I’m fortunate to work for a company that (at least in the North America region) is very flexible when it comes to working from home. One-third of our marketing team, in fact, is based outside of the NYC tri-state area, and the rest of us are split between two offices that are in close proximity to each other: one in New York City and one in central New Jersey. As we’re rarely in the same place as a team, remote work is to be expected.
To have a team work remotely and still be successful, there are a few major guidelines that should be followed.
Track clear day-to-day or weekly tasks.
A virtual employee should realize that the responsibilities of the job need to be fulfilled, and that he/she is trusted to complete them. The manager in charge of said employee, then, needs to get creative with his/her approach to ensuring all delegated tasks get completed as appropriate. To ensure tasks are completed, have each team member track their progress in a common area. Google Docs is actually extremely effective for this; first, it’s free, and second, there are TONS of templates out there that can be customized to fit your team’s needs. Bright Hub Project Management has a great blog post featuring ten project management templates, and even the Google Docs Template Gallery offers a number of templates for task and to-do lists.
Ensure constant communication.
For a virtual marketing team to work as effectively as possible, lines of communication need to be open during the standard business hours for your company. Email is the most obvious tool, but oftentimes your team requires more immediacy; that is where chat tools come in. Skype, Trillian, IBM Sametime, and even AOL Instant Messenger (yes, it still exists!) can be leveraged to provide that kind of connectivity that is necessary for team cohesion and productivity. Business.com also has a great post, 9 Most Effective Apps for Internal Communication, that has other options for collaboration tools.
Hold regular meetings, both virtually and in person.
If possible, a manager needs to schedule at least one meeting per quarter in person. Yes, there is a cost involved with getting a virtual team together (flights, hotels, meals, meeting rooms, etc.), but the benefit to this is the emotional and team-building component; each team member may be in regular contact with the manager, but this does not ensure that he/she is communicating regularly with other members of the team. Use this time together wisely. Instead of having each team member recite all of the initiatives that he/she executed in the past months and what they plan to do going forward, have them create an exciting, engaging presentation on just one or two of their campaigns—what worked, what didn’t work, what they could have done differently…and what recommendations/feedback they can get from the team. That last point is key. Having open in-person discussions with the rest of the team with regard to their ideas can actually generate even better ideas (and potential successes) for the future.
Managers should also plan to have regular meetings (typically over the phone, but video chats can work too!) with his/her staff as appropriate. This can be as frequent as once per week (plus all of the one-off conversations that occur over instant messaging), which is the approach I take with my current team. Our VP of Marketing handles things the same way, but also has a team call every two weeks to go over all of the key corporate marketing initiatives happening in that time period, as well as to give the rest of the team time to highlight their own campaigns. This works extremely well for us, and I imagine it would do the same for teams in other companies.
Make sure you have the right people.
Most prospective employees will assure you that, yes, he/she is completely capable of working remotely. Absolutely! Okay. But the proof is in the pudding. Do you consistently get a “sent from my iPhone” message when you send them an email requiring a response? Do they respond to your chat message hours after you send it? Not everyone is meant to work virtually. You need people on your team who, knowing they are working remotely, go above and beyond the requirements of an employee who sits next to you. If they are not consistently in contact with you, if they don’t complete all tasks the way you expect them to be completed, and, honestly, if you start hearing comments from other members of the team about them, then you have a problem that will require a “difficult” conversation.
Do you have a virtual team, and, if so, how do you ensure the team’s effectiveness?