Virtual teams are separated by time, space and organizational boundaries. Interaction and collaboration is mainly enabled through electronic communication, and meeting up physically only happens on rare occasions. Virtual teams can involve business projects or divisions, and should not be mixed up with virtual networks, as the former distinguish itself by working around three principles: a common goal, a size limitation, and shared responsibility. Working in virtual teams is a great way to involve the best people, no matter where in the world they’re located. It makes for knowledge sharing across boundaries, and saves a lot of money on housing and travels. If managed right, virtual teams will breed a more efficient workflow.
However, for a virtual team to succeed, the required skills are not only “different from those needed for running co-located teams; they are often the exact opposite”, as Erin Meyer, Affiliate Professor in the Organizational Behavior Department at INSEAD, writes. The recent scientific research she presents gives us examples of this. In short, Meyer argues that virtual teams need clear leadership free from ambiguity, and formalized roles and responsibilities, since highly centralized coordination usually works best. Virtual teams also require a flexible approach towards decision-making, because of the team members’ diverse backgrounds of business cultures. The teams need reliability, i.e. consistent deliveries, in order to establish trust, since there’s no “meeting by the coffee machine” instinct to follow. Lastly, virtual teams need new communicative strategies. For instance, less physical equals less influential, which means that moving around and taking good use of body language actually improves the sound of one’s voice, and therefore one’s degree of persuasiveness.
The thing is that with a global economy and an interconnected world, virtual teams are nothing synthetic. I’m working in a virtual team myself, where half of us are located in San Francisco, and the other half is in Stockholm. This enables an almost 24/7 presence in two of the world’s major tech scenes, and makes sure that Sinch has the best competence rather than the same. Back in a survey from 2012, almost one-half of organizations were already using virtual teams, and by 2018, 50% of all collaboration and communication will be driven by mobile apps. Think of how many teams nowadays are operating through endless threads of emails and the occasional Skype sessions – they’re practically ubiquitous. What’s not, is how to make them efficient.
Charts borrowed from SHRM Survey Findings: Virtual Teams
New structures must follow new technologies: running or being a part of a virtual team is about having an up-to-date approach on management strategy, as well as the right tools to realize it. Therefore, here’s the must have SaaS tools for every virtual business to rule the Cosmos.
Because communication is more or less inflicted in every managerial subcategory, it makes the very foundation of virtual team success. To rule the entire communication Cosmos, break it down and use the right tools to master each capital.
With physical interaction crossed of the list, finding substitutes for real-time communication becomes crucial. Using the plain old telephone service (POTS) is of course a solution. However, #1 it’s pricy (especially if the call frequency is high and the calls are long-distance), and #2 it’s restricted to only include voice. A VoIP service provider instead lets you make free calls over the Internet, and enables your team to make video and conference calls in addition, only using a small amount of your data plan.
Set up affordable, reliable and media-rich communication for your own team, or provide your user base with it, by simply adding a Voice SDK: with a couple of lines of code you can implement app-to-app, app-to-phone, phone-to-phone and conference calling in a short period of time…
“You can expect Tango to have the utmost quality… Account creation is simple and navigating around the app feels very natural.” Award Winning Tango is one of the more social VoIP services, providing free, high quality voice and video calls on 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi, to mobiles and landlines. Launched in september 2010, Tango got over a million downloads within 10 days. Today, the service has more than 300M users worldwide. Bragging rights: Tango is using Sinch’s app-to-phone calling. Eric Setton, Tango’s Co-Founder and CTO, says this:
“We tested the market thoroughly, and we ultimately chose Sinch because of their high quality product, ability to scale, and excellent level of customer service.”
Another vital part of your business telephony setup is structuring and securing your phonebook by keeping track of your calls and callers. The Swedish unicorn Truecaller provides a seamless phonebook experience by letting you search for contact information, identify incoming calls through live caller ID, and block calls you don’t want to receive. In addition, the service “magically” provides you with relevant information about unknown numbers, and Truemessenger identifies all SMS senders, and blocks spam. Bragging rights: Truecaller is using Sinch’s Flash Call technology. Alan Mamedi, Truecaller’s founder and CEO, says this:
“Sinch has created a service that has been very helpful to our company. It’s easy to integrate, easy for our users, and provides great results.”
As professor Meyer points out, ambiguity is banned and structure is key. Every virtual team needs a “free, flexible, and visual way to organize anything with anyone”. Trello does that. Being a to-do list fetishist myself, working with Trello boards really makes it easier to organize tasks, by separating projects that are still in the idea phase from the completed ones. Trello can be used for free or as an enterprise edition, which gives you better user control and security.
Another organizational SaaS that we (together with big ballers like Uber, Pinterest, and Airbnb) are using is Asana. Challenging email services, Asana rests on the idea of only sending automatic status updates that are relevant for each team member, and keeping conversations within tasks, instead of having them “scattered across email”. For very specific projects and assignments, this might be just the right tool for your virtual team. Given that the team members stick with deadlines, tools like Trello and Asana also builds up trust (one of Meyer’s key principles), by underlining the consistency in deliveries.
Actually, whether consisting of a virtual or a geographically co-located team, enterprise is way past paper copies. Sharing documents internally calls for a reliable SaaS, with high security and lots of space. At Sinch, we use DropBox! Just as for the other 100k users, DropBox for Business lets us sync, share, co-author and secure our work in the best way possible. Among many great features, DropBox allows two-factor authentication (which I’m all for).
Another perspective on sharing, in fact the total opposite of DropBox, is getting stuff out there. It’s no news that companies are investing more in online presence, but a common mistake that many businesses make is underestimating the workload of managing social media accounts, as well as the importance of creating a content strategy and a good flow. CoSchedule is a great tool that helps you with this, alongside with making the distribution process more efficient. CoSchedule is an editorial calendar that me and my team are using to plan our content. By creating and managing several posts simultaneously, the service saves us lots of time and keeps the calendar stacked.
Needless to say, you need a good email service. The question is, which one’s the best? At Sinch, we use Outlook. With their traditional interface, their focus on keeping the inbox neat, an optimization for mobile use and Windows 8, a good connection to social media, and many clever features, Outlook is the clear winner of this category.
Tracking your progress (or pitfalls) is one of the most important areas of keeping a business floating, most of you already know this. When working virtual, fast access to intelligence and metrics that everyone in the team can understand is very helpful.
Like Geckoboard says, data matters. With this SaaS, you get to collect your top KPIs in one place, present them with simple and attractive visuals, and share them to your team. You just choose your metrics and pull in your data – there! A real-time dashboard for a great overview of your business.
SEMrush can help you with keyword research, competitor research, site audit, and key an eye on the market. The service is adaptive, and gives you great insights through precious emails that can be sent to everyone in your team.
Lastly, even though the management should be formal, there’s always room for some leisure time to boost the company culture and bridge conflicting ones. As Sebastian Reiche, Professor of Managing People in Organizations, advise us in his tip #5: Be creative with team bonding.
Slack is simply awesome for instant messaging. Supporting a more informal and media-rich type of interaction, Slack is great for communicating with teams of all sizes. Slack is “a strange beast“, but people are passionate about this enterprise communication app. Connect fast, individually or in groups, and get to know each other’s “off duty” personalities. At Sinch, Slack hangouts means a guaranteed laugh.
While speaking of getting to know each other, sharing personal music playlists, or building communal ones, is definitely something for the team to connect through. Plus, melodious sounds releases dopamine, and music helps concentration, according to Dr Amit Sood, physician in integrative medicine. So there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t play a couple of nice tracks now and again. Spotify is a big deal now, and despite the ongoing battle of music streaming services, the Swedish giant is still our obvious choice for those certain moments.
If you want a global talent pool, cost-effectiveness, enhanced internal collaboration and competitiveness – follow the trend and go virtual. Or if you already have, make sure you’re doing it in the best way possible! Take some time to pick and pay for the best SaaS tools out there, it can be very profitable for your business in the long-run. And once you’ve learned how to rule the Cosmos, feel free to extend the list.
The unprecedented attacks on Paris on November 13, 2015, saw a rise in activity on Facebook, motivating the leading social network to turn on Safety Check, a feature previously reserved for natural disasters. Introduced in October 2014, and borne out… read more
You might have read WebRTC in 2015 and why Apple will never join the party from our Developer Evangelist Chief, Christian, published on ProgrammableWeb a few weeks back. Christian and I decided to reach out to the WebRTC community, and… read more
Like most times during my writing process, first thing is opening a new Google docs sheet, where I create a draft for the next interesting topic to feed to the blog. Then, I choose among technologies as carefully as the… read more
What’s a virtual team? Virtual teams are separated by time, space and organizational boundaries. Interaction and collaboration is mainly enabled through electronic communication, and meeting up physically only happens on rare occasions. Virtual teams can involve business projects or divisions,… read more