Recession has changed the dynamics of the business world. Sprawling, luxurious headquarter with cozy cubicles, and a pool of talent under one roof is a thing of the past. Companies have adopted heavy cost-cutting mechanisms. Virtual teams are a reality in the global workforce scenario. Technology and digitalization have whipped a storm in the economy. Digital marketing, virtual teams and online workplaces have become the new cool and accepted.
With the plethora of benefits that virtual teams bring on the table, and the large number of companies subscribing to it, one would think that it is the most perfect advancement made in workplace dynamics. However, like any other operation and strategy, virtual workplaces too have their limitations.
The question we answer today is that, ‘do the pros of virtual teams outweigh the cons?’The answer is a resounding yes. Let us look at some of the ways virtual teams can be made a more functional and productive part of the organizational set-up. Companies should effectively adopt the following strategies to extract maximum productivity from virtual teams.
- Adopt a people-first approach
Any business consultant will tell you that people are the most important part of any organization. This holds true for a virtual team as well, in fact probably more. Understand that these teams are operating from different places and time zones. There is no direct contact between the functioning teams.
How will a positive relationship develop? How will the flow of communication occur without a glitch? United efforts and interdependence between teams play a key role in the execution of tasks and achieving output.
But in virtual teams, due to lack of physical proximity and communication, members may prefer a lesser degree of interdependence and chose to work independently. In such circumstances, it becomes pertinent that the organization fosters a culture where there is a right blend of formal and informal communication between the functioning teams. When all parties are actively contributing, discussing and communicating, maximum productivity and best results follow.
Here are a few guidelines of making your virtual teams productive and people-oriented:
- Develop platforms for ideas and spontaneous communication. Twitter, Facebook and the abundance of social media platforms have already done half the hard work for the companies. The emphasis now should be on integrating these mediums to create a culture and atmosphere, where open communication is encouraged between the virtual teams.
- Encourage exchange of collective and individual experiences between virtual partners through shared platforms.
- Congratulate and celebrate professional and personal accomplishments of team members and the teams.
- Have a common resource page accessible to all virtual teams that lays down rules and regulations of virtual interactions, as well as the contextual differences between the participating teams.
- Recruit individuals with leadership and team- spirit attributes
It’s now established that success in a virtual set-up depends closely on people dynamics and interaction.
While the organization’s attitude and technological interfaces are going to play key roles in facilitating trust and co-operation between employees, the employees themselves too will play an integral part.
Hence, it is extremely important that the organization recruits employees who are not just technically adept but also are good team players and possess essential leadership traits. Team players and informal leaders often manage to hold teams together during crisis situations. They also ensure smooth functioning of tasks and can aid in quick decision making when required. They don’t hesitate in reaching out, questioning and this enables them to gain clarity. Such individuals also have the ability to plan tasks and situations well and enable the team to execute them properly.Thus, they prove profitable assets to a firm.
- Create a productivity conducive environment
If establishing rapport and enabling team members to understand the contextual difference was your stepping stone to virtual collaboration success, the next step is enhancing productivity of team members.
Sometimes, firms face a stagnation lull. The virtual teams are getting along well, goals and strategies are clear, yet the output is not up to the mark.
This is a clear indication that the productivity levels are low. Companies must effectively work on procedures to increase productivity of the teams.
How do you achieve that?
- Regular check and review of processes will help streamline processes and make them more efficient.
- Skill building workshop and sessions could stir things up and infuse energy and motivation among workers.
- Clear allocation of monthly or weekly targets also help in defining roles and responsibilities, and enhancing performance.
- Establish a help and feedback team, that can assist team members on any problems that they face during the process. Responsiveness on part of the management is of prime importance.
- Organize a Yearly Meeting
The power of human touch and face-to-face interaction can never be underestimated. It is a good idea to have a meeting once or twice in a year, where all members of an organization meet up and interact. This is an opportunity for team members to actually understand their virtual co-workers. A week long event cannot give co-workers complete insight and perspective into the others’ cultural context, but can obviously create a better understanding and working relationship.
Such meetings prove extremely fruitful when conducted at the introduction phase of any project. The team members get acquainted with one another and develop a deeper understanding of their distant co-workers. This also helps in smoother execution of processes and functions later on and lesser apprehension and formality between co-workers.
Many companies also bring together their virtual teams to celebrate major successes and achievements, to discuss future expansion plans or for conflict resolution. These personal meetings are more than just attaching a face to a name. It is about knowing who your co-workers are and developing mutual trust and reliability.
- Make communication clear and distraction-free
The success of virtual teams depends entirely on effective and clear communication. This poses a challenge because there are no personal interactions. It is all through the threads of technology. It becomes very important then, to ensure that the communication proceeds without any distractions.
First and foremost, eliminate all surrounding noises prior to a conversation. Use noise- canceling headphones. Always use headphones. It’s weird and disturbing watching someone scream at the screen. Don’t cut corners investing in the best communication technologies. Also understand ‘best’ is a subjective term. Don’t opt for the most expensive or latest communication technology. Opt for the one that all your virtual teams are most comfortable with.
Create clear communication protocols and guidelines on which team should be communicated at what time, what are the culturally accepted communication codes and what words have what interpretations in specific cultures.
A virtual workplace is a revolutionary but real concept in the world of work today. You can pick, chose and employ the best talents from across the world. With foresight and preparedness you will feel empowered to make your virtual collaboration a productive and profitable one.
Sebastien Boyer is the Director of Products at Nutcache, a smart and simple collaborative project management tool for all sizes of businesses with time tracking, invoicing and expenses.