Managing a team is a balancing act. A good manager knows how to provide proper supervision while granting her team members the discretion to exercise their own judgment.

When you’re running a department or business that includes outsourced workers, there are new challenges (and benefits) to consider. Here are 7 tips to successfully manage a virtual outsourced team.

  1. Make sure outsourced team members understand your company’s goals as a whole and their role in the big picture.

    Outsourced team members should understand not just how they contribute on a project basis, but their role in furthering the organization’s objectives. It’s important when managing an outsourced team to make sure they understand the big picture. Their work product will be more in line with organizational goals, and they’ll feel more connected to the organization as a whole.

  2. Include outsourced team members in on regularly scheduled team meetings.

    With a remote team—outsourced or not–serendipitous and incidental run-ins aren’t possible. Accordingly, managers need to be proactive about providing an organized forum for collaborating and communicating with other team members. Email is great, but there’s no true replacement for voice-to-voice or face-to-face contact, which can be accomplished with video conferencing platforms like Zoom.

    As a manager, make sure you include outsourced team members in these meetings. This is much more efficient and will make sure that everyone is on the page. Having meetings with only on-site team members at the exclusion of outsourced workers is a sure-fire path to miscommunication. Outsourced workers should have ownership of distinct functions and excluding them from regular communication will sacrifice important feedback and impede team cohesion.

    As with in-office meetings, you’ll want to prepare for your meetings lest they devolve into meandering conversations or spit-balling sessions.

    Circulate an agenda beforehand and invite other participants to add their own items. You can table items or ask team members to follow up, but you need to follow through on those topics in future meetings.

  3. It’s the Little Things That Count: Treat Outsourced Teams Just as you Would Employees.

    You’d be surprised how much the little things matter. If you celebrate an in-house team member’s birthday with some cake and an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday”, do something for your outsourced remote team member’s birthday as well. Sure, they can’t be in the office, but maybe you send out some cupcakes and sing that person Happy Birthday over a group call. It seems like a small thing, but it truly is the small things to go a long way to creating a cohesive team instead of an “us” vs. “them” environment.

  4. Communicate Expectations and Have Agreed Upon Policies.

    If you’re in the office, even if it’s never stated, you’re aware that the “unofficial” hours at your department are around 9:30 am -5: 30 pm. It may not be officially stated, but simply by being around, you notice “how it works”. Remote workers don’t witness that. They may have a different idea of when the workday begins, and how long it should take to get back to someone. Expectations (whether official policies or unwritten rules) should always be communicated early on to avoid any unintentional missteps.

  5. Forums for Staying Connected and Building Community.

    Make sure your remote workers feel like part of the team. When you have team members working outside the office, particularly when they are in different time zones, doing different projects, it can be easy for people to feel like siloed outsiders (particularly if some employees are in-house and some are outsourced) instead of a collaborative group.

    One way to combat this siloed effect is by providing technological communities. Whether it is an actively used intranet, a Slack channel that groups of people are all part of, or some other method, having a central area in which members can communicate is key.

  6. Transparency and Inclusion.

    One challenge of having a virtual team is building trust amongst team members who have rarely or never met each other and work in isolation. It is therefore even more important for their team leader to be as transparent as possible about developments such as changes to team personnel, changes in the overall strategy, and evaluations of team member performance. In this regard, frequent communication regarding performance, whether formal or informal, can be helpful.

    Similarly, you should expect transparency from team members as well. Team members should be requested (through app or survey) to disclose their level of engagement with their job. They should also be provided with opportunities to provide feedback and disclose the challenges they are facing.

  7. Technology that Facilitates Remote Working.

    As with any team, project management is a critical aspect of leadership. Make sure that you have the right tools available. Software like Trello and Asana, which provide boards for collaborating on projects and managing deadlines, is indispensable. In addition, team members should be able to communicate in real-time via instant message and facilitate richer online discussion using online forums such as Slack.

    Utilizing remote outsourced workers is a fantastic way to bring together talent from different regions to work together in concert. Harnessing the power of a remote team requires adopting tools that will allow members to collaborate. With effective management processes and a skilled team, you’ll be ready for success!