Virtual teams are becoming the norm in the workplace today. In a recent survey of virtual teams, results by RW3 Technologies stated that corporate teams are now almost entirely virtual. In 2012 they reported that 33% of respondents said more than half of their teams include members from other nations. In 2014 that number grew to 41% and then to 48% in 2016. The trend is clear that teams are becoming more international. The cost of in-person meetings simply doesn’t makes fiscal sense, so we see virtual teams as a certain future in the corporate world. Perhaps the most alarming statistic found in their results was that only 22% of respondents have participated in virtual team training. Though virtual teams are ubiquitous, it appears few are being provided with the skills and training needed to be successful in a virtual working environment. I’ve provided three tips to create the most effective virtual team that are a good starting point to build a strong foundation for an effective virtual team.
1. Understand and Test for Soft Skills in the Selection Process
An employee that works on a virtual team will need to be proficient in several soft skills to be a high performer. For example, someone who works from home with low levels of integrity could be justifying fewer work hours to take care of a personal agenda. Someone who is very extroverted might work much better in an office environment where they can see and talk to people face to face. Whatever the case may be, a virtual team will be much more effective if these characteristics and personality traits are tested in the selection process. They can be measured through online hiring assessments, role play, interview questions, or simulations. Once these traits are measured, hiring managers and other stake holders can take a strategic approach to drafting the right virtual team.
2. Collaborate the Right Way
In an HBR article written by Adam Pah, Brian Uzzi, and Rebecca Hinds, they discuss how successful teams collaborate. They talk about five best practices for virtual collaboration in an academic setting. One of their points applies well to the private sector quite well. They stated, “Go small.” This can be followed up by the phrase, “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” This also applies to virtual teams. So often you find too many individuals that are invited to meetings that they don’t need to be attending. So instead of declining the invite, virtual workers will often multi-task during the meeting. This can create a lack of communication and understanding as some meeting issues may be discussed but are missed by the virtual worker since they might be focused on other work during the meeting.
Virtual collaboration is constantly changing with new technology. If your virtual team is still sharing all their files and collaborating through email only, I have good news for you, there’s a better way. Many organizations have been using online storage and collaboration platforms such as SharePoint, Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, and others. Once employees know what they are and think they are using them well, training them how to use them more efficiently and effectively will build the most efficient virtual team.
3. Build a Virtual Friendly Culture
Many job descriptions are adding an option for positions that tell the candidate they can work remotely. It is important to establish a good virtual culture from the application process, to the website, to the day-to-day work. There are many organizations that do not use resources, time, or energy to address concerns that employees have related to virtual teams. In a recent article on LinkedIn, Mary Brodie said this:
“Here’s a challenge that surprised me: on the same day, I had a remote employee vent about feeling lonely, while someone at the office complained about the office being too noisy.”
In his article, 25 Tips to Help You Manage a High-Performing Virtual Team, CEO of Time Doctor, Rob Rawson
suggests implementing creative ways to foster a good workplace culture for remote and office employees. Remote-friendly meetings (even for in-office employees), sharing the future company vision, and celebrating milestones – anything you can do to create a feeling that employees are not just working separately but are truly part of your company and part of a team – is worthwhile.
Yes, you do need to create a virtual friendly culture where office and remote workers are not envious of each other, but rather they focus on their own perks. Though it may take some time and resources, companies need to assess their virtual culture and implement strategies to make the virtual culture more fun, inclusive, and enjoyable. You could even create a committee to tackle this exact issue and ensuring that the environment is more engaging for virtual workers.
Adopting these tips will provide a foundation for effective virtual teams that can be enhanced and improved through additional feedback from employees and stake holders.