Strategies for Working Successfully Within a Virtual Team

 

I’ve been working on virtual teams for several years now and recently started to think about some of the tools and techniques that I’ve seen used to effectively engage employees when there is little or no face-to-face (f2f) interaction. Some of the little interactions that we take for granted in a traditional work setting are not as easily replicated in a virtual work environment. In a traditional office setting, employees typically greet one another, even if it’s just a passing hello on the way to one’s desk. These settings allow for virtually endless opportunities to connect throughout the day whether it’s as they walk by colleagues on their way to another office, the lunch room, or just to stop by to check-in on a project. Then, of course, there’s the coffee/lunch room – a veritable meeting place for most workplaces.

 

With the ever-increasing advances of technology and the subsequent comfort people have using it, virtual or distance workers are becoming more commonplace. Some of the techniques I’ve seen for engaging virtual work teams are listed below:
  • Annual retreats, allowing staff to reconnect, build relationships, and engage in professional development opportunities
  • Regular team meetings (e.g., weekly teleconferences, audio conferences)
  • Regular project meetings using suitable communication technologies
  • Online document storage to ensure that all team members have equal access to required documents
  • Effective use of available communication technologies, including:
    • Telephone
    • Chat (e.g., MSN)
    • Videoconferencing using web cams (e.g., Skype)
    • Audio conferencing (e.g., GoToMeeting)
    • Email
    • Online planning software as a virtual white board (e.g., mywebspiration.com)
Some of the challenges that virtual teams may face, include:
  • Taking longer to build relationships and trust amongst team members
  • Misinterpreting electronic communications (e.g., email, telephone, audio conferencing, text chat) because of a lack of body language
  • Developing processes for communication and providing feedback amongst team members
Despite there being some challenges to working within a virtual team, there seem to be an endless number of benefits that this type of work arrangement can offer. Some benefits include:
  • Working with colleagues from other regions and countries
  • Enhancing one’s technology skills
  • Working flexible hours, particularly when a team is spread across various time zones
  • Saving money by not having to commute to an office (e.g., transportation, parking)
  • Decreasing wardrobe costs if working mostly from home
  • Experiencing a sense of well-being from lessening one’s environmental footprint
Although not an option for every workplace and not for every individual, I am happy that I’ve been able to work on virtual teams and experience the wonderful benefits of doing so!
Originally posted July 16, 2009 by Krista Maydew

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