Topic: Making Virtual Teams Work
It’s no secret: Remote work is becoming a lot more common. In fact, 70% of professionals around the world are working remotely at least one day each week, according to a recent study. And some are even working remotely full time.
In the light of the ongoing pandemic, SME’s must adapt to telecommuting and managing virtual teams to keep business operations going. Leaders are forced to learn new skills to effectively manage their people and meetings remotely.
While virtual teamwork has its pros, it can also be challenging. Moreover, there could be difficulties arising when dealing with conflict within remote teams. And it is also much more difficult to develop and maintain trust while working virtually. The experience is often worsened by technological glitches on power, calls, connectivity issues, and differing team members’ expectations about the comfort and use of technology.
In this enthralling interview session, Ebele Chukwujama, the MD/CEO of Poise Nigeria Limited, shares how the pandemic is putting an enormous strain on SME’s and the new challenge that poses for their managers. She shares how supervisors can offer much-needed consistency and leadership for their virtual teams. She also outlines specific ways to help you manage your virtual teams successfully.
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What is the most encouraging thing that you have seen in the Nigerian SME community, with respect to its response to many disruptions that the economy has witnessed this year?
It’s been a struggle trying to remain optimistic throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Between adjusting to new routines and facing so much uncertainty, the crisis has definitely taken a toll on us emotionally, mentally and physically. And it’s probably going to be this way until the foreseeable future.
But we have seen a rise of resilient entrepreneurs, that’s not exactly a bad thing. Times of crisis, after all, drive creativity and innovation.
Also, Acceleration of digital, tech, and analytics have been obvious. Companies have made the shift to digital. We see companies enhancing and expanding their digital channels and this is very encouraging.
We now have virtual medic care, virtual learning, entertainment shows are going digital, religious organizations are reaching more and more people through digital platforms and so on.
Recently we made a purchase of a bag from Instagram. In the course of interactions with the seller, he said that he left a paid employment during the pandemic to start making bags. With no physical office, very little academic background, he is able to serve a large number of customers from his Instagram handle. So, the disruption is driving needed innovations and creativity in our society today.
Virtual teams have become the new normal. How can businesses, especially SMEs and startups, set up virtual teams that work?
If the current pandemic we are facing has taught us anything, it’s that people can work together just as well from the safety of their homes.
If you’re running a business of any size and looking to lead, build, and maintain a successful virtual team,
you need to know how to effectively communicate with your employees and help virtual teammates communicate with each other by establishing the right policies and processes.
You’ll need to know how to successfully lead your virtual team, and ultimately how to measure the success of your business.
You’ll need to know the various tools to adopt and how to use them.
What are some of the benefits of having a virtual team, in this increasingly digitalized economy?
There are a lot of benefits of virtual teams to SME’s.
From eliminating the need to pay for an office space, the opportunity for team members to have more flexibility in their lives, an expanded creative and innovative pool of ideas, and the ability to create a new “office” culture. All these benefits and more can lead to improved productivity and performance.
For many employees, the flexibility of a remote role is enough to keep them on board for the long haul. The ability to work on your own schedule every day is a huge advantage of virtual teams that’s rarely afforded to in-office employees.
One of the biggest benefits of having a virtual team is the expanded employee pool you can choose from. Regardless of location, top talent is out there, waiting for the right opportunity. As a business owner, you know it’s quite the feat when you find people that have the right experience, skills and attitude for your business.
Keeping virtual teams as focused and productive as those working from the office has always been a challenge for many organizations. Can you walk us through how can entrepreneurs, especially small business owners, go about this?
From my experience leading a team virtual team, I will share with you some of the biggest challenges to managing a virtual team and accompanying solutions that can help.
– Lack of communication and support. I will encourage you to do More relationship-building and inclusivity. Set clear expectations for communication as well as initiation and response among your team members. Be in touch with and support your people, whether it’s via email, phone, or chat, and keep it consistent.
– Scheduling challenges. Working from various locations, people tend to forget appointments. Virtual meetings, calls, deadlines—they all need to be scheduled.
– Tracking work and time. You don’t really know how your virtual team are spending their time, so give them tools to help them track their productivity.
Another way to track work is to set up daily or weekly get-togethers stand-ups. So, employees can talk about what’s on the docket, due dates, and responsibilities. Accountability and meeting expectations matter, so creating touchpoints and check-ins is crucial for keeping the work flowing.
– Power and Internet Services
SME’s are not immune from the challenges of inadequate or epileptic power supply which is one of the problems faced working virtually. Next is reliable and cost-effective internet access for all remote workers could also be challenging in our environment. Finding cost effective power and data solutions is critical for SME’s setting up virtual teams.
In addition to that, are there tools or apps that can help entrepreneurs measure the productivity of their virtual staff?
With so many different communications, collaboration, performance tracking tools at your disposal, it’s important to use quality, reliable, effective virtual meeting platforms that can help make your business run that much more smoothly.
The more in-sync your team is, the smoother your business will run.
An excellent video conference tool is a must for conducting virtual meetings among remote workers. Some of the great tools for virtual teams to connect over is Zoom, Microsoft teams, Google Meet, or Google Hangouts.
A chat tool for a virtual team to help continue their relationship building. Slack and Skype are extremely helpful for virtual knowledge sharing.
A virtual meeting scheduling app (such as Google Calendar) for remote team members to stay updated on each other’s schedules.
Document/Resources accessibility is a massive part of making remote work feasible and to share information. Services to share documents are provided by many, but the more popular ones seem to be Google Drive and Dropbox.
Task Management platforms. This is an extremely important solution particularly for virtual teams as it ensures that all work is properly scheduled and tracked. It is also a great platform for providing feedback. Some great choices include Trello or Microsoft Planner.
Business applications such as Zoho-bigin Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform.
Do you think that remote working and virtual teams are here to stay?
There is no denying that remote working and virtual work is here to stay. So now is the time to get really good at it.
In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it has become evident that the concept of remote work is something we have to explore on a global scale. Specifically, to brace ourselves for an innovation-driven future.
Besides obvious advantages, such as lower overhead expenses, companies that promote remote work can create teams with required skills despite the geographical location of the team members. This improves the company’s ability to produce a higher quality service or product for the intended customer.
What is your last piece of advice for business owners listening out there?
Abrupt changes are prone to having teething problems, and a shift from in-office to virtual teams is no exception. However, there are plenty of ways that you can make the challenges of managing virtual teams not seem as difficult!
You’ll need to Build capacity where it is needed, use technology where it is required and Form partnerships / collaborations where necessary and then just Breathe.
This interview was produced by InspirationFM 92.3 for Fidelity Bank SME Show.
To listen to the program on Soundcloud, please click this link HERE