The spread of the COVID-19 virus has impacted the lives of countless people around the world. As it continues to evolve, it is expected to disrupt many more services and functions of day-to-day life, including work. We know many businesses are now facing the challenge of remaining productive while working from remote locations.

At Hitachi Solutions, we are focused on supporting our customers and partners and helping them to prepare for the challenge of working in different ways. We have learned quickly from our peers around the world and want to share information about some key resources at your disposal that can help support the continuity of your business during this unsettling time.

How Companies are Leveraging Virtual Workspace During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Many major companies are mandating that employees work from home including Qualcomm Google, Twitter, Chevron, and Lufthansa, just to name a few. To that end, companies are seeking viable solutions to making this new work environment simpler, effective, and efficient.

While some telecommuting technology solutions will become overwhelmed, the Microsoft Teams application is equipped with the necessary bandwidth to ensure that no company, worldwide, misses a beat. This comprehensive collaboration and communications platform enables people to chat, meet, call, IM, and create and share data virtually, including on mobile platforms. In recent weeks, Microsoft has seen a 500 percent increase in Teams meetings, calls, and conferences, and a 200 percent increase in Teams usage on mobile devices.

At Hitachi Solutions, we can help new and existing Microsoft cloud customers set up and optimize their Microsoft Teams application. In fact, if you have Microsoft 365, you already have Teams. To get your virtual teams up and running, there are a few things you can do:

  • For Businesses: Try the Microsoft Teams Cloud Solution Provider Trial for new and existing customers. This will help companies with up to 1,000 potential users. If you have more than 1,000 potential users, Office 365 E1 will allow you to set up a virtual team that meets your needs.
  • For Education: Microsoft Teams can also be used to conduct online learning and create virtual classrooms for students who must study from home. The Office 365 E1 application can be deployed by your IT department and is also running a free trial to help schools meet the challenges of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • For Individuals: Individuals who are working from home can also quickly set up their Microsoft Teams account. If you have an email through your employer or school you can sign up directly with this link. For those with other email accounts, sign up for Teams is available here.

Having all of this technology makes telecommuting and working from home a much more viable option. However, managing virtual teams is another matter. To make this time as stress-free as possible, we’ve compiled a helpful list of tips for guiding a successful virtual team, and how to prepare for the challenges you might face.

10 Tips for Managing a Virtual Team

  1. Use the best communication technologies. The numerous communication options companies have today are part of the reason that virtual teams are possible. To help your employees succeed, choose a communication style that works best for your team. Channels such as video, chat, email, messaging, and more can all be utilized by employees to stay in contact and collaborate effectively from remote locations.
  2. Treat time zones fairly. Businesses with numerous locations are likely already accustomed to working around time zones but businesses with new work-from-home plans need to remember time zone differences. Don’t expect an employee from California to be on a conference call at 8 am Eastern – having flexible hours will help everyone stay more productive.
  3. Clarify tasks and processes, not just goals and roles. The key to managing virtual teams is to clearly and consistently communicate expectations around goals, roles, tasks, and processes. Because people are working remotely, there is more opportunity for distraction or miscommunication. With regular reminders and communication, virtual teams can be just as effective as they are in the office.
  4. Don’t forget face-to-face time. When possible, it’s advised that virtual teams meet in person from time to time. One-on-one time with managers gives people the opportunity to ask questions, learn more about their work, and get the support they need. If this can’t be accomplished in-person, video chat is a great alternative for remote workers.
  5. Create a “virtual water cooler.” Because virtual teams are just that, virtual, they miss out on social interaction and human contact. To remedy this, encourage informal conversations via your company’s online communication portals.
  6. As a leader, be available. If you’re managing a virtual team, you need to be a source of support and leadership, which means being available to your team on a regular basis. Outside of the communication tools you use in work, sharing your cell number might not be a terrible idea.
  7. Track work output. Metrics matter, and that is certainly the truth when tracking work from home success. To help a) keep everyone on task and b) to prove that working from home is effective, it’s imperative that management tracks the timing, quality, and success of work output.
  8. Support effective collaboration on projects. Documents! Spreadsheets! PowerPoints! All of these things can be collaborated on remotely using online programs. Today’s technology is making virtual teamwork easier than ever before, so management can rest easy knowing that work is still getting done as efficiently as possible.
  9. Set up a project management system. And actually use it. Change is difficult, and that is certainly the truth with work processes. But project management software helps keep all employees on the same page and prevents work from slipping through the cracks. There are many platforms out there, so make sure you do your homework to find one that works for your organization.
  10. Hire the right people. While remote work is widely available and being implemented by many companies, virtual work might not be right for everyone. This type of work environment requires people to be self-sufficient and motivated, with the support of their virtual team managers. When building your teams, make sure you hire people that can work and thrive in a remote work setup.

5 Challenges Virtual Teams Might Face

  1. Finding the right solutions. This is a broad issue, but existing and new virtual teams will run into challenges across many facets of operations. To help alleviate some of these hiccups, managers of virtual teams must be proactive in growing a culture of communication, deploying the right tools, laying out clear processes, and building a team of the right people. When those boxes are all checked, it’s much easier to tackle any problem or project together.
  2. Building a team with trust. When virtual teams trust their managers and feel trusted in return, it’s much easier to run an efficient remote operation. Using solutions that encourage collaboration, shared ideas, and open communication will help build trust across the team. Furthermore, it will help everyone be on the same page and work together toward company and individual goals.
  3. Ensuring productivity. Speaking of trust, the stigma around work-from-home options is the belief that people will be less productive or won’t work at all. While that may be the case for certain employees, there are many people who thrive on virtual teams. To help everyone succeed, virtual team managers should utilize proven virtual work tools and outline clear processes and benchmarks for everyone. This helps to build in accountability and ensure that work continues to get done.
  4. Developing clear direction. Like we said, virtual teams can sometimes see things fall through the cracks, but that happens far less frequently with virtual teams that have solid project management tools. One of the benefits of virtual teams is that everyone can see what everyone is up to, collaboration can happen instantly, and work can be accomplished anywhere. Leaders of these teams should also regularly check in on project progress to keep things running smoothly.
  5. Creating a virtual office culture. It is human nature to crave interaction, which is obviously a challenge associated with working remotely. While periodic face-to-face meetings with the whole team is advised, it is also possible to nurture work relationships online. As a manager of virtual teams, encourage your employees to catch up about things other than work, and learn more about who they work with. That will not only help them feel more connected, but it will also likely help them learn how to work together more effectively.

Whether you have a current work-from-home process or are looking to implement one, you likely already have the most robust virtual team support option in your repertoire. Microsoft Teams is part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite, and it can be added as a one-off addition to your technology stack. To learn more about Teams or to launch your own virtual team, contact a Hitachi Solutions team member.