5 ways to better manage your team virtually

Written by Verne on July 6th, 2007

5 ways to better manage your team virtually 

Scratch project management. In the long list of skills that successfully get me from one day to the next, I’d say that people management ranks as one of the most valuable skills anybody can have in any profession. Its significance is no less in the creative field. Designers and developers are definitely, for the most part, an ecentric group. Brimming on creative genius-ness and madness (sometimes all at the same time), managing a creative group can certainly take some extra umph.

While I promise to never depict designers and developers as a breed of mad scientists again, you have to admit that people management plays a big role in helping a creative team channel their energy appropriately into effective deliverables. Throw into the mix the fact that you run a virtual company, and you’ve got yourself the weight that sits on my shoulder every day.

I’m certainly no Atlas, but to keep the creative magic flowing, here are a few tactics and values I subscribe to.

  1. Start a Team Communication Portal (aka start a team blog). Termed by one of my technology-buzz-worded partners, establishing a TCP basically consists of starting up a team blog. This allows you to open up the floor to your team to free their minds and interact with each other (rather than working in isolation on their individual projects). Moderate as you please, but the best TCP environments are mod-free! Plus, for WordPress supporters, Registered Only is a great plugin that’ll keep your TCP within your T (enough with the acronyms already).
  2. Personalize your creative brief. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the common industry practice is around the use of creative briefs. But in my personal experience, I’ve found it useful to translate client-provided creative briefs into personalized creative briefs for your creative team. In my personalized briefs, I know who I’m writing the guidance for and I know how they work best, and can thus convert client direction into a more accurate end-product. Besides, passing down a brief that was provided by the client will often overlook the finer and often more important details that conversations with the client commonly encompass.
  3. Remember: you are HR. If you run a small [virtual] creative agency like I do, you’ll understand the idea that you are often the CEO, Accountant, Creative Director, Account Manager, Sales Manager, and Designer/Developer (lucky for me, another trusty partner has relieved me of my accounting duties – and rightfully so). What you also have to come to realize is that you are also Human Resources. Thus, remember to allocate another part of your day to ensuring that your team is smiling and that any accounts of negativity spawning from work are dealt with. Afterall, a happy creative team is a… well, you know the rest.
  4. Help them achieve their goals. Believe it or not, some designers/developers actually aspire to be something more than a designer/developer. In such cases, it’ll be important for you, as their manager, to help map out a path to help them meet their goals. Perhaps they’d like to develop their client management skills, or maybe they aspire to be a creative director. Do what you can to help them reach these targets by exposing them to new experiences, or sharing some of your own insight. Doing so demonstrates that you are invested in their long-term well-being and not just in their work.
  5. Plan to meet face-to-face periodically. In the end, no amount of Facebook poking or blog commenting will amount to the value of a good ol’ fashion handshake. Plan to have your virtual team come together periodically in a physical location to help them match faces to the screen names. If you’re looking to keep productivity up, there’s no better way than to inject some human interaction to boost up spirits. “Wow, you’re a lot shorter than I thought you’d be” would probably be the only downside to meeting face-to-face.

I’m no HR specialist but I am human. And from my clever arithmetic, that makes up half the Human Resources role. And that’s really the underlying point. Your creative team is made up of humans. Manage them well, and they will perform well.

But I’m sure the designer part of your multi-faceted position could have told you that long time ago.

14 Responses

  • Derrick

    Love it. Sounds like an article I would read in Canadian Business Magazine :) Too bad I don’th a virtual team to manage…hah

  • Satish

    Glad my buzz-words come to use every so often – TCPs are key to success!

    One benefit of managing a virtual team is the ability to engage and work with individuals from outside your local area… how does #5 translate for these types of working scenarios where meeting f2f is next to impossible (pocket and time wise)?

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  • Gökhan Ercan

    I do have a virtual project team. It’s really hard to
    keep project alive without face-to-face meetings.
    My project is not “virtual” anymore it becomes “abstract” i think.

    Great article. Thank you.

  • Urnusan

    2 things I think should be added, however, It could be that you ment them with the HR part.

    1st > be the virtual shrink :), talk to them about their personal life and if everything is ok, if not , do what you can to help.

    2nd. > Virtual socializing within the team. while running an 80 people virtual team in the past, the first 10min. of our online meetings (daily base per group, and full team on friday) the first 10 minutes of the meetings where about talking BS :) just every day life stuff and funny things / jokes / interesting news /etc. It had nothing to do with company but is funny and you learn about how the mentality of the person is. Work on team building, its hard but most importend, you need your team to bond with eachother.

    Also what we tried (however we could never find the right game :)) we wanted to do a gaming tournament (groups vs groups).

    To give you some background, we where running a mobile game company, with 8 groups .. Design, Art 2d, Art 3d, 3d development, 2d development Java, 2d Brew, 2d mophun, testing for 4 years. on top of that we have an Indian team for the past 6 years. (however, they are all in the same location)



  • Verne

    That’s a great personal anecdote, Urn! I’d love to talk to you sometime to hear more about how you operated the company (80 virtual workers! woo!) and all the little things you did to make the virtual model work for you.

    I really liked your idea of the 10 min BS sessions at the start of the meetings – it sort of loosens everyone up and gets them comfortable for the productive meeting ahead.

    Question for you – what did you use to hold your meetings online?

  • Zura

    Thank you for this post. I manage a virtual team of creative people (visual and written art) and find it hard to find good encouragement. So many of the management sites deal with offices.

    This was very inspiring.

  • ally

    Thank you for your post I found it very useful. I haven’t been able to find many resources for web designers who are managing a team remotely/virtually. I am about to move into this position and will be managing a small design team in Malasia from Australia. Do you have any tips or know of any other online resources?

  • Shushanna

    Nice! sounds a good leader is able to identify the different talents within the group. Helping members achieve their goals is one way of letting your group members know that they are valued — a nice way of boosting moral, plus you get see what they are all capable of doing.

    You mentioned groups should meet face-to-face. If you’re a reader, you should check out Hyperpersonal Communication. It talks about romantic relationships, but I think it can be useful for task groups as well.

  • Jack

    When managing a team, I believe the manager should be trained to be an effective leader. The idea to meet periodically might be a good idea however, when you meet and cannot get your message across with many of the team members used to the lifestyle of working from their Virtual Offices, it just adds to more cost! The process should start from the very top.

  • Anthony

    Thank you for this post, it seems true that while you are a manager you should always stay a part of your team as an important resource who inspires your people and manages all technical questions – this is like it happens in our small company (we work in IT consulting sector). I should tell you that we have a number of remote freelancers, so it is hard for us to arrange face-to-face meetings (even periodically), but we solve this issue with a help of teleconferencing and some other means, for example we help our people to achieve our shared goals with a help of collaborative to-do listing software ( we use VIP Task Manager http://www.taskmanagementsoft.com ) as it is simple and fast for work planning and tracking, though it cannot work for Mac or mobile devices yet. We use functionality of such software as a “team communication portal” that you mentioned – we store our tasks and conduct our communications via its database.

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