You have dozens of employees reporting to you, but if you’re like many modern-day managers, you’ve never met all of them in person.
Working in virtual teams has become the “new normal” of business life today. At first glance, managing a virtual team doesn’t seem very different from leading one in person, but there are some definite distinctions.
The most obvious is the fact you can’t see your team, so you lack some of the visual cues you take for granted when meeting face to face. In addition, it can be more difficult to hold virtual employees accountable, especially if they feel disconnected from the rest of the workforce. With the right technology, however, you can easily stay in contact with your entire team and make sure everyone achieves the objectives.
Besides a good webcam and a quality headset, here are five essential tools every virtual leader needs.
Collaborative Meeting Software
Traditional conference lines make it difficult to manage a meeting because you can’t see who’s on the call or control who’s talking. There are no visual cues, so people tend to talk over each other.
A collaborative meeting software like WebEx, GoToMeeting or Adobe Connect has a video component that allows you to see others on your team. These programs also allow you to use a hand icon to manage the conversation.
Telepresence technology takes this a step further, with more sophisticated programs to make you feel like you’re meeting in person. These programs include Cisco’s TelePresence series and Polycom high-definition conferencing.
Instant Messaging Tools
Sometimes you just want to have a discussion without setting up a meeting, or you need to get someone’s attention right away. Instant messaging tools like Google Hangouts, Google Talk, Microsoft Lync (soon to become Skype for Business) and Cisco Jabber allow you to check in with team members in a way that’s less formal, like tapping a co-worker on the shoulder.
These programs aren’t just good for project planning and brainstorming. They’re also a great way to build relationships. You can use them for casual conversations, questions and even parties.
Project Management Software
When you don’t see your employees every day, it’s easier to lose sight of what they’re doing and how much time they’re spending on a particular project. If something is holding up the process, you need to determine where the task has stalled and how to address it.
That’s why it’s essential to use project management software. This makes each project visible to the entire team so they understand where their jobs fit into the big picture. It also allows team members to easily communicate the next step, whether it’s providing data or passing along a document for review. They can share files, assign tasks and check due dates.
Time Tracking Software
Programs like TimeFox from FunctionFox, Timesheet and Kronos allow you to keep track of your team’s hours, which is especially helpful if you work with multiple clients and you’re trying to determine how much time you’re investing in each one.
These tools improve accountability as well as decision-making.
Document Storage and File Sharing Tools
When you’re managing a virtual workforce, you need to store files securely, in a place where employees can access them anytime, anywhere.
Additionally, you need to be able to share documents and edit them in real-time. Dropbox, GoogleDrive and SharePoint are all good tools for this. GoogleDocs and Google Slides (within Google Drive) allow you to easily edit documents and track revisions.
These tools are only as effective as the manager who uses them, so it’s important for virtual leaders to use them alongside behaviors like active listening and coaching.
Even the best technology may not entirely replace face-to-face meetings for your team, but it can go a long way to connect your employees, enable them to be more productive and reduce travel time and cost.
OnPoint Consulting offers practical solutions for virtual leadership and virtual team building, which can go a long way to bridge the gaps of distance and differing time zones.
Want to learn more about how to use training to develop more successful virtual leaders and teams?
Watch our latest webinar, where Wolverine Worldwide's director of learning and organizational development will discuss how she implemented training initiatives that empowered her virtual teams to excel.