effective virtual teams
Management & Mindset

10 Tips to Help Build Effective Virtual Teams

More workplaces have virtual teams than ever before. The pandemic created a 9% increase in remote jobs, which has since risen to 15% for many high-paying jobs. Given that 60% of people who began working from home due to the pandemic want to remain remote workers permanently, leadership must learn how to teach these employees to work together to benefit their teams and companies.

Working remotely has many advantages for every industry but can present new challenges that disrupt teamwork and communication. Management teams, supervisors, and others in leadership positions can use these tips to help encourage employees to thrive together and become more productive.

50 Icebreakers for virtual meetings

50 Ice Breakers for Virtual Meetings

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1. Clarify work systems

Every business has work systems, even if the leadership teams don’t call them that term. Work systems are any effort or task requiring more than one person to reach the required goal. They often involve technology or other business-related resources.

An assembly line is an excellent example of a work system because numerous people must collaborate to make a particular product or service. In traditional office spaces, this could be seen as a team brainstorming a schedule and materials for a training conference.

It’s essential to note that no one can reach a goal within a work system without effective leaders. When people in leadership positions undergo training to become better communicators and active leaders, workspaces see a 79% success rate for employees within those organizations. It’s much easier for leaders to develop empowering team strategies that clarify everyone’s role after training for their team’s specific needs, like remote work responsibilities within work systems.

Clarifying work systems is one way to help build effective virtual teams. Supervisors and managers should record each person’s role in writing and post it somewhere everyone can access it online. Written communication is an excellent tool for establishing a productive online work environment. 

effective virtual teams scopes board
An example of clarifying work systems at 360Learning: the scopes board, where each employee has a card that describes their role and includes their contact information and photo.

2. Introduce effective virtual teams communication tools

Anyone can post notes in shared to-do lists or send an email, but there are other software tools that are even better at improving virtual team communication. Private messaging software allows everyone to chat safely, especially when exchanging sensitive information related to the business or clients. Video conferencing programs should have secure virtual rooms so no one can hack into meetings they aren’t supposed to join.

Even something as simple as a photoshop and design program for marketing teams will speed up projects because everyone’s using the same platforms. Consider programs such as:

  • Trello: Teams can co-create projects in real-time to avoid miscommunication or deadline delays.
  • Miro: Teams could map projects or long-term goals on a digital canvas that everyone can edit, view and update as needed.
  • Figma: Teams can use an online whiteboard to brainstorm from remote locations and design graphics within the same program.
  • Discord: Teams could create private servers on the free website to quickly share files, participate in videoconferences and keep in touch via mobile devices.

3. Create flexible working hours

People often think that working from home feels like working on vacation. In reality, research shows that 86% of remote employees experience burnout because their professional and personal lives overlap. They don’t get to change environments or leave work at work. Everything happens under their roof.

Flexible working hours are essential when building effective virtual teams. They allow everyone to work when they’re at their best and take breaks as needed. When people need to collaborate on a project, they won’t struggle to reach deadlines because they know how to manage their time freely. Team members will also enjoy a healthier state of mind, leading to more focus and productivity when it’s time to get to work.

Related: Now Is Our Only Chance to Fix Remote Work— Here's How We're Doing It

4. Make use of project management tools

Project management tools keep track of everything a virtual team could need to conquer their deadlines. They also help organize what everyone on a team is currently doing and allow collaboration through continual co-creation.

When someone has to update a template or procedural outline, everyone will receive a notification to get up to speed immediately. Lapses in communication won’t waste anyone’s time. Project management tools keep track of everything a virtual team could need to conquer their deadlines. They also help organize what everyone is currently doing and allow collaboration through continual co-creation. Leaders can consider software such as:

  • Trello: This software allows project managers to keep track of tasks, deadlines, and comments with color tags in a calendar layout. Remote team members can access project phases and individual assignments in one location and get up to speed quickly.
  • Evernote: This cloud-based program stores information regarding projects so everyone can work within shared digital notebooks from computers and mobile devices.
  • SmartDraw: This program helps teams that work primarily with images and visual presentations create the content they need with free templates in shareable documents.

The best project management tools also don’t require training because they seamlessly integrate into a team’s daily needs for immediate use and don’t waste anyone’s time.

5. Establish a virtual team culture

People typically feel a healthy team culture when working together in an office. They bond over showing up in the morning and chatting by the coffee machine or attending events like workspace holiday parties.

In a recent survey, 360Learning found that 35% of remote workers missed working from the office, 57% missed that team-culture feeling that made them feel like they belong, and 73% felt like communication is much better in person than remotely. Although team leaders can’t recreate every in-person activity over video conferences and phone calls, it’s still possible to establish a solid virtual team culture that strengthens the workplace.

Consider hosting more virtual events like trivia or game nights. The right software will make supervisors and managers feel confident planning every necessary detail like which programs will make their events possible.

Include necessary details in digital invitations like log-in information for anyone attending the event. Everyone can participate in fun activities and enjoy a stronger team culture that centers around friendships and shared memories.

6. Consider a meritocratic system

Distance is a constant factor for virtual teams, which leaves room for assumptions or prejudices to grow within teams. When workplace leaders foster a meritocratic system, their remote workers will feel more comfortable within their roles and with each other.

Meritocratic companies reward team members based on their efforts and skills—not where they come from, their titles or identities. It requires constant recognition of everyone’s efforts, which garners respect and happiness from team members. That’s especially important for remote workers who feel disconnected or unseen while working from home.

A meritocratic system benefits employees who work in-person and virtually, but it’s especially important for remote workers. The isolation from physically meeting with colleagues makes people eventually feel disconnected or unseen while working from home. Meritocratic workplace systems frequently recognize everyone for their contributions, which will prevent people from feeling underappreciated in their remote roles.

Related: Why We Don’t Negotiate Salaries at 360Learning

7. Prioritize virtual team training

People might assume virtual training sessions aren’t as valuable as in-person classes, but that’s not true. One recent case study found that after a multinational advisory firm started lunch and learn training sessions, their employees became more productive and confident in their virtual work skills.

Team leaders can recreate similar results by implementing virtual training that adapts to their team’s needs over time. These are a few useful tools to make that possible.

Technology tools

Team members thrive when they’re learning relevant information directly from their peers. Collaborative learning programs that build custom courses keep everyone engaged and on the same page. Platforms like 360Learning prioritize peer-driven, easily updated information as well, so leaders can quickly include relevant content for each training session.

Cross-cultural training

Although virtual team members need technology tools that are easy to use collaboratively, they also need cross-cultural training to succeed remotely.  It’s more challenging to empathize with someone different if they’re only an avatar on a work laptop. Virtual cross-cultural training makes it easier for teams to bond because they’ll know how to effectively communicate and connect, even halfway around the world.

Virtual course programs help people understand their team members' perspectives and embrace workplace diversity without physically being there. More respect for diversity fosters stronger team bonds, leading to effective communication and greater productivity.

Related: A Comprehensive Guide to DEI Training

Communication training

Virtual courses can also teach people how to communicate better with the written word. Remote workers rely more on emails or written communication than people who can stop by someone’s desk to catch up on a project or deadline. Research shows that most people feel that emails are less rich in communication because they’re more direct and lack vocal inflection.

Training sessions with courses dedicated to communicating clearly with the written word will reduce this effect between remote team members. They’ll become more effective at their jobs because everyone knows how to record their thoughts and directions without relying on their tone of voice or body language.

effective virtual teams pyramid principle course
At 360Learning, courses on how to effectively communicate in writing are part of every new joiner’s onboarding.

8. Publicly praise employees

Team leaders can foster every employee’s individual strengths with virtual training sessions and collaborative presentations. Keep a running list of everyone’s accomplishments or which goals they’re working toward. It’s important to mention them by name and accomplishment in virtual team meetings.

Without that effort, employees may feel unappreciated and undervalued. They won’t be as effective at their jobs because they won’t want to continue putting in the same amount of effort.

9. Track goal completion

Virtual learning and education tools track work output for teams and individual employees. This is essential for an effective workplace because leaders can pinpoint which skills need to be sharpened.

Tracking objectives and key results (OKRs) requires a system that tracks company and team goals with software everyone can access for daily to-do lists. Everyone can work together toward the same goals and refine the skills that make them most effective when the data they need remains centralized in a clear system. 

Accessing everything in one tracking program also guides any inter-office communication. Remote employees don’t get to watch their co-workers interact or spend more time on certain tasks than others. Shared data highlights everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, streamlining communication about workplace responsibilities and making everyone more effective at their roles.

10. Plan quarterly reviews

Quarterly reviews help companies in several ways. The latest data shows that regular strength-based feedback on employee performance reduces turnover by 14.9% yearly. Adding new employees frequently makes teams less productive because they lose the communication skills and relationships they formed with previous team members.

Feedback can utilize data retrieved from any communication or training software to make all the presented information relevant. The reviews can also build new goals for each virtual team member and integrate them into their daily software programs. Everyone will know how they’re appreciated and how they can continue to improve, leading to more productive virtual teams.

Build effective virtual teams

When workplace leaders want to learn how to build effective workplace teams, focusing on these strategies and employing the best tools and techniques will make team goals more reachable. Tracking productivity, hosting online training courses and even teaching employees how to communicate more efficiently over written text are excellent tools supervisors can use to make their teams more effective while working from home.