I pulled over in the middle of nowhere on I-80 next to a herd of cows because it was the only WiFi signal I was able to find for the last 40 miles. I tethered my phone to my laptop and dialed into our team’s daily 10:10am huddle. In looking at myself in the reflection on my screen, it was obvious I took a red eye the night before and only slept a few hours between programs. While sleep sounded nice, I knew that being present on this call was critical to keeping the team moving forward.
August is traditionally our busiest time of the year for travel. As of this writing, we have 30 programs in August this year. That means both Melissa and I, as the lead facilitators for Swift Kick, are on the road almost the entire month. But that doesn’t mean everything else in the company stops while we go on the road. Instead, we’ve built up seven key strategies to keep everyone aligned in a virtual team work environment.
1) Meet In Person Quarterly
Every quarter we bring the whole team together for a full day in-person retreat. During our retreats we review the prior quarter, prep everything for the upcoming quarter, and have a lot of bonding fun. Having an in-person retreat every quarter strengthens the bonds we all have with each other. It also gives us a finish line for our three-month sprints. Without the quarterly retreats, not only would our social bonds not be as strong, but also we’d be scrambling each week as to what we should/shouldn’t be working on.
2) Build the Plan Ahead of Time
During the retreat, we spend a large percentage of our time building out a weekly plan for every project we want to accomplish. By doing so, everyone is clear on what they should be doing every week. So if we happen to slip up one week and can’t meet, we all have a reference point to keep things moving forward. We do very little high-level planning during the quarter; that is all done at the retreat.
3) Have a Meeting Rhythm
It’s one thing to plan everything out at your quarterly retreat, but it’s critical to have ongoing meetings throughout the quarter to keep things aligned. The ideal meeting rhythm would be one hour long weekly meeting to set everything up for the week (based on the quarterly schedule), and then quick 15-20 minute daily huddles to check in for the day. We follow the Rockefeller Habits* system.
4) Have a Meeting Agenda
Most people hate meetings because meetings are run poorly. To have an effective meeting, have a set agenda ahead of time with clear objectives and keep each section on track to finish on time and accomplish the goal.
5) Leverage the Right Tools
A hard part of a virtual team is making sure you are using the right tools. A great team with bad tools will produce bad results. We use Zoom for video meetings as it’s more stable than Skype. We use Google Chat because it’s a free version of Slack with basically the same functionality. For our Gantt Charting, we use Google Spreadsheets because it’s free and collaborative.
6) Build In Some Laughs
It’s not enough to bond just at the retreats. We built in fun personal moments during our meetings such as a quick brainstorm, a hilarious share from our team quotes board, and a good news tangent where each person shares something happening in their personal life. We also use our Google Chat to share photos from the road and other funny moments that happen to us throughout the day.
7) Follow Through
There are many moments, like my situation on I-80, where it would be a lot easier to just skip the meeting. But this is a big warning flag. By skipping, you risk putting your entire quarter’s agenda in jeopardy.
Having a virtual team has both its advantages and disadvantages. Many of the disadvantages revolve around the fact that the team isn’t in office face-to-face. With the prior seven strategies, we’ve been able to alleviate many of the normal struggles that people face when working with a virtual team.