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This is what it takes to build and manage a high-performing virtual team

The CEO of a fully remote company shares his secret sauce to creating a successful virtual team.

This is what it takes to build and manage a high-performing virtual team
[Photo: Flickr user WOCinTech Chat]

Remote work is changing the way we work. Just like the phone replaced the telegraph, television supplanted radio, and cloud storage freed us from local servers.

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Having built a 100% virtual company at scale, we saw the start of this trend coming nine years ago. Now, nearly a decade later, remote work has become “the new normal”. Our values around work and how and where we do it are changing. Now is the ideal time to consider an entirely remote team, or combining virtual talent with internal staff.

The key between remote work and the talent gap

Recent studies, such as Deloitte’s Millennial Survey and FlexJobs’ annual survey illustrate that workers across all generations want more flexible jobs. And in a study by Workforce Futures, 83% of employees feel that they don’t need an office to be productive.

This comes precisely at a time when supply isn’t meeting the demand for traditional workers. According to PwC’s 2019 global survey of CEOs, the availability of talent is one of the top three threats to the growth of global organizations. A 2019 SHRM study confirmed the problem, as 83 percent of recruiters couldn’t find qualified talent in the last year. There’s no denying it—the talent gap is real.

Smart companies realize if they want to stay competitive, then they need to embrace remote employees as all or part of their workforce. Not only does this increase your talent pool exponentially, but your company will also enjoy significant savings on costs and infrastructure. This allows you to invest more in innovation and growth.

To have a successful remote workforce, you need the right strategy, technology, and culture. When you build the right systems in place, you’ll have a virtual team that’s just as productive (if not more so) than traditional employees.

How to develop an appropriate strategy

Most existing companies’ first foray into virtual teams is to blend remote and traditional employees. To do this effectively, you need a strategy. This starts with viewing “going remote” as a competitive advantage rather than a one-off tactic and communicating that advantage clearly to attract the top virtual talent.

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Make sure that your leaders are on board

You might be the ultimate decision-maker in your company, but you need to align your leadership team on where they stand when it comes to hiring virtual talent. Otherwise, there’ll be internal friction.

It can be helpful to offer training to managers on the mindset of remote workers, and how they can manage and integrate them into the company. If you don’t emphasize the value of your remote workers, it’s easy for them to have the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. When managers see them as a crucial part of the team, they treat virtual employees the same as traditional employees.

Evaluate their performance

Successful integration of traditional and virtual teams requires strong partnerships with organizations that can provide vetted-quality talent quickly and reliably. But it’s also crucial to ensure that your HR department knows how to handle virtual workers. It’s essential to evaluate the performance of your teams to see how remote workers are contributing and see how traditional employees are adjusting to workflows with virtual employees.

Create a digital infrastructure

A digital infrastructure is imperative for virtual teams. Without a strong foundation rooted in leading technologies, virtual talent will struggle. Tools like Slack, Google Docs, and Zoom are the backbone of a diversified workplace. These collaboration tools make it easy for teams to work seamlessly together and also facilitate another big piece of the pie needed for success, which is to create a culture.

It’s also essential to ensure that teams in the office can work seamlessly with their remote counterparts. You need to ensure that there’s infrastructure to support collaboration between these two sets of workers to create a seamless (and productive) work cadence.

Develop a company culture and communicate

At the end of the day, people need to feel invested in their company. That tends to happen through culture. Culture can be ambiguous to define, but everyone intuitively senses it. But without the proverbial workplace water cooler to gather around, how do remote employees learn and embrace culture?

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First, you must hire people who already fit your culture profile. While there are traits specific to every organization, I’ve found that all successful virtual workers are self-motivated and problem solvers.

Without strong communication, you won’t be able to convey culture in a diversified workplace. There are several ways that you can reinforce your company culture. For example, when you host your team meetings, make sure to use videos.

The crux of culture can shine using a chat program or messaging platform like Slack because it’s an efficient form of communication. It also allows an employee’s personality to come through, provides a forum for celebrating success, and fosters workplace friendships that are crucial to an employee feeling happy, respected, and included at work.

Occasional in-person meetings can also be a potent way to cement your culture. If you’ve succeeded in creating and fostering a blended team with virtual talent, you’ll find that when the team members do meet in person, it feels like a gathering of old friends.

Remote work isn’t going anywhere. Not all companies have embraced the practice, but there will come a point when they have no choice but to do so. Smart organizations will start early (as in now) if they want to continue having access to top talent and gain a competitive edge as a result.


Taso Du Val is the CEO of Toptal, a company that connects organizations to the top 3% of freelance talent in business, design, and technology around the world.

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