possible, set up your workspace anywhere, except bedroom. 

2. Over-communication is a necessity

Communication within a remote environment is challenging. That’s why learning the art of over-communication is essential. It involves articulating your goals, plans, strategies, expectations, as well as making sure everyone understood you correctly. In the digital world, it can be difficult to correctly interpret the tone, especially if you haven’t met the person before. With that in mind, use more emoticons in written communication and explain your thoughts excessively. Don’t hesitate to reiterate to bring something to everybody’s attention. 

Read also: Communication Tools for Your Virtual Team

There’s a variety of great communication tools – Microsoft Teams, Slack, Skype for Business, Zoom. Do you use them company-wide? If not, then it’s high time! Thanks to these tools, your communication can be structured with topic-relevant chats, groups, and projects. You can also pin those often used files to the conversations. This way, you will keep everything in one place and accessible with one click. 

We communicate via Microsoft Teams since it comes for free with Office 365, a platform that we have been using for quite a long time. You can even integrate the intranet and collaboration tools into Teams to simplify internal communication and working in teams. 

3. Stick to your old routine

If quarantine is going to teach us anything, it is that we can do everything we do at the office but from home. 

Did you get up, had your coffee and breakfast, checked email, freshened up, got dressed and commuted to work? Well, your daily habits can look the same, minus commuting, of course. In fact, sticking to your old routing helps not to fall out of rhythm. 

On the other hand, with more free time on our hands, there is a perfect opportunity to develop new, healthy habits. Some of us at NCube begin their day with a short walk in the neighborhood. Others meditated for the first time in their life and got more time for reading and cooking. We still hold our daily standup meetings every morning where we briefly explain what we are going to work on during the day. Articulating our activities to others helps complete them.

4. Kill off distractions

No doubt, digital tools make our work easier. But sometimes they create a major distraction. Constant emails and chat notification make it hard to concentrate. Most communication tools these days have a “turn off notifications” mode that you can use and catch on with messages and updates later. Choose a time slot during the day when you want to be reached and when you don’t. This gives you a feeling of control and makes your working day more efficient.

5. Take breaks during the day

This is kind of an obvious one: It is important to take regular breaks. They help you to take a step back to evaluate how far you have come today and whether you are satisfied with your results. If not, pause for a moment and think what needs to be changed.

Avoid spending your breaks at your workspace. It’s better to get up, have a drink of water, tea or coffee, or even do some stretching exercises (which is actually one of the benefits of a home office). If you have a balcony or a yard, go out into the fresh air and fill up with some sunlight. If not, open the window briefly to get some oxygen into your room. It will help you feel more energetic and remove the “sleepy” feeling of the stuffy room. 

Have trouble remembering to take regular breaks? Just set a reminder (an alarm clock will also do). If you need more stringent motivation – try the following technique. Concentrate on the task for 20 minutes and take a five-minute break. This way, you make the most of your 20 minute working sessions and get more mindful about the break. 

To sum this one up, take regular breaks, walk away from the computer and only check your messages at an assigned time.

6. Maintain corporate culture

Do you always have a coffee break with your colleagues at 10 a.m. and chat? Keep this tradition alive and meet via video conference for chitchat. It is important to incorporate relaxing elements from time to time in everyday work. Our team at NCube takes coffee breaks together and has even celebrated a couple of birthdays online – with gift opening and after-work beer. Working virtually doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have a sense of connection within the team. Proven by our portfolio of remote software development teams.

 

Hopefully, our tips will help you and your team make the most of your daily work in your home office. These strategies and tools will hopefully soften the blow of isolation as well as put your productivity right back on track. 

If you need help setting up a virtual team in Ukraine – we at NCube are here to help you. Let’s talk! 

Chances are high you have never imagined that your company would be a distributed one. 

Then you notice that Bob works from home most of the week. Mary moves to another state but keeps her old job. And thanks to the freelance workforce you can potentially cut the budget for content management to $700. 

Considering that you need a part-time software architect, which you can’t hire locally for all the money in the world, and that your friend successfully runs a distributed team for 3 years – before you know it, you begin to build your own virtual team. 

This is when you learn how hard it is to manage employees without seeing them regularly. So if you are looking for tips on the best way to manage a virtual team, then this article is for you.

Understanding virtual teams 

What is a virtual team? It’s a geographically distributed team that works on the same project. 

For employees, being part of a virtual team (or as it’s frequently called “ working out-of-the-office”) means improved work-life balance and getting the desired flexibility to work from home or anywhere in the world. 

It’s managers who are actually in a less favorable spot. For most of them running a remote team means staying glued to the screens for hours on end. It’s them who are accountable that this mode of work…actually works. 

Build  your virtual team  in Ukraine

So, the question is, how to manage a virtual team in an effective way? In this article, we describe the challenges of modern virtual teams in an attempt to find actionable solutions. But first of all, let’s have a look at the pros and cons of virtual teams in case you are contemplating setting up a virtual team. 

Advantages of virtual teams:

  • Possibility to work with the best talent, no matter their location
  • Members of virtual teams are proven to be more productive, engaged and motivated
  • High employee retention as compared to traditional teams
  • Virtual teams help save costs if you are on a shoestring budget

Drawbacks of virtual teams:

  • Lots of effort goes into establishing transparent processes and trust
  • Dependence on technology in terms of work and communication
  • Team members are often isolated socially and detached from each other
  • The distrust that often occurs between team members and management prevents fruitful work

What you need to know about managing virtual teams

Running a successful virtual team suggests not only relying on technology for the team to synchronize but also using your strengths as a manager to foster a candid relationship inside the group. 

The main virtual team challenges:

  • Keeping the team’s productivity on track so it hits the goals. How to make sure everyone works for the results, not just for the sake of working? 
  • To help team members overcome communication roadblocks. How to communicate effectively despite the time zones? 
  • To build trust between team members and management. What if someone runs into a problem and won’t be able to communicate it due to distrust?

Step 1. Keep your virtual team productive by setting up processes

Well-established processes have everything to do with keeping your virtual team productive. Those provide directions for the team to follow in order to achieve a goal. The foil to the processes is regular reporting that enables management to keep the project under control. 

In terms of virtual team management, having a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in place is one way to establish mature business processes. An SOP a step-by-step guide to performing vital operations. 

Build  your virtual team  in Ukraine

Why does your team need it? With an SOP you can achieve predictability and keep the quality of product on par. 

An SOP is usually based off of knowledge of the process in which the team members are involved. One way to create an SOP is to ask each team member to document what tasks they perform. It usually starts with describing and documenting daily activities of each team member. It isn’t the easiest of tasks, but definitely pays off in terms of building work processes. 

The biggest asset of an SOP is that it reduces the need for requesting regular updates. Knowing exactly what a team member does at any point of time is vital in a distributed environment. This eliminates the headache of having to reach out to the team to ask about every move. 

With a documented SOP, everyone on the team knows what they do and why, which is extremely important for virtual teams not to lose a sense of purpose. Having a guideline for vital processes also makes it easier to onboard new hires. 

Step 2. Make use of project management tools to keep your team engaged

Virtual team collaboration tools drive projects forward and let the team get things done. Some of the widely used tools are: 

  • Trello, Asana, Basecamp for small teams.
  • Jira, Confluence, VersionOne for large distributed teams in an enterprise setting.
  • GitHub or GitLab, Pivotal Tracker, Active Collab, VersionOne for software development teams.

The choice of a tool is bound to the type of project. Most software teams use GitHub to collaborate and manage their activities. 

Step 3. Overcome communication roadblocks 

Good communication is the cornerstone of any relationship. Professional relationships are no exception. Poor communication can become the biggest roadblock for a virtual team. 

The most common problems in communication within virtual teams are misunderstanding and lack of communication.  

  • Misunderstanding

In a distributed team environment, there is always a chance for ambiguity to slip in. The only way to overcome misunderstanding caused by ambiguity is by asking for clarification whenever necessary. As a leader, you should emphasize the significance of being on the same page and understanding everything the way it is meant.

Some things are hard to explain in text-based communication. Thus, when talking about complex concepts, it’s best to do it using a video conference tool. Face-to-face communication is proven to increase understanding between parties.

Virtual teams are often diverse, with team members having different English proficiency. Using local jargon or obscure language leaves room for misinterpretation, which in most cases leads to misunderstanding. It’s a good idea to suggest that employees avoid colloquial speech in communication. Overall, you can improve communication by providing guidelines that encapsulate what kind of messages should be sent through which channels. 

  • Lack of communication

How often your team communicates impacts productiveness. If you can’t get a hold of a team member for a critical update, you automatically risk missing a deadline. 

Virtual teams usually communicate on a different schedule. The kind of communication where a team member can’t get an immediate response (asynchronous communication) calls for a communication guideline. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to make it a rule for your team to communicate frequently and provide regular updates about their allocated tasks.

Build  your virtual team  in Ukraine

But most importantly, you need to promote a culture of communication yourself. By being an effective communicator, providing regular updates and holding daily check-ins, you set an example for the entire team. 

Your team is probably distributed across time zones, so making the most of the cross-over hours should be your priority one. These hours are ideal for daily check-ins and weekly meetings with your team. If you don’t have such “golden hours,”  make sure your team has enough responsibility to function autonomously. Don’t underestimate regular meetings with each team member because those help immensely in building personal connections. 

Step 4. Use communication tools 

virtual-teams-collaboration

 

Communication tools entail text chat apps and tools for video conferencing. The good news for virtual teams is that this technology provides an easy and fun way to connect.

  • Slack, a tool and a virtual headquarter that is at the heart of text-based communication of teams of all sizes. 
  • Discord, a text chat app that is fun to use and has a voice-over feature.
  • Skype for Business is a tailor-made tool for businesses of all shapes and forms that allows multi-party calls with HD resolution and screen sharing options.
  • Zoom is an easy way to group participants for online collaboration and training. 
  • Google Hangouts and GoToMeeting are excellent choices for video calls that involve multiple parties. 
  • Adobe Connect allows to deliver information to 100+ attendees. Attendees can also use the chat function to ask questions and trade banter.

Step 5. Create a sense of connection

Most companies that have virtual employees want them to be an extension of the company, rather than something that exists autonomously. That can be achieved when people feel connected to other team members and the company. Virtual employees are at their best when they can express their identity and celebrate achievements with the rest of the team. 

How to create that sense of connection? Get to know your team. Work should not be the only topic to discuss inside your virtual group. Nothing helps to promote the team spirit better than having common interests with coworkers. It’s harder to do remotely because it takes a conscious effort of finding the time for these activities. 

Build  your virtual team  in Ukraine

The first step here may be creating a non-work related Slack channel where the team members can chat about their hobbies, passions and share photos of their workplaces, for a sample. As a manager, you can break the ice by taking the first step. 

During face-to-face interaction find time for small talk. Get to know people’s lifestyle, hobbies, passions, find touch points and give enough space to build a healthy relationship.  

A good example here is Zapier, known as a leading virtual team and remote-first technology company that occasionally hosts virtual dance parties to help its remote employees to feel connected. Some simpler ideas can be having a weekly Google Hangout with all team members, chats with coworkers chosen at random and annual all-team meetings in headquarters. These events allow to get acquainted in person, build camaraderie and have fun together. 

Virtual teamwork doesn’t necessarily have to mean only virtual communication. To ward off the feeling of isolation in employees, remote-first companies like Zapier and Digital Ocean organize occasional and yearly meetups where team members can meet and bond. It’s a good idea to take a trip to a remote destination with your team to celebrate success or an achieved milestone. During the trip, you can get to know team members outside work as well as to plan your next steps in business. 

Step 6. Promoting trust in your virtual team

benefits-of-virtual-teams

Teams can’t function if team members don’t trust each other. Building trust inside traditional teams is difficult enough, but it’s even harder in a virtual environment. 

The best moment to build trust is at the onset of a virtual team. At this stage team members tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt. When working hard towards a common goal since day one, teammates have no other choice than to trust each other. 

Newly-minted teams can produce impressive results. What you can do to build trust inside your virtual team is to be informative about the competence of each team member and to set clear, understandable goals. 

The second and most complicated step is building interpersonal trust. A popular belief is that we tend to trust people who share our interests because we consider them to be similar to us. It seems that we know them well enough to predict their actions, and as such, we can trust them.

You can develop trust by encouraging team members to learn each other’s interests, lifestyles, and passions. On your part, strive to show the team that you genuinely care about them, and they will feel appreciated. 

Afterword 

Virtual teams are wildly popular nowadays, deeply affecting the way companies operate. Given that more and more people join the virtual workforce each year, it’s essential to find ways of managing far-flung teams.

Although the team members are dispersed all over the world, it’s still possible to establish mature processes, communication, and build trustful relationships with the team members. 

Thanks to the exuberance of collaboration and communication tools available on the market, there are no significant obstacles to build and run a virtual team as successfully as an in-house one. 

Build  your virtual team  in Ukraine

To produce excellent results, your team needs to comprehend the company’s processes. Use the pattern of Standard Operation Procedure to set up the processes for your virtual team. The SOP eliminates the crucial W questions – what is done, who does it and why.   

It’s vital to build a rapport with every team member. Communication needs to be regular and clear to make sure everyone is on the same page. There are also some strategies that allow to eliminate misunderstanding and lack of communication inside the team. 

Good relationships at work always go the extra mile for the managers. Building one is a way to empower the team members to produce great work and stay aligned with the rest of the team, despite the distance. The beginning of a project is a sweet spot for building trust, which can further be supported by interpersonal communication. 

Benefits of building a virtual team with NCube 

We at NCube have 11 years’ experience in building effective virtual teams for software development. A huge part of our success as a staff augmentation provider has been in helping our Clients establish communication processes and an environment where their virtual team members could thrive. 

Find out how we can augment your development team by contacting us. 

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