How to Make Virtual Teams Work

7 November, 2016

Build an Amazing Team HR for Agile Management

Companies are transforming. Due to local skill shortages and disparate global labour costs, many companies are opting to set up virtual teams.

Virtual teams are made up of geographically dispersed people, usually from different time zones, ethnicities and cultures, united by various technologies and a common goal. The benefits – such as reduced operational costs and finding better talent across the globe – aren’t just for organisations. Individuals are also choosing to join virtual teams because they provide more flexibility, especially in a society driven by time.

However, operating a virtual team as opposed to a traditional co-located team comes with challenges. The right technology is paramount in operating a virtual team, along with finding the right people with specific skills who are supported by a dynamic leadership team.

Choose appropriate communication tools

Effective communication is especially crucial in the performance of a virtual team and to achieve successful outcomes for the organisation. Think beyond email: there are much more appropriate communication tools available for different kinds of conversations or messages.

Messaging apps

Quick questions and updates that require immediate response or attention can be done through the traditional phone call or the trendy messaging app.

Do not shy away from the wide range of messaging apps available, from Slack to Google Hangouts. More workforces are now placing their confidence in these apps and prefer messaging over any other means of communication. Information that needs to be attended to but does not require a lengthy discussion is best disseminated through messaging apps.

Video calls and webinars

Regular meetings should also be scheduled and as much as possible, using technology that allows open and visual communication like video conferencing and webinars.

Even if you are all in different locations, meetings are still important to ensure that project assignments and tasks are well discussed and understood. For everyone in the team to be able to see each other (at least virtually) is a huge advantage in making them feel like they belong to a team that consists of real people.

Use web cams to mimic face-to-face communication as much as possible, as it is the highest bandwidth communication available to us and the best way to create a shared understanding between all team members.

Gather the right team members

While virtual teams have numerous benefits, joining a virtual team is not for everybody.

By removing co-located interactions, virtual teams lose a key component that binds people together. Human beings are social animals and the isolated nature of remote work will not fit everyone’s personalities. Hence, from the very beginning of building the team, selection of the members must be purposeful and consistent. Don’t just hire anyone whose CV matches your job description (not that I condone that for co-located team members, either!).

Virtual Team Interview Checklist

The key to selecting the right people to work in virtual teams is to be vigilant during interviews.  Ask questions and lead the conversation to determine if this candidate can:

  • Utilise and connect with people in a simulated environment.
  • Display good communication skills and the ability to work independently.
  • Sustain a high level of motivation without regular person-to-person contact with team members.
  • Self-motivate, self-direct and complete their everyday work autonomously.

Also, be sure to look for cross-cultural discrepancies and treat them with the respect they deserve: one-size-fits-all is last century’s recruitment thinking. Remember that your team will consist of a diverse range of people and to maintain harmony, each member must be sensitive to each other’s differences. The team lead will need to be hyper-aware of such difference and actively work at ensuring it does not get in the way of productivity and effectiveness.

Leadership is key!

Leadership is one of the most important aspects of a well performing virtual team. Similar to the people who make up the team, the leadership must also have a good balance of logic and emotional intelligence. The lead should be capable of driving the team to their goal with a clear direction, free from ambiguous instructions and processes.

Knowing how to manage people across different time zones can be a big challenge. Beyond simply converting time zones to schedule meetings, time zone offset can affect how fast work can be returned and reviewed, and how much time team members have available to respond to tasks and questions each day. A good leader also considers how meetings at different times of the day affect their team. If some members struggle with very early or late meetings, the team might miss out on their full participation.

Perhaps the most important quality that one should have is the ability to trust people. A virtual team leader must inspire confidence in their team to openly and freely communicate with each other. Talented virtual team members enjoy the flexibility of such an arrangement, meaning that micro-management is even more ill-advised in a virtual environment. To build trust can be very tricky in this setup but it is the key to keeping the team together. Be a leader who can foster trust and reliability across everyone in the team.

The globalisation of the world has led to the exciting but challenging prospect of virtual teams. Virtual teams with the right mix of tooling, membership, and leadership, can be just as effective as co-located teams, while offering lower operating costs and giving employees greater flexibility in their lives. The right setup can lead to a long-term win/win situation.

Are you running a virtual team right now? How do you manage yours? What have been your biggest challenges? Drop us a comment below!

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