The 7 Strategies Your Online Team is Missing (And the Tools to Put Them Into Place)

In 2013 I grew my team from 5 people to 8, spread across 3 countries and 8 time zones.

You’d be surprised at how few obstacles we’ve had to deal with,  thanks in big part to some priceless online tools.

Here are 7 techniques I use to manage my virtual team, plus the tools that make each one possible:

7 strategies for online teams

Technique: Seamless communication

Tool: HipChat

Everyone on my team has a different preferred method for managing daily communications. Some people love email, while others prefer to ask their quick questions via chat. A couple of team members will jump on a call even if it’s just for five minutes. But when we introduced HipChat into the mix, the whole team fell madly in love with this combination online-watercooler-slash-meeting-room. HipChat is essentially a series of online chat rooms available only to members of your team. It provides the opportunity to communicate a whole variety of things, for example:

  • When you’re working. My company doesn’t have a strict 9-5 policy; sometimes you’re more productive during the off hours. When you’re online in HipChat, everyone else knows that you’re “in the office.”
  • When you’re knee deep in your tasks. HipChat gives you options to put up an away or busy message to communicate that you’re not “available.” That way you can concentrate without interruptions.
  • Virtual high-fives. One of our rooms is called “Props” – this is where we spoil each other with well-deserved compliments and thank-yous.

HipChat high five

  • The best of the Internet and our lives. There are some things (like the hilarious things our pets do) that you just can’t NOT share with your coworkers. All that good stuff goes in the main room we literally call the Watercooler.

HipChat Bonus: HipChat rooms are completely searchable – you can easily find conversations about a specific topic months later. Plus there are all kinds of emoticons which make it extremely entertaining to use.

Technique: Breaking down each project into clear tasks with a specific person responsible for each.

Tool: Wrike

There are literally hundreds of project management tools out there, but nothing has impressed me the way Wrike does. You can either assign a task to another team member or to yourself so you don’t forget about something. When you write out the details, assign a date and a person to each “wrike,” it triggers an email to be sent to whomever it’s been assigned to. It’s easy to see what’s on your to-do list for the day, week or the month by checking out different views of your wrikes. And since you can assign wrikes to different categories using labels, you can easily find what’s been completed or already done for a specific project.

Wrike Bonus: It’s easy to see exactly which tasks each team member has on their plate by filtering all tasks by person.

Technique: Team-wide productivity check-in

Tool: iDoneThis

At the end of the workday, we each get an email from iDoneThis asking us to send a list of things they worked on and/or finished during the day. Then the next morning we all receive the “digest,” which is a compilation of the previous day’s iDoneThis lists. I love iDoneThis for lots of reasons. For example:

  • My team gets a chance to look back on their day and see everything they’ve accomplished. They tell me it’s almost always a pleasant surprise to see the results of their workday.
  • I have a clear picture of what everyone’s up to without having to ask
  • When I need to put together a job description to replace a team member, I usually pull it straight from a few iDoneThis lists
  • When someone comes back to work after vacation or being sick, they can easily catch up on what projects the team has been working on.

iDoneThis Bonus: You can “like” or comment on others’ lists of Dones to get more information or simply pat them on the back for their work.

Technique: Monday Meetings with Top 1s

Tool: Google Hangouts

Good morning sunshine! On Mondays, my project manager Sarah is always online and working by 8am. Why? Because at 9am she’s got to lead our weekly meeting where we have 7 bright faces “hanging out” together for almost an hour. We go over the weekly agenda that Sarah puts together in Confluence (more on that next) and talk about what’s on our plate for the day and week. Each team member chooses something from their to-do list and designates it their Top 1. Your Top 1 is that one task you’ll do whatever it takes to get crossed off your list by the end of the week. The Monday Meeting is also our chance to update everyone on ongoing projects, interesting questions that come into to our customer service inbox, marketing reports, and plans for whatever’s next on the docket.

Monday meeting top-1s

Google Hangout Bonus: We have other meetings throughout the week without video, but getting to see everyone’s faces really allows us to bond more as a team. And if you haven’t tried “Effects” in your Hangouts yet, you’re missing out.

Having fun with Google Hangouts

Technique: Giving my team everything they need to do their jobs

Tool: Confluence

We recently switched over to a new (and beautiful) company wiki tool called Confluence. This is where we keep project plans, our style guides, info about company growth, how-to guides for our systems, contact information, and much, much more. By putting everything in one place and keeping it neat and organized, it allows everyone to stay completely informed. Don’t waste time digging around for that one how-to explanation your assistant needs to complete her task. Instead, put it all in one place.  Confluence also makes onboarding new team members far easier than I ever thought possible.

Confluence Bonus: You can tag team members on different pages so that you can be sure they’re alerted to everything that pertains specifically to them.

Technique: Daily “Huddles”

Tool: UberConference

Everyday (except for Monday) the whole team jumps on a ten-minute mini-conference call. We use these huddles on UberConf to check-in and talk about what’s on tap for us that day. We go around in the same order every day, stating any roadblocks we’re facing and giving a progress update on our Top 1s. This isn’t a time to work through those roadblocks or collaborate, but rather to keep everyone informed and ask lightning-fast questions to clarify anything that was mentioned. Then we break and further discussion continues on HipChat or in individual meetings.

UberConference Bonus: UberConf lets you dial in with the same phone number and passcode everyday. You barely even have to think about it.

Technique: Inbox Zero

Tools: Wrike, Boomerang

I am a HUGE proponent of Inbox Zero. (By the way, this doesn’t mean 0 unread emails – it means 0 EMAILS IN YOUR INBOX). My philosophy is that when your inbox is full, things tend to slip through the cracks. You don’t see emails that come in, and you forget to respond to people. Plus, when you have zero emails in your inbox, your mental and online workspace feels clean and clear. I don’t want anyone wasting time by scanning their emails deciding what to do next or reading an email yet again that they’ve already read!

Check out my game plan for achieving inbox zero with Wrike and Boomerang, exactly as it’s outlined in our Inbox Zero page in Confluence.

Boomerang Bonus: Since Boomerang is an extension in your browser, it becomes fully integrated into your Gmail account. Setting up reminders or scheduling emails to go out later has become ridiculously easy.

With tools like these, managing and growing a team (even one that keeps growing) can actually be something you enjoy. Tweet it!

What am I missing?

This isn’t the complete list of online tools I use in my business. (Check out that link to see the full list – you’re probably going to want to bookmark it).  But these are the primary ones I use to manage a distributed team.

I’m not averse to change, though! If there’s a tool you use for running a team of remote people, I want to check it out and see if it might help me improve my management style, so please leave a link to it in the comments below!