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Three strategies to build a successful virtual 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.

It’s a puzzle that Rashmi Melgiri, the co-founder 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 her business with virtual teams.

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

But if your team is dispersed across the globe, you 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 employees if they move, and expand into new markets with local teams.

And virtual teams are more than a trend. They’re here to stay. Social media management company Buffer reported in its State of Remote Work survey that 99 percent of remote workers would like to continue working remotely at some point during their careers.

To further 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. And he manages a virtual team himself, with team members working across the West in cities like Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

Three tips to have an effective virtual team

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

Recognize your point person

At WeWork and in previous roles, Eric has found it’s effective to designate someone as the go-to person at each particular 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.

“A lot of times I’ve seen that help because at least it provides clarity,” Eric said. “You know who to go to with your questions about that particular office setup.”

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

Let them see you

As Rashmi discussed in Episode 3, having leadership teams visit remote offices reinforces the values that the whole company shares, and it’s 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,” Rashmi said.

Eric 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 can act as a bonding exercise for the team and often leaves them re-energized when they head back to their home bases.

Make time for personal connections

It doesn’t have to always be about work. 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.

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

When he worked at LinkedIn, Eric said that once a month, his team would choose one person to create a slide deck with their life story in pictures and share with the team. Something that may sound corny 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.

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

Eric Kochanski

Making Your Virtual Team Successful

Technology has made it easier than ever for companies to expand. Sometimes all it takes is a phone line and an internet connection to start your entry into a new market.

But as your virtual team grows larger and more distributed, managers need to put in a structure that allows the team to be effective and step up their communications skills to make sure everyone thrives in their particular location.

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.