The Internet has truly changed business and commerce as we know it. We’re playing in a truly global economy now, and that makes international teams a valuable asset for any business, large or small. The internet is also what makes it possible for such remote, “virtual” teams to exist, allowing everyone to connect and exchange information no matter how wide spread the team members. Of course, keeping a virtual team on task has a set of challenges all its own. Here are the vital tools and skills any online boss needs to keep their operation running smoothly.

The Right Tools for the Job

The first step in facilitating productivity and communication in any virtual team is ensuring that you have the right tools to get that job done. In a traditional workplace, communication is easy: it’s all in person, thanks to everybody being in the same location. Managing a far flung virtual team, however, the quality of your communication will often depend on the quality of your communication software.

With the advent of better networking tools and better internet speeds, video conferencing has exploded into prominence, surpassing voice conference calls as the number one way for teams to stay in touch.

In earlier days, setting up an in house video conferencing network was an expensive, time consuming, and glitch nightmare, requiring expensive equipment and an involved installation process. Fortunately, now every smartphone, tablet, and computer had a video camera and internet access, and video conferencing can be hosted entirely online.

Video conferencing services like Blue Jeans offer entirely cloud-hosted, browser based conferencing, which allows anyone to access a call from any device. Just send an email a link, and your employee or coworker can join the conversation with one click. Blue Jeans also offers localized services, so Singapore companies can get a huge savings on video conferencing equipment with Blue Jeans SG.

Etiquette, Adaptability, and Understanding

Managing remote workers is a challenge all on its own, but when you add in time differences and cultural boundaries, managing a multinational team can be a true tightrope walk. It takes thought, empathy, and tact to manage a multinational team, and any manager will make a few missteps along the way.

The key, according to Donna Flynn of the Harvard Business Review, is to make a point of acknowledging cultural differences and the potential for awkward moments early. It fosters a culture of openness and understanding, and helps ensure your team members feel comfortable speaking up if a boundary has been crossed.

Understanding can turn a cultural misstep into a good laugh for your team, instead of an awkward moment that goes unaddressed and festers into a larger problem.

Adaptability also plays a key role in collaborating across time zones. It may be tempting for a manager to go without sleep to keep everyone on the same page, but Harvard Business Review and Forbes Magazine both say it’s far more beneficial to get your sleep and share the load of late nights. Donna Flynn’s team rotates their meeting schedule so that no one is expected to attend a late night meeting: they’ll have one meeting night off every four months, when the team meeting falls in the middle of the night for their time zone.

Clarity and Communication

When your team isn’t guaranteed to see each other in person every day, keeping a clear set of goals and agendas becomes crucial. Harvard Business Review says to clarify, clarify, clarify: make sure everyone is aware of their tasks and the processes they need to follow to accomplish them, not just overall goals and their role in the team. Make sure you budget time in team meetings to cover details that you might otherwise just take “as it comes.” Simplify your instructions as much as possible so they can be easily delivered and understood without grinding a meeting to a halt.

Wade Foster of Zapier, a very successful remote management team, also recommends hiring people with good writing skills. With only occasional face to face team meetings via video conferencing, almost all communication will be written, so it’s vitally important that your team can exchange information efficiently via email.

This is another area where the right tech will go a long way towards keeping your team on track and running smoothly. Media sharing functions, like Blue Jean’s virtual whiteboard, make it easy to exchange photos, documents, and even video and audio media in process. They’re great for workshopping media that’s still being edited and developed, or for taking notes and minutes, leaving a permanent record for anyone who couldn’t attend the meeting to get caught up. Your team can also treat a virtual whiteboard as a chatroom, keeping each other updated about their progress, asking for help, and socializing and bonding.

A Few Final Words

Any effective team needs good communication, and virtual teams are no different. However, keeping communication up and productivity high in a virtual workspace takes a new set of skills…and a new set of technology to facilitate those skills. However, with the right software at your disposal and the right mindset and agenda, a virtual team could be the boost you need to get your business playing at the truly global scale.

written by Allie Caren, The Asian Entrepreneur Business Author Trainee.