Virtual teams need a designated leader to be their advocate to upper management. This person ensures that virtual personnel are properly supported by in-house staff and that their work is done on schedule. Virtual team members are not immune to the company's routine administrative details, such as time sheet reporting, expense submission, absence requests, and materials request forms.
An important trait in the virtual team leader is trust. A lack of trust between the virtual workers and their supervisor will limit candid communications and hinder productivity. Another important trait is patience. Someone may be trying very hard but not achieving the desired result. Patience together with trust will help to identify and overcome obstacles.
One way to build trust is to properly regulate workflow. Virtual workers should be given work that results in a verifiable product (e.g., data records entered, programs written, documentation written.) Evaluation of virtual workers must center on these results. To simplify work tracking, try to break deliverable results into chunks of one week or less. This way, the verifiable results validate the time card submitted.
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There is no substitute for face-to-face relationship building. Ideally, this is accomplished before problems arise. Some companies bring their virtual team members into the main office periodically to meet face to face and address common issues. This helps build team cohesion. Later, when conversing on the telephone, you can "imagine" the person to whom you are speaking.
The team's administrative assistant addresses routine issues. For example, the timekeeping system will also have exceptions that must be resolved (such as how to code jury duty ). Other areas of assistance include expense reports, purchase orders, and the odd question about company benefits.
The team administrative assistant also maintains contact information for each team member, including telephone numbers (land line and cell), e-mail address, and instant message service ID). Another important piece of information is the worker's established working hours. During this time, workers must be available for contact by team members.
The administrative assistant assists the virtual team by chasing down people who do not return calls. Every company has some key employee who either intentionally or inadvertently never seems to answer his or her telephone or e-mail. This person also rarely returns messages. The only way to communicate is in person. Without someone on-site who can visit these reluctant people, the virtual team will slowly grind to a halt.
When you need technology the most, it gives you the biggest problems. Virtual teams need access to technical support people who know all about their situations. Someone must be available to address workstation, telecommunications, and network issues. This is normally addressed by the company's IT Help Desk, but depending on the uniqueness of the technologies used, it may be a dedicated person.
A virtual team member cannot complete his or her work without prompt communications. If equipment breaks, it must be repaired promptly. The virtual team manager must have an equipment plan. If the company owns the equipment, keep a spare cell phone and a PC loaded with software and ready for immediate shipment. In a crisis, it can be sent by overnight delivery to exchange for a broken unit. Otherwise, the worker sits and waits while time drags on. If virtual team members provide their own equipment, then they should arrange in advance for local hardware repair.
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