1) What are the deliverables and when are they due?
One of the biggest challenges for a virtual workforce is how hard it can be to actually create something. For teams that rely heavily on technology and computers, there’s constantly something vying for our attention (email, Twitter, Facebook, new tools and gadgets, etc.); simply staying focused on the task in front of us for more than five minutes is hard enough, let alone actually completing it.
How to fix it: It’s important to clearly understand what you’re trying to create and when it’s due.
2) Is everyone on the same page?
It’s surprising to see how often my team and I are on completely different pages with our understanding of goals and tasks for a given project, even with seemingly clear instructions to start.
How to fix it: Get everyone on your team in the habit of always using one common phrase, “Repeat it back to me.” Or at the very least, wrap each communication with a quick rundown of the highlights, especially next actions.
3) How and when do we communicate?
Much of the problem around a distributed workforce is a direct result of poor, inconsistent or even non-existent communication. How often and through what medium are you and your team expected to communicate with each other, and if you are the leader of that team, are you regularly monitoring what tasks have been completed and assigning new ones?
How to fix it: Establish clear expectations for the frequency and method of communication. Set one clear channel for communication and stick with it.
4) Is there trust and integrity throughout the team?
In a virtual environment, where you can’t just “pop in” to check on other members of your team, it can be hard to trust handing off important tasks and projects to others, which is why it’s so important to regularly evaluate whether or not team members are consistently meeting their responsibilities and commitments.
How to fix it: Schedule regular performance evaluations to monitor the team’s overall ability to meet deadlines and deliverables, and keep an eye out for weak links within the organization who consistently fail to meet expectations and honor commitments to members of the team.
5) Is everyone working to improve communication, feedback and organization?
We all have different ways of working. One person on your team may prefer an itemized task list in an online project management application, while another may prefer pen, paper, and a to-do list, but no matter the individual preferences, at the end of the day, everyone must come together to create a desired outcome. If you’re not succeeding at that, someone has to be responsible for fixing it. You may work individually to improve your own personal productivity and effectiveness, but as part of a distributed team, it’s important that your team share the responsibility for constantly adjusting and improving communications, feedback and organization.
How to fix it: Regularly check in with the individual members of your team to get their opinions about where communications, productivity, organization and effectiveness are lagging, and then get their ideas for improving it.
6) Is time allotted for innovation?
Periodically cleaning off our desks is something most of us take for granted, but it’s necessary working time, nonetheless. The same “housekeeping” processes should exist for the tools and systems within our team. There should be time for team members to explore possibilities for improving the overall setup. Just as rearranging and modifying our physical spaces can improve effectiveness and performance, so can tweaking and adjusting our virtual space.
How to fix it: Every other week or even once a month, designate a “clean up day,” where team members spend time finding creative solutions for regular problems and glitches in your current system, as well as cleaning up those already in place. Even something as simple as cleaning up files and inboxes can go a long way toward improving productivity and order.
Managing any team is not easy, and a virtual team adds additional challenges into the mix, which is why you should always be asking the questions and then making adjustments to maintain and improve overall performance.
What steps do you regularly take to improve the effectiveness of your remote team?