August 18th, 2010
by Pamela Sherman
Virtual work teams are dramatically on the rise!… Companies can save money and expand their businesses, while at the same time, offer employees distinct life/flexibility advantages. Productivity can be maintained, and in some cases, even increased! However, by no means is creating a successful virtual organization a “no-brainer”. –It’s not easy; but, if you do it right, you can create a valuable edge in today’s marketplace!
“The virtual office is the office of the future,” says John R. Wilson, JD, Esq. President and CEO of GoffWilson, PA., in an article this Spring in HR Magazine. However, as Mr. Wilson conveys and many studies show, an alarming percentage of businesses FAIL to create a successful “Virtual Organization.” Fortunately however, there are some identifiable reasons why… Those we can learn from and avoid --to enhance our own survival and success.
First, what are “Virtual Organizations”? –They are organizations that rely upon communication technologies to create a work environment, involving employees/work teams who do not meet regularly at a designated “company office space” –but rather, in “virtual space.”
Virtual team members work remotely from separate locations, from different countries, states and/or cities. Many elect to conduct a majority of their meetings virtually, even when they live nearby one another. (Some may never even meet in person.)
Adding greater impact, is today’s global economy, with more companies than ever engaging in the virtual collaboration and management of an international workforce. This is requiring us to RE-THINK how we conduct business, build relationships, and interact with a variety of people and cultures worldwide. We are discovering a direct correlation between how well we do this and our overall success. –It many cases, it can make or break us!
Over the last several years, I’ve gathered some research and articles, in addition to my own personal experiences (having mostly worked in a virtual setting the last 5 yrs). As a result, I’ve outlined the following insights and tips to offer ways you can build and manage a more successful “Virtual Work Team”:
BRING AS MANY OF THE DYNAMIC QUALITIES THAT SUPPORT HUMAN INTERACTION AND TEAMWORK INTO THE PICTURE AS POSSIBLE. –This is perhaps the most difficult challenge of creating a successful “Virtual Work Team.” There are some things that are simply different and more difficult when you’re not working in an “in-person environment.” Many valuable nuances can be missed IF you don’t make a conscious effort to foster them. The following are some key examples:
- Strongly develop relationships by including the “KNOW, LIKE and TRUST” factors. –These are absolutely critical! (They are also discussed regularly from a variety of customer marketing perspectives at Web Marketing Therapy, WMT and at Lorrie Thomas’ educational seminars.)
- Consider making “in-person” connections prior to engaging in collaboration or management. –Some (but not all) relationships require it. Remember, “familiarity can often trump technology.”
- Use technologies that work for the team, that support relationship-building and take into account team needs and aptitudes. There are a variety of technologies to select from, such as: GoToMeeting, SharePoint, Skype, Voice-over IP, Video Chat, Webcasts, Electronic Whiteboards, Connect Pro, eRoom, Instant Messaging/Mobile, Jie Basecamp and Google Docs… just to name a few. (Some are free!)
- Create a sense of inclusion and overall rapport. Even small gestures can help significantly. For example, one corporation, for large staff meetings sends their remote team-members Starbuck’s Coffee Gift-Certificates days before the meeting. –So,they too can enjoy complimentary coffee like the in-office staff during the meeting. Another example is recognizing and celebrating team members’ birthdays and company anniversaries (something we enjoy at WMT).
- Apply real “Emotional Intelligence” – For example, understand the importance of giving recognition and appreciation (formally and informally) as well as positive and constructive feedback.
- Try to include multiple creative solutions, like a “virtual water cooler,” and other team-building/communication enhancements. (See Microsoft’s article, “6 Ways to Work More Effectively on a Virtual Team.”)
ESTABLISH EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP WITH GOOD COMMUNICATION AND CLEAR DIRECTION:
- Maintain company brand and culture, with a common vision, purpose and destiny.
- Focus on goals, process and outcomes.
- Define and provide clear communication regarding company structure, operations, roles and expectations (particularly important with international work teams).
- Provide an environment with consistent and regular communication.
- Create a “digital communication rhythm” with team members, using multiple options for communication. Some leaders find it more effective when they allow a variety of ways for team members to communicate, tapping into individual personalities and strengths.
- Become an effective teacher/coach (and/or engage effective teacher-allies as part of your organization). This is becoming more of a necessity in these rapidly changing times. Education, growth, and sales go hand-in-hand!
- Inspire teamwork and creativity. The greatest level of creativity is more often achieved when you engage a diverse work team (IF they are well-managed and inspired with purpose!)
AVOID FAILURES THAT OTHER BUSINESSES HAVE MADE, SUCH AS:
- Making assumptions – not listening, learning and/or clarifying.
- Lacking understanding of cultural differences and business approaches.
- Utilizing email as a primary communication resource in the early stages of development. Not allowing the development of a sense of trust and rapport, which generally require some non-verbal communication.
- Not leveraging the strengths of their team members.
- Not adapting to time zones and languages (when working with international work teams).
- Applying a communication style that is ineffective for the team.
- Lacking clarity in “process” and “decision-making.”
Interesting Statistics: According to a study released last month, 80% of corporate managers work virtually and 63% are members of global virtual teams. 43% of HR professionals say in the next 5 years, their workforce will be telecommuting.