I have been working with virtual teams for more than three years and keep building them up. Companies are often still organized in the classic way and start with the first virtual teams due to multiple locations and a shortage of skilled workers. This makes sense because, in addition to location advantages (customers, resources), skilled workers can also be employed in each region.

In this article I would like to show my experiences, which are important for setting up such virtual teams and what exactly the specific differences to local teams are.

Virtual teams mean that you have to work with tools. Tools like the phone, email, and video conferencing. Whatever it is, it is a different type of work and we are still in the process of fully understanding it.

Member of the executive board of an IT service provider in Round table

Represent work in a meaningful way, virtually

Most companies are still trying out virtual work. But basically, in my opinion, you can do part of the work virtually in any company.

Managing director of an IT service provider in Round table

This is exactly the key message. The first step is to see what kind of work is actually suitable for a virtual team. I think that software development and knowledge-based work in particular are better suited than tasks from production.

The task now is to visualize this work and make it virtually visible. I notice that e.g. the organization of the company party is more subconscious and it is very difficult to put together a checklist at all. Try it on a project of your choice.

In the following I show an example based on the organization of a company party. The following packages can, for example, be mapped as tasks in software. I have to do this by a website for inspiration.

  • Choose occasion
  • Set the date and time
  • Choose a location and book
  • Choose motto
  • set goals
  • Determine funding and budget
  • Create a guest list and invite guests
  • Choose and book an artist
  • Choose and book party service or catering
  • Organize decoration and styling
  • Organize construction and cleaning
  • Create and send out invitations
  • Compile the framework program / sequence program
  • Organize technical planning (sound, light, stage, video)
  • Select and organize company party marketing (give-aways)
  • Prepare space regulations

With the help of such an abstraction, a virtual team could now work through this list and a manager would only have to ensure that tasks are completed in the right order at the right time.

Breaking tasks into small packages is important for virtual work

Reading tip: Requirements for work 4.0

Processes and tools

Now it is important to establish meaningful technology for collaboration. But I don’t want to go too deep into chat systems and co. as I have already discussed this in another article. I am more concerned with setting up and using the tools on a daily basis.

Reading tip: Virtual team tools

Projects that are broken down into work packages and tasks

The first step is to break down the tasks neatly into small projects. You can also easily report the status of projects. You have e.g. a project broken down into 18 tasks. You know that 16 of the 18 are already done, so you can tell that the project is almost done.

A clear and described task as an example in the Jira software

Now it is important to write meaningful and good descriptions of the tasks. The aim is for every employee to be able to understand this quickly and easily. Conversations and statuses for the task would also have to be recorded. These can be recorded as comments in the system. You can see both in the screenshot above. Important contents of tickets are:

  • who (Customer / internal) is the stakeholder of the ticket?
  • What should be done?
  • Why do we need this task?
  • To when do we need the ticket
  • How is the Definiton of Done?
Kanban board or queue, which virtual teams can use

Now it is a matter of mapping this work neatly on the board and ensuring that the task is completed. Above you can see a meaningful and neat illustration of the work in the picture. You always know exactly who is working on what, when. This can now be mapped in any tools such as Jira, ORTS, Trello, OpenProject and many more. The choice is yours.

New leadership: digital leadership

Above all, leadership is changing. While you were still leading the staff some time ago, now pay attention to the queue and the correct division of the work. Of course, there is still coaching of the employees, but I don’t want to go into the human component in this article.

A manager becomes a bit of a product owner on Scrum. Not 100%, but they are very similar. My most important tasks were:

  • Coordinate goals with management and break work into small tickets
  • Get the whole picture across to the team
  • All tickets in the queue have the correct status and are clearly formulated.
  • Make sure the queue is visible, transparent and clear to everyone what needs to be done.
  • To sort the tickets in such a way that goals and missions can be optimally achieved
  • To optimize the value of work
  • Ensure that the team understands the contents of the tickets to the extent necessary.

You notice that the work of a manager from prestigious leadership is more likely to change into a queue filler and that it sounds like a demotion but is still an important task. It is the basis that the team can work. You will notice that virtual teams with clear tasks are much more efficient than on-site teams and that you as a manager are often the star.

Reading tip: Digital leadership

Conclusion

You realize that virtual teams can bring a great advantage. It is important that you abstract the work cleanly and divide it into small packages. These must be mapped in software. Above all, adherence to processes is very important during processing (due to the distance). As a manager, the work also changes fundamentally and can be compared a little with the product owner.

Tip: Read my book: SMEs in digital change at Springer Gabler or book me for a talk .

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Image-Source Titlepicture: Fotolia.de 2016 – buyed License

Dr. Dominic Lindner
Author

I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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