Zoe Amar: Four tips for managing virtual teams

Remote working is growing in popularity: here’s how third sector organisations can use technology to introduce it to their workplaces

Zoe Amar

How do you get to work each morning? Do you jump on a train, or simply grab your laptop and head to your kitchen table or a local café?

If you’re not working remotely, the chances are you soon will be. A BBC survey carried out last year revealed that there had been a 74 per cent increase in the number of people working remotely over the previous decade, with the Office for National Statistics predicting that half of the UK workforce will be working remotely this year.

But how do you manage teams in different locations, making sure everyone is motivated and productive?

I spoke to leaders from a range of non-profits who are all running virtual teams, or even entire organisations of remote workers. They shared the ingredients that help them manage their teams successfully.

Trust is key

If you ask your remote colleagues to work on a project, you don’t have the advantage of seeing how things are progressing face to face, which makes it vital to hire people who are motivated.

But as a manager you also need to assume they are getting on with the job, which can be challenging if you like to be in control. Dan Reynolds, founder of the consultancy Impactasaurus, advises that charity managers should “judge teams by their outputs and try to avoid the 'bums in seat' mentality that is rife in office culture”.

For virtual teams to thrive, managers need to back their own decisions on hiring people and trust them to do the job well.

Get the right tools

Thanks to our increasingly digitised lifestyles it’s easier than ever to work remotely, but the arrangement will fall apart without the right tech.

Rebecca Clear, head of media relations at WWF International, manages team members who work in different timezones, and says: “Reliable technology is vital: we use Zoom, Google and other tools to help us.”

It’s also a good idea to actively involve your team in sourcing, testing and adopting new tools, and speak to other virtual team managers to find out what they are using.

Be inclusive

Working away from an office can be isolating for some team members. Dialling into a call while everyone else is in the same location can make even the most resilient colleague feel like a spare wheel.

One way to crack this is for everyone on the team to operate like a virtual team member, even if they’re in the office. Laura Dawson, director of data and technology services at the London School of Economics, says of her team meetings: “If one is on the phone, we are all on the phone, even if four of us are in the same building. It is very hard for people on the phone if four people are laughing away.”

The Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology is another organisation that embraces remote meetings if a team member is not able to visit the office, and offers tips on the right technologies to help everyone feel present.

Establish regular check-ins

One of the hardest things about virtual teams is bringing everyone together when they have different working patterns. Dan Sutch, director at CAST, says his team manages this by holding a daily online meeting.

“Every morning before 10am everyone will note down what they achieved yesterday, what they're working on today and any blockers facing them,” he says.

“We do this on Slack asynchronously to allow flexibility, but also to ensure the whole team knows what else is going on and, in particular, how they might help to unblock someone else.”

Running a virtual team might not be a way of life for everyone in the charity sector yet, but it soon could be. With the right tech and ways of working in place, your team can be productive and successful wherever they are. And think of the talent we could all recruit if location was no object.

Zoe Amar is the founder of the digital and marketing consultancy Zoe Amar Digital @zoeamar

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