Managing virtual teams across continents

Establishing a virtual team allows you to harness skills from around the globe, but there are several key considerations to ensure it is a success

When you’re operating across time zones, clear communication is crucial. It’s vital to ‘take out the noise’ and be very specific in terms of goals, processes and expectations. In a non-virtual team, a lot of time can be spent debating and allocating tasks. But with virtual teams, it’s important to set goals straight away and be very clear as to how they break down into specific tasks for each team.

We place huge importance on clear communication at GAIN Credit, so all colleagues are assessed and rewarded partly on their ability to communicate clearly and concisely. This includes their ability to participate and contribute productively in business meetings through their insights, verbal skills or presentations. This feeds into their personal development plans, giving them direction so they can constantly improve. It is also embedded into our recruitment processes. We often run virtual interviews with our candidates so we can assess these skills, and how comfortable they are with our systems.

Another key success factor is ‘cultural fit’ and recruiting colleagues based on how well they align to our culture and values. We place a lot of emphasis on cultural fit at GAIN Credit because it’s vital that colleagues can interact with people across different cultures and prove their ability to manage virtual teams. Key things to consider are: can the candidate communicate clearly and concisely? Are they comfortable with technology? Can they work across time zones?

The use of cutting-edge audio and video tools is another success factor to reduce the risk of messages and tasks getting misunderstood. Video calls can be one of the best ways to maximise efficiency because they include the many non-verbal communications that are important for establishing culture, values and rapport. Scheduling these video briefings at the same time on the same weekday is also important to creating an effective office routine.

Building a high-performance global team requires this trust and rapport, which can also be strengthened through in-person visits. Staff in each of our sites travel to our global locations to further strengthen relationships. We also create opportunities throughout the year for informal team-building like off-sites, town halls and fun team outings.

Celebrating success and rewarding colleagues also helps to keep teams motivated and engaged. We host an annual ‘GC Day’ for colleagues and families, recognising accomplishments in and out of work, as well as running talent shows with singing, dancing and drama. We also host an annual week-long event for colleagues where the CEO and other execs serve the food to illustrate our flat structure and one team approach. Plus, we display our values with awards and an employee bonus system, which we believe has helped us achieve our most recent employee engagement score of 78%.

Finally, as a virtual leader, finding the right balance of on the ground and virtual management is vital to maintain leverage. As with any team, project management tools are vital to keep track of deadlines. Something like Google Docs can be a great addition and the same is valid for time-tracking applications.

Our India subsidiary has been voted one of the top 50 companies to work for two years in a row (and in the top 25 among mid-sized workplaces the second time). This is a direct reflection of the values and strategies that we hold as a company in all locations, both virtual and physical.

Rajiv Sharma is VP of HR at GAIN Credit (GC), an alternative lending fintech company spread across three continents