A dream team without boundaries: a team with the freedom and flexibility for healthy work-life balance; the ability to select the best people for the job, regardless of where they are in the world.
That’s the goal. Of course, the reality is always different, and it can be challenging for managers and leaders to build a successful team when you’re not in the same physical place.
Digital teams are popular options for all forward-thinking businesses – teams from distant locations can simultaneously access the same project and chat online as easily as if they were sitting around a table in a conventional meeting room.
Virtual teams allow companies to compete in a global society, adapting to new working practices and environments.
But what does all this mean for the leader looking to build a virtual team?
It‘s crucial that, as a leader, you know how to manage virtual teams, as they form a unique structure in a relatively new era of working.
Having communication guidelines will make sure everyone is on the same page and developing a structured workplace, even when it‘s digital, will ensure cohesive and productive teamwork.
Remote working can offer increased productivity and lower attrition according to a recent Stamford study, which found that those working remotely find it easier to concentrate and are less likely to be off sick or take prolonged leave.
So, what are the challenges you face when putting together your virtual team?
1. Lack of traditional structure
It’s hard to create a great office culture if you have no office.
As colleagues in a virtual team, you could not ‘talk’ for days, and will possibly never meet in person. So how do you create a team that works well together?
Workflow software will clarify processes and enable you to implement defined process and procedure to allow you to all to work better.
Instant messaging groups can create a sense of belonging – encourage team members to share stories, hobbies and memes to create a sense of their personalities outside of the workplace and bring them closer together.
Remember, everyone has differing communication styles. The trick is to be aware of your team preferences to ensure you keep lines of communication open.
The key to successful communication is clarity.
It’s easy to lose information such as priorities and goals when you’re not face to face, and cultural and language differences can cause additional problems. So, be clear on what you expect individuals to achieve, and how they fit into the bigger picture. If you have different cultures, be respectful and mindful of them and consider some training for the team, so everyone is on the same page.
Time zone challenges can also be stressful – it’s not always easy to meet virtually if one person’s day is several hours ahead of another. One way to overcome this is to rotate meeting schedules, so everyone has to compromise at some point, not just the same person all the time.
3. Task allocation
Too much? Too little? Is your employee drowning in a sea of tasks, or are they not stretched far enough?
It‘s hard to tell in a virtual environment.
Maintaining clear guidelines for standards and expectation for each employee will make the process easier. This can be done in a one to one meeting where you agree on priorities and working hours, making it clear that quality and input should be of the same standard as if the individual were in an office environment.
Checking in regularly will enable you to confirm the work is being done and give the employee the opportunity to raise any issues and confirm they are on track (or need help).
4. Trust issues
Can you develop trust and collaboration as a team pulling together if you never meet face to face?
When you can’t see your team, and they can’t see you, things can get skewed. Maybe someone doesn’t respond to an email, and another team member assumes they are not at their desk working.
Things can soon get out of hand if a disgruntled team member starts to wonder if they are working their socks off while another is easing off on their duties. Distrust takes hold, and before you know it, you have a big problem on your hands.
It‘s crucial, therefore, to identify any issues before they have a chance to balloon. It‘s worth investing in a data management system, such as Monday or Basecamp, that enables the whole team to see who’s working on what, the progress so far, and what has been completed each week.
It’s also an excellent tool for keeping everyone in the loop with progress on tasks.
There’s a subtle difference between working together and really collaborating successfully. Teams who collaborate tend to enjoy the process more and be more productive – coming up with innovative ideas.
For virtual teams, the difficulties for collaboration include the fact that they are, in effect, strangers; building trust and willingness to share information and expertise are critical to success.
Training your team to collaborate is key. An example of a company who has had great success in this is PricewaterhouseCoopers who trained their virtual employees to work together by utilising communication skills, teamwork, emotional intelligence and networking.
6. Performance feedback
It‘s important to provide regular feedback to your team. Keep it constructive and recognise achievements. It will enable them to feel part of something rather than soldiering on alone. It also gives you the chance to keep the conversation going by checking in regularly.
7. Silo working
It’s challenging to create cohesion when you work in a silo. So, take time to check in with individual team members regularly.
Create an opportunity for recognition of a task well done. But be aware of personality and cultural differences. Not everyone will thank you for public attention if they are quiet and reserved; similarly, not everyone drinks alcohol and may not appreciate a bottle of fizz.
Knowing your team – their personality traits, motivations, likes and dislikes – will help you play to their strengths and lead a successful virtual team.
If you are building a virtual team and would like to know more, we can help.
Here at Zestfor, we now offer programmes to help you to discover and optimise your own strengths and get the best out of your virtual team. If you would like to find out more, then send a quick email here.
Until next time,
Can We Help?
Zestfor specialises in developing training programmes and resources scientifically tailored for technical markets – including Pharmaceutical, IT, and Life Sciences.
Our blend of in-classroom, online, and virtual live-stream delivery methods will engage and assure even the most introverted team members from the first meeting – whether face-to-face or virtually. To have a brief chat, call us on 0845 548 0833. Alternatively, please email our team here.