Archive for August, 2010

Five tips for your virtual team

Friday, August 27th, 2010

We’ve worked as a virtual company since 2006 at Yuuguu.  It is different working as a virtual team as compared to working in an office – but we’ve learned how to adapt.

Here are five tips that I’ve observed have been useful in keeping the team running well.

1. Keeping moving with Show and Tell

It’s important for projects to keep moving forward. We do this by holding show and tell meetings. The whole team holds a web conference, and using Yuuguu technology, each of us will share our computer screens and show off the latest feature – or problem – to the group.

Doing this creates a sense of urgency and forward motion. It ties in well with our project management approach of setting small, achievable milestones. It’s also invaluable for rapid feedback, support and advice from the people we work with.

2. Hold a regular meeting

I would normally discourage this in an office: for goodness’ sake, there are enough dull, pointless meetings in the world without holding more. The conventional wisdom would be to only meet when there is something to discuss that requires some outcome: ACID – Action, Clarification, Information or Decision.

But working virtually, there is always a point in having a regular meeting – and that is simply to get that human contact, and build that team spirit. Whether it is a project-critical ‘acid’ type meeting, or more of a watercooler chat, we find that meeting once a week on yuuguu keeps us moving together.

3. The Virtual Pint

I must do a full post on this one day. Basically, we use yuuguu at the end of a week to socialise. If your team doesn’t socialise reasonably well, it isn’t going to work particularly well. And the added alone-ness that can come from working in a home office will only amplify that in a negative way. So socialise. Build that right in to the fabric of running your virtual team – it is actually essential for the running of your business!

4. Have an ‘Open Messenger’ policy

We run yuuguu at all times as we work together. If one of us is particularly busy, we use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature to let the team know about that. Otherwise, the ‘open messenger’ policy is the equivalent of an ‘open door’ office policy. We encourage each other to ask questions, ask for help, offer help – just get involved.

Often, I can ask Mike a PHP question, or Neil a marketing question and get an answer faster than I could google it. And of course, the answer comes through the filters of their practical experience, making the most of the wisdom in our team.

It’s all about creating a culture where helping one another is encouraged, and knowledge is shared. Again, that is all about minimising the sense of isolation that can arise in a virtual team.

5. Enjoy the flexibility

I’ve read a lot of articles on managing virtual teams that essentially suggests using time tracking and monitoring tools. I think that’s a load of rubbish, borne out of a lack of experience – and fear.

What you are after is *getting stuff done* not *getting hours clocked*. By using the four tips above, you get the visibility – in a collaborative, empowering way – that you need to succeed. So knowing precisely where staffer X was at 16:13 last tuesday is neither here nor there – the real question is ‘can we ship that work item?’.

Virtual work is really good at empowering people to get stuff done AND create flexibility during the day. Enjoy it! It certainly makes for a better working environment, a better team, and better end results. With employee loyalty increased as a free bonus.


What tips would you share from your virtual teams?



Volunteers and Virtual Teams

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Helping Hands: photo by Penny Matthews via stock.xchng
Voluntary work is the best sort of win-win situation there is. Voluntary organisations get skilled help to achieve their aims free of charge. This keeps donation requirements down. Volunteers get an outlet for skills and interests they love doing, but don’t normally fit into their day job. And the satisfaction of being part of a team making a positive difference in the world.

It struck me that forming virtual teams – teams that collaborate over the internet, using tools like yuuguu – solve a lot of problems with volunteer based projects. If you manage volunteer projects, it would be worth your while to see if this can work for you.

Why?

A virtual team solves three barriers to being able to use a willing volunteer: time, place and (of course) money.

Work with volunteers where they live

By using your social media and traditional advertising skills, you can probably hook up with people who would love to volunteer on your project.

But what if they live far away?

If your project involves some aspect of digital work – designing, producing websites, videos, copy, graphics – then virtual work solves this problem directly. You no longer need to have your volunteer sit in your office to use a computer provided by you. You can direct and review work using screen share. You can transfer files electronically. You can chat using Instant Messages. It’s not uncommon for entire projects to be done in this way – just as we work here at Yuuguu.

Doing this opens your project up to a far wider pool of volunteers; with geography no longer an issue, you can work with anyone willing and able, wherever they live.

Work without a travel budget

A lot of project time – and budget – gets eaten up in meetings. It’s important to spend this money wisely at the best of times, and even more when you are a trustee of a charity. Ok, so you simply cannot build a well in a remote country without getting people, materials and tools on site. But you certainly can hold the design reviews of the engineering drawings virtually. And hold progress show and tell meetings virtually.

There are many possibilities for real world projects to work virtually. The well team could snap progress on bore hole excavation on a camera phone, and use screen sharing to show the remote project manager. Instant Message chat and telephone conferencing can bring together remote construction workers, the on-base project manager and the design consultancy to iron out the unexpected.

By taking the view of doing what meetings you can virtually, you can maximise the budget spent on the real objectives. A massive help – not to mention a right and proper PR boost – for any charitable organisation.

Work whenever your volunteers can

Another huge benefit is this: your volunteers will generally have day jobs. These jobs will clearly have first priority on their time; after all, you aren’t putting food on their table. So volunteers can be limited in when they can work. By forming a virtual team, you can reduce the burden of working at different times. Certainly, using yuuguu, you can send instructions and questions to volunteers who are offline, and they can pick these up when they come online. As soon as they do, yuuguu ‘Presence Indicators’ – traffic lights that say when you are working – will help you catch up quickly and efficiently. Much more so than email.

By opening up this flexible working, you can again include more volunteers than before – people who would love to help, but simply cannot work during your normal office hours.

Rain

Friday, August 13th, 2010
Video will appear here.