Building an Affordable Virtual Environment for Remote Teams

August 15, 2015

8:00 pm

There is more to remote teamwork than just working from home. In fact, it may not have anything to do with working from home. Unlike common belief, it is not just an organizational style to be adopted in order to provide employees more comfort and help the company to save money. Or it can be. Nevertheless, it is a waste not to explore the advantages of a remote team to its full potential, as much as it can be dangerous not to consider the risks of not thinking it through.

In order to deal with both the potential and the risks, the process should involve more than just sending people to work at home. There has to be a virtual environment in place for them to work as a team from wherever they are. Failing to consider this might cause the team members, no matter how brilliant they are, to start working as separate units and, what should be feared the most, start to be demotivated.

Neglecting the need for a smooth, operational virtual environment can, and most likely will, hurt the team’s productivity. If they lack the adequate structure and tools to communicate, the tendency is that the manager becomes the only reference. In such a scenario, the manager will actually be the only official means by which to get thoughts and data through. Work will move forward slowly, as there is a lack of structure and the employee will think that an official representative of management is the only mean of communication for the team. Of course, team members may and will communicate through their own means but it is very possible that these communications will not be perceived by themselves as valid or official. They will feel that a second step, through means understood as official, will be necessary.

The problem is more complicated if the team is partially local and partially remote. Without a solid virtual environment in place, the remote members will not only face the problems described above but will also feel left out.

It is very affordable to build a functional virtual environment. Depending on the size of the team, it can actually be free. With the competition that came with the spread of cloud computing, even paid solutions can be inexpensive. What it should consist of will depend on the nature and the size of the business. The important thing to consider is that, no matter the size, the team needs to communicate, report, and provide data for project management.

Since this article focuses on small enterprises, the best is to stick with the very basic, yet necessary, tools. Here are the top 4 types of tools you need to get your remote team organized, and my top product suggestions.

Planning:

A calendar where members of the team can see each other’s commitments and write their own. One that takes into account different time zones can be very useful for some teams. Google Calendar is a good choice.

Communication:

It is important that there can be a way for members of the team to communicate among each other, both individually and collectively, other than email. Skype does the trick and should be used regularly.

Time Tracking:

Putting in place a system that will not make the team members stop and take a significant amount of time to account for the use of time is a smart move. Instead of having time sheets filled in, use a time tracking application. Plus, it will allow the manager to create reports and, for those who sell services to third party, create bills with the collectively generated data. The author’s choice is primaERP.

Project Management:

This is the trickiest of these basic tools to pick. Although most decent ones have the same basic features, the choice of a project management software depends a lot on the specifics of the business. Project management software often have features that allow discussions among the team about the projects, which should be favored over instant messengers. The pick here will be Asana.

All of the tools mentioned in this article can help create a virtual environment for remote or partially remote teams. No matter where the members are, they can resort to a single virtual place to work and share, which in turn can promote the establishment of a strong, motivated and mutually understanding work environment.

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Brazilian born journalist, Master in International Relations. Currently devoted to writing, reporting and marketing.

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