While COVID-19 has created a more remote workforce, what action do managers need to take action to ensure their virtual team is working effectively?

A global pandemic, coupled with emerging technologies that are breaking down the barriers of communication, has meant that the traditional office employee working 9-5 is slowly becoming a thing of the past. While the diversity this brings can add depth and differing paradigms, these virtual teams are not without their drawbacks.

Any successful team is based on a foundation of unity, positive reinforcement, cohesion and collaboration – all these elements are born from time and teamwork. The single greatest issue that affects virtual teams is the lack of centrality. It is therefore essential that you make up for the lack of physical closeness of your virtual team with an additional focus on nurturing each member.

If you can, try to have all managers meet their team face to face at least once. If this is not plausible, the good news is that current and emerging technologies are making it easier to connect than ever before. Emails may get the job done, but they are not the only tool in the technological arsenal of the remote worker.

Google offers a range of tools designed to optimise remote interaction, from Google Hangouts, real time chat that also offers screen sharing and video conferencing, to Google Drive, a file storage platform that offers the creation of documents, presentations and spreadsheets that can be edited by multiple users at one time.

Cultivate team diversity

The globalised nature of virtual teams also means you will often be dealing with a wide range of cultures with varying customs, social cues and business styles. While multiculturalism affords virtual teams with deep, varied and differing ideas, it can often be easy to forget that the gestures, phrases and actions that are second nature to one culture may be interpreted in a totally different way by another. Taking the time to educate yourself on the cultures that make up your workplace can make a huge difference in how you are perceived by your colleagues.

Making time zones no barrier

Those working in isolation can occasionally suffer from the lack of social connection, which can be compounded by time zone differences meaning some colleagues may be going to sleep when others are just waking up. Time zones must always be taken into consideration when scheduling catch ups, meetings and deadlines. Despite the frustration time zone clashes can warrant, it is still imperative to maintain a virtual working environment where team members feel free to contact their manager and colleagues at any time if they have an issue or concern. Empowering teams to raise issues, suggest alternatives and workshop ideas will maximise the benefits of virtual teams.

Ultimately the key to bolstering your virtual team lies in keeping communication varied, frequent and meaningful in order to foster a trusting relationship amongst team members. Through support, recognising achievements and celebrating wins – just as you would if the team were working in the same office as you.

Tackle security risks

When you have a team working outside of the traditional office setup, chances are they will be using their own devices to get their work done. Having workers provide their own devices may save initial setup costs for you and afford your team more flexibility in their movements, but it is not without its dangers. Chief of these is security, both in terms of the protection of your intellectual property and data, the threat of malware and viruses to personal devices and compliance with the law.

The first line of defence against security breaches should be a comprehensive bring your own device (BYOD) policy, which may cover things such as password strength, software licensing, mandatory anti-virus software on all devices and remote wiping of lost devices. An effective BYOD policy should be vigorous to minimise risk and involve all levels of management.

Compliance and regulatory considerations

Virtual teams provide organisations with access to the top talent irrespective of location, but their malleable nature can also expose a business to regional legal and compliance issues. BYOD policies, for example, must also be complaint with law.

The unique nature of contract professionals working in virtual teams across geographic borders means organisations may need to worry about a myriad of other issues such as OH&S, local legislation and insurance. When in doubt, seek professional advice from a specialist such as a Contractor Management Organisation regarding any concerns to avoid potential liability.

In the current environment virtual teams are unquestionably the way of the future. Organisations wanting access to the best talent are no longer restricted by location. As borders blur and emerging technologies continue their exponential rise, the use of virtual teams is only expected to increase. Avoid the social, security and professional risks that can befall a non-traditional team in order to reap the benefits of diversity, flexibility and a superior business outcome.