5 Steps to Nailing Your Role on a Virtual Team

7 minute read

These days, there are all sorts of work styles.

Working on-site with a team… hybrid situations… working virtually with a team.

For us freelancers, working virtually is typical. It’s part of the charm, being able to work from anywhere.

And, thanks to the pandemic, our clients are more familiar than ever with how effective it can be to work with someone remotely.

But, remote work isn’t without hiccups. Thankfully, though, you can overcome the challenges with a little creativity and by implementing the five strategies you’ll find here.

When you do, you’ll gain an advantage with your clients, when you know how to integrate seamlessly into and navigate remote and virtual teams. You’ll have a more rewarding experience… and you’ll be more likely to get repeat work.

1. Ace your communication

When you’re part of a remote team, communication is the bedrock of success.

Let’s be honest, communication is tricky. Even when someone is standing in front of you, there are so many factors that influence how you convey your message and the way it’s received.

Now, add in the complexities of distance, technology, time, and different cultural norms, and things can get complicated. Messages get tangled and lost in translation.

But, this doesn’t have to be the case. Clear communication leads to strong collaboration and success for everyone. And, in a virtual team setting, you can achieve this with the right processes and tools.

To do this, you need to:

Keep it human

When you rely on tools and technology to communicate, it can be easy to forget there’s a person with complex emotions and feelings at the other end of your chat.

So, before you jump to reply or make a judgement, take a moment to think and respond with care and understanding.

Give context

With remote work, you don’t always know each other’s backstory or even each other’s current circumstances.

You may be running to catch a cab, dealing with a burst pipe at home, or doing deep work that needs concentration.

Give your colleagues context, so they understand your situation. Let them know if you’re going to be offline for a time or unavailable during your usual hours. It helps them realize why you’re not communicating as you usually do and goes a long way in maintaining good working relationships.

Over communicate

Face-to-face interactions can provide context you don’t necessarily have when communicating through email, text, or chat.

To overcome this shortcoming, be detailed in your communications.

If you’re unsure of something, keep asking questions until you have a clear understanding.

Similarly, take time to explain when a colleague asks you questions, or if you feel they’re uncertain.

You’re not inconveniencing your team when you go the extra mile in your communications. Instead, you’ll save a lot of time in the long run by preventing misunderstandings.

Look at this as an opportunity to practice your writing skills. While you need to provide detail in your communications, you also need to be focused and clear without being longwinded.

Schedule regular feedback

Schedule regular updates with your project manager on the progress of your projects. Discuss concerns and questions you have.

As a freelancer, taking the initiative to schedule these meetings demonstrates your professionalism and also shows you’re reliable and committed to your team and project success.

Establish reasonable response times

You know it’s important to respond promptly to questions your team members may have. But, when you don’t work in an office together, your colleagues don’t know when you may be in a meeting, out to lunch, or focused on a project where you can’t have interruptions.

If you’re part of an international team, you may also be working across different time zones, and you can’t be expected to respond to queries at 2:00 a.m.

Worrying about responding quickly to every query interrupts your concentration and productivity.

Let your team know, if you’re unavailable or not able to reply to queries immediately. Set automated responses, reminders and status updates in your chats. Then, let your colleagues know what your turnaround time to respond will be and stick to it.

2. Use your tools well

When you’re part of a remote team, the success of your communication, collaboration, and productivity relies heavily on technology.

The growth of remote work is complemented by a rise in software, platforms and applications designed for virtual offices. These make it easy to chat, share documents, upload and download, and manage projects clearly amongst a team and company.

Start with a good foundation

As part of a remote team, you may be expected to download and use certain tools, so you can collaborate easily on projects.

You’ll need a reliable computer and internet connection for these tools to work well. Fast download speeds are also helpful.

Know how to use collaboration and chat tools

When you join a remote team, set aside time to learn how to use the tools they prefer. They could be project management tools, such as Trello, or collaboration tools, such as Slack, Flock or Microsoft teams.

Understand which tool gets used for each task and application. This way, you’ll be productive from the onset and slip into the team with ease.

Plus, your professionalism as a freelancer and commitment to your team will shine through.

When you work across different time zones, it’s important to know your tools well. You need to be able to review chats, meetings and communications that took place during your absence, so you can chime in and pick up where you left off.

3. Optimize productivity

One of the biggest misconceptions about remote employees is they’re not as productive as people who work in an office.

If you’re in a mixed team of office and remote members, it can be tricky to battle misconceptions.

Each working environment has its advantages and setbacks. Whether you work in an office or remotely, you can be productive or unproductive. It all depends on your attitude, surroundings and circumstances.

To maximize your own productivity, you need to:

Know the procedures

Make sure you know the procedures and processes your team uses, along with the tools, so you have a streamlined, efficient workflow.

Establish trust

Trust is an important element for productivity in remote work.

Because you’re not in the office, you may feel you have to prove you’re working, especially when you’re new to remote work.

It’s common to feel like you need to be available for every meeting and respond to every chat and message quickly.

This adds unnecessary pressure and disruption, particularly when you need to do deep work.

You need to know your team trusts you to do your job well and on time. At the same time, team managers need to be able to trust you to do this.

Open, clear communications lay the foundation for trust. Meeting deadlines and delivering on expectations will build trust further. Finally, set clear boundaries about your availability and then follow through on your end.

Have clear expectations and deadlines

When you join a virtual team, take time to learn what is expected of you. Understand:

  • how your task contributes to the team, project, and company.
  • What’s expected of you and how to do it.
  • your project milestones and deadlines.

These let you plan your work, so you can meet your deadlines.

Almost always, the work you do is only part of the project. If you run late, it jeopardizes the team’s workflow and deadlines. Rather than being the “spanner in the works,” let your team know the moment you have a problem with a deadline. The sooner they know, the easier it is to make adjustments.

Plan for different time zones

Dealing with different time zones can make project planning difficult. That’s why processes and guidelines are so important.

It’s also why you need to know how to use your communication and chat tools. You’ll be able to log in to work, pick up where you or your team members left off, and maintain a smooth workflow.

Instead of seeing differing time zones as a disadvantage, use them to your advantage. It makes you plan more carefully, and, in turn, you’ll become more organized and efficient.

With remote work you have the opportunity to create a routine and working environment that suits you. You’re not distracted by pressures of going to work and being in an office. You can be as productive, if not more so, than people who work in an office.

If you’re new to remote work, remember you get to establish your work routine. Try keeping a journal to jot down observations about your productivity. Become aware of your most and least productive times of the day and week. Note what makes you more and less productive and identify factors that disrupt your concentration. Then you’ll be able to build a work routine that truly suits your needs and allows you to put your best foot forward every day.

4. Be part of the company culture

Even though not everyone is in the same office, a virtual team can still have a vibrant culture.

Positive company culture builds relationships, creates an enjoyable working atmosphere, and enhances cooperation and commitment.

People are wired to connect and interact with each other. A downside of remote work is you can easily feel isolated and lonely, when you don’t see your work colleagues regularly.

Because people aren’t meeting in the hallways and lunchroom, it’s more difficult to socialize with colleagues and get to know them.

To counteract this, make the effort to learn about the company culture and take part in social activities.

A dynamic virtual team creates opportunities for its members to socialize and get to know each other in a fun and lighthearted way.

For example, they may create online games and challenges, where everyone who gets tagged has to participate, comment, or upload photos. Join in. You’ll do more than counteract feelings of isolation. You’ll get to know your colleagues, and you may even build some friendships, too.

5. Nail the collaboration game

Human interaction and connection drives collaboration. So, it can be hard to imagine it’s possible, let alone effective, in a virtual workspace.

But, take a moment to look back to the origins of the web in 1979. Academics used it so they could share knowledge, exchange ideas and solve problems. In other words, it was created so people could collaborate.

The advances in technology complement the origins of the web, and together they facilitate collaboration on a worldwide scale. People can connect and work together effectively, whether they’re in the same room or on opposite sides of the globe.

When you combine the strategies listed here, you’ll win the collaboration game. You, your team and your company will be able to work together to achieve goals and grow.

And the best part…

You can achieve it from your laptop sitting in any location your heart desires.

Now, that’s a pretty amazing thought!

What are your tips for navigating team projects, when some or all of you are working remotely? Please share your tips and advice for success with us in the comments section below.