Back To CourseBuilding a Virtual Team
3 chapters | 18 lessons
Sudha is currently an Information Technology Specialist and a EdD student at the University of Delaware.
A recent survey found that technology is changing the way people work. The number of people working remotely, virtually, or during non-traditional (not 8 to 5) working hours increased by 4 percent between 2012 to 2016. Many of these workers are part of a virtual team.
A virtual team of people working on the same project can include both national and international employees who work from different global locations and probably have never seen each other face to face.
Bob, the manager of a virtual team, is facing some challenges. Since he is not in close physical proximity to his team members and not able meet them at on-site meetings, he is often not fully aware of what each team member is working on. For example, Alicia in Texas may not have updated Bob about the fact that she is waiting to discuss a problem-solving strategy with Li in China, or that Matt in Kansas is waiting for Alicia to complete her report before he can start his work.
Even though his team is widely dispersed, Bob and upper-management decided to organize the very first face-to-face meeting for the entire team. Though this would be a large expense upfront, the benefits would outweigh the finances spent. This meeting would provide an opportunity for team members to create stronger bonds, which is difficult to do through virtual meetings alone.
The first meeting was a great success. Meeting in person also provided Bob the opportunity to create a personalized environment, make each team member feel welcome, share the future vision of the company, and encourage communication among the team members. This was important to help team members feel like they are a part of a larger organization and to understand how their contributions fit into the big picture.
In a regular office, the water cooler is where employees get to meet with each other and exchange details about themselves and their families, build friendships, and feel that they are part of a work family. Bob decides to implement technology that will help create 'virtual water coolers', using collaboration software with text messaging and video chat options. This would help to open up avenues for team members in remote locations to communicate with each other, connect, and talk casually about things that are not always work-related, thereby promoting bonding.
In the first month that the virtual water cooler was implemented, Bob could already notice a positive effect - team members connected and came up with a great idea of surprising Kate with a virtual baby shower! One of the team members, Dave, also came up with the idea that each person should say a quick 'hi' or check-in when they are logged into work, wherever they are and whatever the time of the day is - the equivalent of saying 'Good Morning' in an office.
In one of the professional development courses that Bob attended, it was suggested that it would be helpful for the team manager to meet one-on-one virtually with all the members of the team on a regular basis, even if it is only for around 5-10 minutes. Bob starts off with checking on Tim, who is working in Alaska, through video chat. Tim was encouraged by Bob's call; he admitted that working by himself with no other team members in close proximity, especially during long winters, can become isolating at times. Bob's call made Tim feel happy and cared for.
Bob decides to implement this strategy and make it a point to spend one-on-one time with each and every member of his team. Through expressing empathy, Bob can build a strong trusting relationship with his team, which encourages everyone to discuss difficult topics openly and results in increased productivity.
Another idea Bob implemented was to create an online discussion board where everyone can collaborate 24/7. His team liked this idea, as it allowed for a shared work area where members can bounce off ideas for projects and share expertise with each other.
Bob also encouraged members to use the discussion board to collaborate and encourage social interaction when their travels take them to the hometown of one of the other members. They can meet for lunch or dinner and get to know each other. This idea worked well - when attending a conference, Terry picked Sandra and James at the airport, and they went to lunch and a tour of NY!
As his team continued to expand, Bob realizes that members of his team are not aware of each other's cultures and this can cause miscommunication. Joline in South America is always late for meetings. Her team members complained, but being late for 5-10 minutes was nothing out of the place in her culture, Joline explained. To help everyone to be on the same page, Bob organizes cultural diversity training and lays out a norm that meetings allow for 5 minutes extra time to start, to accommodate everyone.
Another issue that Bob noticed is that during video conferencing, body language was important. For example, putting feet up on a table is considered disrespectful in some cultures, so everyone should be made aware of this cultural difference to show respect.
Since virtual teams consists of members who are in different geographic locations and often work in isolation, team managers find it challenging to keep members engaged and interested. A strong camaraderie among team members and the team manager helps build trust, leading to open discussions and increased productivity.
Some strategies for keeping virtual teams engaged include face-to-face meetings, virtual 'water coolers', one-on-one time, and social interactions. Also when the virtual team is global, cultural diversity training will help to keep everyone informed about other cultures and also establish norms for standard business practices.
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Back To CourseBuilding a Virtual Team
3 chapters | 18 lessons
Next LessonPractical Application: Analyzing Communication for Virtual Teams