7 Tips To Run A High-Performance Virtual Team

Author: Geoff Cudd, digital agency owner, and Kimp partner.

Back in the year 2000 it was taboo to work from home.  I was a traveling consultant at the time. And I was used to working from hotel lobbies, airplanes, and even broom closets. But between long airplane commutes, the usual office distractions, and way too many meetings, I found I was less productive when working at client sites.

So, I left to start my own consulting firm. We had no budget, no desire for an office, and no problem getting stuff done working from home.

However, in those days you weren’t taken too seriously if you were working from home. So we never brought it up and people just assumed we had an office.  I’m embarrassed to say we may have even helped that perception along.  One time we had a prospective client come to town to meet with us.  We wanted to wow them so we found an empty local office. And we asked our friends to join us for the day to make it look like we had a big local office!

These days, not only is it acceptable to work from home, but for most people over the past few months it’s been required by law!

My Favorite Tips for Managing A Virtual Team

I’ve worked with hundreds of employees and partners spread all across the U.S. and abroad.  And now I’m happy to say that list includes Kimp as well. Just read my review to learn why I like Kimp so much.  

Here are the things I’ve found that kept me in business over the past 20 years with a happy, high-performance virtual team.

Tip 1: Hire people who are a good fit for virtual work

Today, almost everyone is working from home, but not everyone is cut out for it.  You have to find people who are self-motivated and proactive.  The last thing you want is to be chasing your people down and micromanaging them.

You also want people who are ok in the long term without office social interaction.  Work from home has been forced upon all of us. But some people crave physical interaction more than others and simply don’t last long working from home.

While you can ask people questions during an interview, sometimes it helps to do a month-long contract as a trial period to ensure a good fit before hiring full time.

Tip 2: Take the time to onboard everyone 

It can be easy to hire a specialist and put them right to task without providing much context about your business.  But when people understand the larger vision they can make better decisions and will be more motivated.

It also helps to devote a little time to personally get to know each new hire.  Building rapport on a human level helps working relationships and morale. I’ll sometimes assign a mentor to stay engaged with new hires for a minimum of 30 minutes a week. This provides them a lifeline and help them build relationships with the team.

Tip 3: Engage with your virtual team daily

This can be a simple, daily 15 minute “stand-up” call where each person briefly shares what they are working on and any problems they are facing.  These sessions encourage accountability and foster teamwork towards common goals.

As a leader, daily meetings allow you to share high level activities and reiterate your company vision to keep the team moving in the same direction. 

But even with these group calls, sometimes individuals get lost.  So where possible, it’s a good idea to try to reach out to everyone on the team with one-on-one calls on a regular basis. 

Tip 4: Be respectful of different time zones and holidays

Global teams often have trouble communicating across time zones.  When you run team meetings, try to schedule them during an overlapping part of the workday.  Afternoon meetings are ok in the U.S. But those same meetings are in the evening for those in Europe and Asia and this will quickly kill morale.

It’s also a good idea to make sure everyone is aware in advance of different holiday schedules.  In the U.S., no one works on Thanksgiving. But there are different holidays abroad where they feel the same way about getting time off.  You can have more than one holiday schedule. Just publish them to the whole team, well in advance, so there are no surprises when someone is off for the day.

Tip 5: Don’t worry about hours, worry about results

We’re all adults here.  If someone is motivated enough to work from home they don’t need to punch a time card.  Unless your virtual team is on call or providing customer service, some flexibility with hours is a great motivator and incentive.

Does someone have a doctor’s appointment or need to work from the auto shop? Let them. Just as long as they are dependable.

Tip 6: Use a task management system

When a company starts out it can be tempting to use email as your task management system.  But as your virtual team grows that gets unmanageable quickly.

Project and task management systems like Trello, Basecamp, and Asana are important for managing virtual teams. They keep your virtual team organized and accountable.

Tip 7: Treat your freelancers like team members and team members like partners 

There was a time when companies were primarily made up of W2 employees.  But these days the norm is a hybrid of employees, contractors, and service providers for things like Accounting, Dev Ops, Marketing, and of course Graphic Design.  The type of team member doesn’t matter when people are working towards common goals like the success of your business.

Your job is to conduct the orchestra and make music.  

Regardless of what company is on each persons’ business card, continually share your vision with the extended team. Treat them with care and respect.  Whether they are freelancers, employees, or service providers, the lines quickly become blurred when people are working together. And that often ends in good results.