Over the last few years, there’s been an increasing push towards virtual teams within the workplace. The advancement of technology has allowed companies to expand geographically, enabling professionals to work from shared workspaces, home offices and hotel rooms armed with wi-fi, a laptop and a mobile phone.
There is considerable excitement associated with sourcing good, low-cost global talent whilst significantly reducing your overheads. However a number of elements need to be considered to navigate the virtual collaboration challenges that may arise, and ensure this new breed of organisational team remains efficient and effective.
When your team don’t share the same physical space, you need to be even more effective at communicating.
Research in the late 2000s revealed that technology could hinder communication due to the lag and information exchange, creating a greater number of misunderstandings. But through direct experience using ‘Slack’ and other instant messenger programs, I’ve actually found communication to increase while encouraging positive relationships with other team members.
Schedule regular times for reporting progress and pitfalls to the team to keep people disciplined, in tune and on track.
In the brick and mortar office environment, ‘busy’ is often mistaken for real work. In the virtual world, the key is to manage expectations and monitor the results rather than monitor the daily activities.
This empowers people who are motivated and take initiative, and will weed out the people who struggle to get things done.
Trust is another element essential to the success of a virtual team. As a society, we often follow the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mindset, which can lead to the question regarding team members’ ability to complete essential tasks whilst out of the office.
Unless systems are set up to capture certain metrics and KPIs, achieving milestones in a virtual environment will rely more on trust than reducing the perception of productivity.
Cristina Escallon from international business school INSEAD, suggests that leaders of virtual teams must create highly defined processes where team members deliver specific results in a repeated sequence. Trust is then firmly established over time.
Creativity is highly regarded in team and organisational success. This goes hand in hand with cultural diversity and divergent thinking. More research is necessary to discover the direct relationship between creativity and virtual teams, but in theory the more creative the team, the more competitive your organisation can become.
Team member well-being is often enhanced by working in virtual teams due to the work life flexibility it allows. This can be directly related to increasing satisfaction, leading to increased productivity. In turn, virtual teams reduce social loafing and can sometimes be inspiring, however this seems to have a negative effect on the traditional hierarchical leadership.
As more workplaces encourage and rely on remote working, the need for virtual teams will increase and will be a new area for more in-depth research.
Virtual teams make it possible for organisations to bring together people with the best expertise, regardless of where they live. For me, it’s a win win. Who wouldn’t want to work from home in their pyjamas?