This week on the blog, RFA UK Managing Director George Ralph shares his CTO tips for managing a virtual team.
A virtual team is a group of individuals who work across time, space and organisational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology.
With the number of virtual teams increasing, either in part, or in entirety (The Workforce Survey 2020 claimed that 83% respondents planned to increase the use of consultants and intermittent employees over the next 3 years), the CTO who has to manage a virtual IT team needs a whole host of additional tools and mechanisms in place to ensure they can meet the unique set of challenges that are presented by remote teams whose members sometimes live in different time zones and rarely meet face to face.
The main driver for creating a virtual team, an IT team in particular, is the ability to tap into a larger pool of skilled resource, usually highly specialised, sought after resource. This is particularly important in the alternative investment sector, where the skills gap is widening. A virtual team enables firms to widen the net, recruiting nationally, or internationally, as required.
Research suggests that as well as being able to recruit from a larger pool of expertise, employees are attracted by the flexible working arrangements that a virtual team offers. Thefutureofwork.net suggest that 72% of US employees would choose a role with flexible working arrangements over another job.
Firms can benefit from the flexibility offered by a virtual team, particularly if contractors or consultants are used. On-boarding is easier and hours can increase as workloads go up, and vice versa. In these cases, hourly or daily rates can bring cost savings against a traditional full time, permanent employment contract and the increased agility can bring significant competitive advantages.
It’s not all plain sailing however, and there are many issues associated with virtual teams that must be addressed if the full benefits are to be realised. IT-Cortex.com found that 57% of projects fail because of a breakdown in communications and Softwareadvice.com identified that 38% of virtual teams find communication their biggest issue and 33% lack the right technology.
Having been employed many times as a Virtual IT Director, managing geographically disparate, virtual teams, I’ve got a number of top tips for CTOs to maintain a highly productive, highly motivated team;
Communicate, communicate and communicate some more. Use multiple communication tools, including video conferencing, one to one phone and email communication, conference calls and instant messaging. If you can see each other, you are more likely to communicate clearly and make yourself understood. Collaboration and project management tools which allow one to many interaction so that the whole team can access information easily, will improve team working. At RFA we have continual video conferencing between New York and London, so that the two technical teams can see each other at all times, bringing a greater sense of teamwork.
Overlapping working hours, even for internationally disparate teams, will ensure that there are at least a few hours each day when real time collaboration and conversations can happen.
Set clear objectives, expectations and deliverables so that each team member understands what is required of them as an individual, but also as a team. By clearly setting out the objectives, team members can see where they fit in to the whole. Team deliverables allow everyone to monitor their own progress against that of the team.
Start as you mean to go on, and set professional standards for the team to adhere to, even whilst working remotely. By working professionally and setting clear work schedules, you can ensure that the company culture is maintained.
Try and create social interaction and foster interpersonal relationships between team members. In addition to productivity tools, implement social collaboration tools which give team members a sense of community outside of the working day. Meet up in person, even if it’s just a couple of times a year.
Most of all, be a clear, strong leader who adapts traditional management techniques to suit the new order.