Being part of a virtual team can be a very enriching experience- it can make it possible for you to work with fantastic people on the other side of the world with whom you wouldn’t have the ability to work with in a face to face traditional setting due to geographical barriers. The trick to making the most of this experience is creating meaningful working relationships, effective communication structures and collaborative virtual workspaces to help bridge the gap. Working collaboratively in a virtual team is one thing, but managing is more challenging because you are accountable to the people and the work outcomes differently which can be challenging- hopefully the below 3 workarounds can help you find success.
Managing a team you see everyday can be challenging enough, but when you don’t have the face to face communication it can make it even harder. They say that very little of our communication is done on paper through words, slightly more verbally but the meat of our communication rests within subtleties of non verbal communication though body language or physical gestures that can be lost while working in a virtual setting.
Workaround #1: make use of communication tools that allow you to see each other when you’re speaking. Use Skype or a similar tool to be able to have eye contact, observe facial expressions and other non-verbal communication. We all know how far a smile can go. As a manager, when giving directions or feedback, ensuring that your virtual team member understands just as clearly as your ‘same space’ workers is important, and speaking face to face will improve that.
Maintaining balance within a team is always a focus of management, and ensuring people are treated equally and favourites aren’t being played. When a member or part of your team works virtually, it’s easy for them to not be top of mind, or for you to even forget about them! It happens; think about team lunches, birthday celebrations, morning coffee and inside jokes. Those simple side bar conversations and informal chatter that happens when working in close quarters- especially pod-like workstations. That is all missed when working in a virtual team.
Workaround#2: Set up a vacant workstation equipped with a chair and a large monitor with speakers connected to your virtual team members. Allow them to have a presence in your workspace, and you theirs, the same way you would have if they were in the cubicle next to you. You can tell jokes, ask off the cuff questions and share a workspace. If you guys are ordering in a pizza lunch, coordinate pizza to be delivered to their work location as well- create a seemingly physical link between workspaces.
In traditional offices, employees usually stagger their start times, some starting as early as 730am and some as late as 930am so catching your employees at the beginning of their day to give them direction or connecting at the end of shift to provide feedback and answer questions can be tricky to schedule when you’re working with varied shifts. Imagine working with someone in another time zone! This is very common when working in virtual teams. If you like having your meetings right off the bat in the morning, this may be the middle of the night for your team members.
Workaround #3: Being cognisant of others time zones and sleep patterns is key. Outlook has a handy option where you can display another time zone on your daily calendar. This can be helpful when scheduling conference calls or Skype meetings. A 2pm after lunch meeting for you could be the middle of the night for your team member! Remember to be flexible. To activate this feature go to: tools menu>options>calendar options>customize>time zones
Using these workarounds can help overcome some easily solved issues that can arise when working in and managing virtual teams. In the case of virtual teams, the effort to make them work is always worth the reward of a diverse and knowledgeable team!
Have you ever worked in a virtual team? What workarounds did your team create to help get the work done?