by Biz Group
Over the last decade, what had once seemed an intriguing concept that would most probably never become a prolific reality, has slowly and steadily risen to prominence. That concept is virtual teams.
As businesses became aware of the cost-saving and productivity-boosting possibilities, composition and utilisation of virtual teams became more prevalent throughout the business world. Then 2020 happened.
The events of 2020 (something about a global pandemic – you may have heard of it!) have changed everything. Within a matter of weeks, millions and millions of virtual teams were created and became absolutely critical to business continuity.
What the future holds for the whole concept of a physical office environment could be another blog in itself, but one thing is for sure, virtual teams are definitely here to stay.
What exactly do we mean by the phrase “virtual team”? Well, as it’s a phrase that is open to a certain amount of interpretation, I think it’s useful to define it here before we delve deeper. So, by “virtual team” we mean a team that has core members who are situated in varying geographical locations and interact primarily through remote working software.
With that established, let’s start thinking about what tactics, methods and processes can be instigated to ensure a virtual team is best placed to succeed. You can give a virtual team the very best remote working apps, and the most advanced online collaborative software the digital world has to offer, but if those tools aren’t utilised in the right way you’re headed for a struggle. There are ways and means to position a virtual team on the path to an ideal collaborative utopia. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.
There’s a big project coming up, your virtual team is in place (well, various places), and ready for action. What can you do to ensure the team becomes a cohesive, collaborative, ultra-productive tour de force? Let’s take a look:
I know what you’re thinking “this is an article on virtual teams, this guy has lost the plot”, but bear with me on this one. Early face-to-face connection and communication is indeed immensely important to build team spirit and forge relationships. However, for a variety of completely understandable reasons, it might not be possible to get your team all in the same room at the same time. Not to worry though, there are now incredibly effective remedies for that troublesome roadblock. There have been phenomenal advancements in virtual teambuilding and training over recent years, so why not get your team together virtually to lay those vital connection foundations.
2) Instill Routine
With team members spread far and wide, and the likelihood of drastically different working environments across your team – establishing a cohesive structure can be a challenge. It can be worryingly easy for a virtual team to become disconnected from the ebb and flow of normal working routines. How can these potential pitfalls be avoided? Regular scheduled meetings are certainly a good starting point – same time and day of the week where possible; producing a meeting agenda and sharing it prior to the meeting; minutes being taken; action points being assigned. It all helps to introduce a routine and structure that can be absolutely essential in driving the effectiveness and productivity of a virtual team.
3) Encourage Informal Interaction
There are still way too many bosses out there who fail to see the importance of fostering a strong team bond through teambuilding, and ensuring team morale remains high. A team environment where people feel connected, invested, and part of something important, will drive engagement and ultimately, increase productivity. Take time in meetings for informal chat….you know, those office-based “water cooler” type conversations. Celebrate significant team achievements together. Acknowledge personal milestones, birthdays, outstanding accomplishments. Maybe have an “employee spotlight” section in your regular team meeting where the team member can share a bit more about themselves, their hobbies and interests etc – obviously with the caveat that they feel comfortable doing so. A virtual team doesn’t have to be a collection of individuals, of virtual strangers, it can be a true team in every sense of the word.
4) Trust your Team
Some managers don’t trust their employees. It’s as simple as that. If that’s the case within a virtual team, when the employees are out of eye-shot, the manager will inevitably resort to some sort of a virtual micromanagement. You don’t need me to start breaking down micromanagement here but, suffice to say, it’s never…ever…a good thing. So, a manager trusting his team really does become immensely essential in the virtual working environment. Bosses that struggle with placing a level of trust in their teams should rest assured that if a team member is taking any kind of advantage (in a negative way) of the remote working situation, it will be become very apparent, very swiftly. One useful (but not overbearing or intrusive) practice, is to instigate the use of a tasks dashboard where the team can share with their colleagues the current projects they’re working on.
5) Communication is Key
Communication breakdowns. They’re as old as workplaces themselves. People on different wavelengths. Innocent misunderstandings. They are a regular occurrence in offices all over the world. It’s up for debate as to whether the chances of communication breakdowns are increased or decreased in the virtual team environment, but it’s certain that those chances can be lessened by employing particular best practices. Try putting some guidelines in place for the team, like a maximum time-frame in which they should respond to questions, queries or requests. Follow-up video conferences with emails to clarify any decisions taken, or action points allocated, within the meeting. It’s also a good idea to express to the team that when team meetings are taking place, everyone involved should be fully engaged to ensure effective and productive collaboration. Translated = no multi-tasking during team meetings because it increases the chances of communication breakdowns.
So, there you have it. We really hope the guidance and advice shared above proves to be helpful and effective for your business.
Virtual teams are very much a big part of our present and will be an even bigger part of our future. Ultimately, that is a good thing for a plethora of significantly valid reasons. Like every good thing though, they can rapidly turn bad if they’re not garnered with proper care and attention.
Instilling the right methods and practices into a virtual team will ensure it survives, thrives, and flies high…..to the outstanding benefit of all involved. Time to climb onboard.