Three strategies to build successful virtual teams

Don’t let time zones get in the way of creating and sustaining a strong, collaborative team

As a team grows and expands into new locations and markets, business leaders are faced with the challenge of keeping everyone connected and driving toward the same goal. Quickly, leaders see that it’s crucial to formulate strategies to build virtual teams.

It’s a puzzle that Rashmi Melgiri, the cofounder and CEO of CoverWallet, has been piecing together as the online insurance platform has grown to more than 300 people across four time zones. In episode 3 of WeWork’s member-profile Up At Night podcast, Melgiri talked about what it’s like to manage teams that don’t share physical space.

Virtual teams have been growing steadily over the past decade, boosted by the proliferation of fast and reliable video-conferencing tools. In fact, two out of every three full-time workers in the U.S. work remotely at some point, according to a 2019 State of Remote Work survey by Owl Labs.

But with a team dispersed across the globe, leaders need a new set of effective processes to set them up for success. Many companies still struggle with how remote work affects their employees and their bottom line.

What is a virtual team?

A virtual team is a group of coworkers in different physical locations. As companies expand into new locations and markets, they don’t always choose to have their workers gathered together in a single office. There are plenty of advantages to working virtually: Businesses can recruit from anywhere, retain valued employees if they move, and expand into new markets with local teams.

Virtual teams aren’t just appealing to employers. A full 99 percent of remote workers surveyed by social media management company Buffer said they’d like to continue working remotely at some point during their careers, as reported in Buffer’s State of Remote Work.

To explore this trend, we caught up with Eric Kochanski, who manages the western region of the U.S. and Canada as WeWork’s director of sales, account management. He builds relationships with WeWork members as they set up new offices around the globe. He also manages a virtual team himself, with team members working across the West in cities like Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

Three strategies to build an effective virtual team

With years of experience managing and supporting virtual teams, Kochanski has come up with three strategies on how to keep your team aligned when they work remotely.

1. Recognize your point person

At WeWork and in previous roles, Kochanski designates a go-to person at each location. That person isn’t necessarily the manager for everyone in that satellite office, but they drive the culture at that location and are responsible for understanding the vibe of the team there.

“It provides clarity,” Kochanski says. “You know who to go to with your questions about that particular office setup.”

Because this point person often has a full-time job of their own, it’s important to balance their role promoting effective virtual teamwork with their other priorities.

2. Let them see you

As Melgiri discussed in episode 3, having leadership teams visit remote offices reinforces the values that the whole company shares, and is a critical success factor for global virtual teams.

“Even with as many teleconferencing tools that we have, there’s no replacement for an in-person visit,” Melgiri said.

Kochanski also values site visits and suggests organizing quarterly off-site meetings, where everyone on the team gathers in the same place for a day or two to collaborate on business challenges. That bonding exercise often leaves team members feeling reenergized when they head back to their home bases.

3. Make time for personal connections

When meeting via videoconference, it’s so tempting to jump right into the agenda and get down to business. But make sure you find the time to ask your virtual teammates about their lives outside the office.

“Spend time talking about things that are going on in your life,” Kochanski says. “That’s usually what happens when you’re walking to go get coffee or going for a walk around the building, and that part often gets missed over video.”

When he worked at LinkedIn, Kochanski says, a different person on the team would share a slide deck with their life story in pictures each month. It ended up revealing real insights into each person and building stronger bonds across the team—making it a possible “best practice” for anyone managing a virtual team.

Spend time talking about things that are going on in your life. That’s usually what happens when you’re walking to go get coffee or going for a walk around the building, and that part often gets missed over video.

Eric Kochanski

Looking to scale your company?

Find out how WeWork’s global network opens up a world of new connections for your company and enables you to expand your business to new markets with ease. And be sure to listen to WeWork customer Rashmi Melgiri’s Up At Night podcast episode on staying aligned across offices, time zones, and continents.

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