The word ‘virtual’ derived its meaning from ‘virtue’ in early 14th century. However, by late 1950s, it took up a new meaning of ‘temporarily simulated or extended by computer software’. The increasing sale of Personal computers in the 1960s followed by the popularity of cellular phones in 1970s, voicemail in 1980s, and internet & World Wide Web in 1990s gradually paved way for having virtual teams & workplaces.
A virtual team, also known as a geographically dispersed team or a remote team, is a group of people who interact through electronic communications. Members of a virtual team are usually located in different geographical regions. According to Powell, Piccoli and Ives, a virtual team is defined ‘as groups of geographically, organizationally and/or time dispersed workers brought together by information and telecommunication technologies to accomplish one or more organizational tasks’.
Currently, 3.7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) work from home at least half the time. A virtual team is an emerging new-age trend with followers across business sectors. Virtual teams play a key role to meet the increasing competition in the marketplace, decentralization and globalization of work processes and advances in information and communication technologies, organizations demand flexibility and agility in their delivery of products and services.
BENEFITS OF A VIRTUAL TEAM
- Reduced cost: A good percentage of money is saved and this is one of the biggest advantages. The usual cost of rent, utility bill, purchase of equipment, travel and so on invested in setting up a physical office is saved. Thus production cost also decreases with the reduced raw material cost, operational costs and lower wages of the employees in these geographic locations.
- Leverage global talent: A virtual team allows tapping into a wider talent pool. Instead of limiting your recruitment opportunities to those who can make the daily commute or those who are willing to relocate, you can focus on finding the best-qualified candidates without worrying about geographic limitations. Working with an experienced and skilled remote team can mean getting more done in less time. You can hire people for any scope of work, from short-term tasks to full-time contract work.
- Higher retention rates: There are a lot of people who want to work from home. When this benefit is given, they tend to be more loyal and stay for long terms. Working from home offers the flexibility needed for a better work-life balance. They also are more likely to eat healthier and have lower stress levels.
- Increased productivity: A recent Stanford study showed a 13% productivity increase when employees worked remotely. Most people do their best work when they aren’t required to report to a physical office, with the largest gains found in workers who had the longest commute. If you eliminate a 30-minute drive to work, you’ve just given that worker 1 hour of free time that they didn’t have before. Team members working together across various time zones are more likely to achieve success if they’re able to collaborate from home.
- Operation of a 24-hour cycle: With a global team, one can operate a business on a 24-hour schedule with shifts in different countries. This will help speed up implementation and time for marketing.
HOW TO MANAGE A VIRTUAL TEAM.
- Define work systems: All new leaders need to align their team on goals, roles and responsibilities early. With virtual teams, however, coordination is inherently more of a challenge because people are not co-located. Therefore, it is important to focus more attention on the details of task design and the processes that will be used to complete them. Simplify the work to the greatest extent possible, ideally so tasks are assigned to sub-groups of two or three team members. And make sure that there is clarity about the work process, with specifics about who does what and when. Then periodically do “after-action reviews” to evaluate how things are going and identify process adjustments and training needs.
- Organize the team together physically: A face-to-face meeting should be organized where possible. This time should be used to help team members get to know each other better, personally and professionally, as well to create a shared vision and a set of guiding principles for how the team will work. Schedule the in-person meeting early on, and reconnect regularly (semi-annually or annually) if possible.
- Leverage the best communication technologies: The best technology does not necessarily mean the latest or the most expensive. It should be one that gets the team connected and does not waste time making elements of the collaboration suite work. Multiple communication tools should also be set up.
- Create a professional work environment: Professional attire and a distraction-free work environment are part of any corporate culture. Additionally, setting professional standards contributes to being efficient and puts people in the right mindset.
- Schedule regular meetings: Scheduling briefings at the same time on the same weekday contributes to creating a routine. Routines provide the team with something they are used to and familiar with. That in return puts the team at ease and reduces stress. Video calls are one of the best ways to maximize efficiency because they recreate the routine office feeling remote teams are missing out on
- Establish a meritocratic system: A process of rewarding and recognizing people based on their skills — stimulates people to work harder and better. Make sure to set up reward systems to keep your team motivated and to better pinpoint the team members that can take on more responsibility.
- Use project management tools: Project management tools can be ideal to keep track of deadlines. They also send alerts and reminders for deadlines and give you a quick daily, weekly or monthly overview of what needs to be done, by who, and when. Things like Google Docs can still be a great addition and the same is valid for time tracking applications.
- Clarify and track commitments: Get team members to commit to define intermediate milestones and track their progress. One useful tool: a “deliverables dashboard” that is visible to all team members on whatever collaborative hub they are using. If you create this, though, take care not to end up practising virtual micro-management. There is a fine line between appropriate tracking of commitments and overbearing (and demotivating) oversight.
Most times, when an organization needs employees, it results in some form of a dilemma on how this can be accomplished. Options like outsourcing arise. Outsourcing is a process where a company passes over the responsibility of planning an activity or project that is or could be done internally to another company. Outsourcing is a practice many companies deploy to get top candidates without getting involved in the process of sourcing and selecting.
There are different types of outsourcing services:
- People outsourcing
- Project outsourcing
- Process outsourcing
SERVICES RENDERED BY VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS
Virtual assistants are self-employed and provide professional administrative, technical or creative assistance to clients remotely from a home office. The role of virtual assistants cannot be over-emphasized, some of the services rendered include:
- Setting up/managing webinars and podcasts
- Forum commenting/monitoring
- Event coordination – venue finding and confirmation/collating attendees and documents/on-site support
- Data mining / online research
- Typing up notes
- Minute taking
- Video creation/editing/uploading
- Marketing – creating sales pages/squeeze pages/pop up email boxes
- Creating/editing/formatting templates and guides
- Writing/editing/formatting reports and presentations
- Social media set up/maintenance/content research/scheduling
- Creating/updating/maintaining databases and CRMs
- Collating business cards into an Excel sheet for uploading to CRMs or address books
- Data entry
- Basic bookkeeping
- Gmail set up, importing and creating labels/filters/folders
- Designing/formatting infographics, logos, banners, social media profile images
- Facebook, Twitter or Google ads – creating, monitoring and analysing
- Chasing outstanding invoices
- Diary/calendar management – scheduling meetings, syncing with devices, adding upcoming Website set up/writing/SEO/editing/scheduling
- Newsletter set up/writing/autoresponders/editing/maintenance/scheduling
- eBook editing/formatting/publishing
- Email management and detox
- Setting up LinkedIn groups
- Photoshop work
- Researching/making travel and accommodation arrangements
- Lifestyle management – personal duties inc buying gifts, dry cleaning, booking restaurants and events, house moving, researching cheaper utility companies, paying bills etc
- Blog set up/writing/SEO/editing/scheduling
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