The rise of the virtual team: a 2021 roadmap for HR leaders

The rapid rise in remote working has forced business leaders to adopt bold new strategies, with multi-channel communications and performance management at its core. Virtual teams require digital solutions in order to keep employees connected, and tools such as Microsoft Teams have stepped up to bridge the gap between team members working in isolation.

By connecting virtual teams with employee communications platforms, HR leaders can face the challenges of uncertain times and enter 2021 with confidence, bringing employees together to increase engagement, boost productivity and make sure teams are consistently aligned to the company’s goals and ambitions.

Why teamwork matters: the rise of the virtual team

Effective teamwork provides the backbone for any successful organization, uniting employees towards a common purpose and ensuring individuals and the teams they comprise are aligned towards fulfilling business objectives. The benefits of effective teamwork are as relevant as ever when dealing with virtual teams, and new digital solutions are required in order to bridge the gap between employees isolated by remote working, giving HR leaders and managers the necessary oversight and transparency to lead with confidence.

Microsoft Teams has been at the forefront of helping HR administrators, managers and team leaders unify virtual teams. Their report, Total Economic Impact of Microsoft Teams: Improved Employee and Company Performance, highlighted a variety of significant conclusions regarding how the platform is benefitting teams throughout the business world, with potentially huge savings in operational costs.

In a survey of 260 organizations for this study, the top three business objectives for implementing Teams were found to be the same, irrespective of company size:

1. Increase employee productivity.
2. Improve ability to collaborate across the organization.
3. Enable innovation.

The report stated: “Enterprise collaboration helps workers share information, coordinate projects, discuss best practices, and build communities within, across, and outside the enterprise. Improved customer experience and business agility result when linear and structured communication encoded in traditional business applications is enhanced by collaboration technology that facilitates how real work gets done.”

The report goes on to make three key recommendations to help empower teams and break down information and communications silos:

1. Overcome organization structures that inhibit information flow.
2. Promote stronger digital psychology.
3. Empower and elevate change agents.

Let’s examine in more detail how HR leaders and managers can leverage Microsoft Teams in conjunction with performance management tools to create a clear roadmap for success in 2021, delivering business objectives while improving collaboration between individuals and teams.


Establish versatile teams and channels in MS Teams

The first step when using MS Teams to deal with virtual teams is to set up the teams and channels to be used. The number of potential teams and channels can be overwhelming, so using these in order to mimic the organization’s structure is a good starting point, creating teams for each major department and including each office that falls under the department with its own channel.

For example:

Market ResearchSoftware DevelopmentPayrollTraining and Development
EventsQuality AssuranceAccountingCompliance
StrategySecurityAccounts PayableRecruitment
 Help Desk Workplace Safety

The versatility of MS Teams allows HR leaders to build upon this foundation with a wide variety of team and channel configurations, giving team members from different departments the opportunity to set up new lines of communication to work on task forces, establish committees and otherwise deal with issues which may not fall neatly under the remit of a given department.

With the ability for HR administrators to establish a range of permissions for the creation and sharing of teams and channels, these processes can be delegated to the relevant department heads, managers and team leaders, ensuring that the right channels of communication can be established without draining HR’s time and resources. Establishing specific teams and channels for new starters can save additional valuable time for HR when it comes to onboarding employees.

Hold better quality conversations allowing for focused discussions

The ability to create tailored teams and channels for various purposes allows team leaders to ensure their staff are focused on what matters most. Moreover, channels designed for specific discussions means that important discussions no longer run the risk of being lost in endless chain emails, or “lost” in an employee’s junk email folder.

Additional features including direct chat and video calls incorporating Skype for Business help virtual teams connect instantly, whether using group chats for ad hoc discussions or one-to-one communication channels to address specific concerns with individual members of the team.

Conduct fewer meetings (of a higher standard)

The options available to businesses for conducting virtual meetings are seemingly endless; Deloitte’s article, Collaboration at a Distance pointing out that “[s]ome executives have used popular video games such as Animal Crossing, Grand Theft Auto, and Minecraft to conduct meetings”. While MS Teams might not be as exciting as video games (which is no doubt a good thing from a productivity point of view), it offers a number of practical ways to set up meetings, from private meetings only for team members who have been invited, to channel meetings where staff can discuss specific topics.

Microsoft’s Economic Impact study has demonstrated that using MS Teams lowers the total number and duration of meetings, finding an average reduction of 18.9% in the number of meetings across all organizations. With meetings being easy to set up via reliable tools this helps ensure virtual team meetings are high-value and focused on effective collaboration.

Integrate performance management tools to align teams with company objectives

The ability to integrate a wide range of tools into Microsoft Teams gives HR leaders and managers even greater scope when it comes to dealing with virtual teams. By integrating performance management software that features HR admin tools, leaders can bring a new level of alignment and oversight to their workflow, ensuring that conversations held in Teams are relevant to the objectives of the team.

Performance management software integration allows HR leaders and managers to:

  • Keep teams informed about important updates with a real-time news feed, encouraging cross-collaboration and user generated content to improve engagement. Critical alerts can be sent with multi-channel communications to make sure the crucial updates are instantly received by teams and their members.
  • Create a sense of community between team members via a social intranet. With employees no longer able to have those casual conversations they’d experience in the workplace, a social intranet helps teams build stronger relationships, connecting and collaborating on a deeper level while sharing resources crucial to the development of their roles.
  • Coordinate feedback meetings and reviews with ease. With employees expecting ongoing feedback during uncertain times, these tools allow HR leaders to pull together the information they need regarding performance so that one2one meetings, monthly, quarterly and annual reviews are conducted efficiently, building trust and boosting morale.
  • Set up customizable dashboards and generate instant reports to better understand the circumstances of individuals and teams so that managers can react appropriately. Relevant developments and potential problems in teams and departments can be spotted early and addressed before they become overwhelming.

Increase transparency for higher engagement and productivity

By working within a multi-faceted framework which brings the versatility of the communication of Microsoft Teams in line with performance management analysis, HR leaders and managers are able to leverage this oversight to bring a degree of transparency to teams that guarantee confidence. A culture of transparency drives engagement, and virtual teams can be confident that business leaders are there to support them through difficulties and recognize their successes.

Open and transparent lines of communication can boost productivity in a variety of ways. With conversations in MS Teams channels aligned via performance management software to current objectives, team members are able to share workloads and support their co-workers who might be struggling. Likewise, brainstorming sessions can help bring about unique solutions to challenges virtual teams may be facing and encourage out-of-the-box thinking.

Provide ongoing training for employees and teams to boost innovation

HR administrators and team leaders can use MS Teams to create new channels within each Team for the purposes of training, providing materials and allowing for discussion between co-workers to encourage employee cross-training. HR leaders can use these channels to encourage change agents within teams to share their skills and help colleagues to fill in any gaps in their skill sets.

By linking Teams to performance management tools, HR leaders and managers can gain additional insight into employee skills, identifying which team members possess which abilities and encouraging them to coordinate with their fellow team members to undergo training and development which will benefit both the individual and their team. These tools allow leaders to identify strengths and weaknesses so that virtual team members understand their skills gaps and can participate in relevant future training programs.