CREATING A TEAM IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT
by Leezan Omerbell
Our company’s pivot to remote work was mostly seamless when the 2020 pandemic hit. We already implemented digital workplace tools to help manage virtual teams prior to the pandemic, and the leadership team organized efforts in the earlier days of the pandemic which provided a solid foundation to build upon. Therefore, we were ready when the opportunity for growth presented itself.
First we audited our existing tools. We assessed the tools capabilities, dependability, and ease of use. To address gaps in our capabilities, we explored which pre-existing tools could be upgraded and which tools needed to be purchased to help better manage our virtual team environment. For example, we needed a project management (PM) tool; however, not all prospective tools fit our business needs or budget. Through our research, we discovered that a simple upgrade to Microsoft 365 provided the team with SharePoint for internal document sharing and Microsoft TEAMS for communication and collaboration. We also discovered that TEAMS offered a PM-like tool called “Tasks by Planner,” sufficient for tracking and managing workloads. Auditing the current capabilities of your company saves the company money and prevents your team from having to train on a completely new product.
This meeting could have been an e-mail. We have all heard someone say this, type it in a group chat, or share it as a meme. Organizing schedules is no easy task when managing a virtual team. Even when teams are not physically in an office together, you want them to be communicative and collaborative without overburdening employees with too many meetings. How do you do balance this act? We realized our team functions best if we have a Monday staff meeting and a Friday “weekly topics” meeting. The Monday staff meetings focus on the schedule for the week, the scheduled client meeting, outstanding tasks from last week, and due outs needed before the end of the week. The Monday staff meeting begins with the Program Manager sharing his/her schedule, and then each team member provides their own schedule for the week. The Friday “weekly topics” meeting always starts formally but transitions to a more relaxed environment. In the formal portion, we discuss outstanding taskers or issues of interest across teams. To give each team member the opportunity to lead, communicate, and demonstrate organizational skills, a different individual is chosen to facilitate each of the four Friday “weekly topics” meetings for that month. These individuals are responsible for coordinating end of week topics across functional teams and capturing them on appropriate slides.
This word has been used so much lately. You can find the definition for it easily by doing a quick search, but I would add that you, the management, set the tone for the team and ultimately influence the team’s interactions with one another. Common courtesy is important; use “please” and “thank you” often with your team. Understand your team members’ strengths and blind spots. Most of this knowledge will come with time, but having team members provide a biography combining professional accomplishments and interests, hobbies, and fun facts can provide a jump start. Making the bios accessible to the team allows members to better know one another. Use the information in the weekly meetings to get conversations going. You might have more than one team member who is very good at photography. Start a reading list of books your team members have enjoyed reading. Start a cooking club where they share their favorite recipes. Get to know your team. Be creative and have fun. Managing virtual teams comes with its own set of unique circumstances, but with the right preparation and flexibility in approach, it can add a whole new set of tools to your management arsenal.
Be Available: This is easy enough, right? Be available for your team if they have questions.
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