Virtual teams are becoming an increasingly popular way for organizations to boost productivity by facilitating collaboration among far flung employees while eliminating travel costs.
In fact, according to a white paper recently released by Kenan-Flagler Business School’s [email protected], a groundbreaking program which delivers their MBA online to students globally, virtual teams average 10 to 43 percent more productivity than co-located groups. But virtual teams function differently than co-located groups, and they need effective management to realize those productivity statistics.
Here are five tips that can help you lead your virtual team to victory:
1. Choose Your Team Carefully
It takes a particular type of individual to rise to the challenge of working in a virtual team, according to [email protected]’s white paper. Those who demonstrate a flair for independence, consistently take initiative and communicate well with others will excel on a virtual team. People who lack those qualities may become distracted from their work or may fail to overcome the challenges of long-distance communication with their team. Choosing individuals who have already demonstrated these qualities will ensure the whole team’s productivity.
2. Use Technology Appropriately
A sophisticated and quickly evolving set of tools for online communication offers endless possibilities for collaboration. However, matching the right tool to the right job is vital to harnessing the power of each technology. Utilizing a mixture of synchronous technologies (video conferencing, chat rooms) and asynchronous technologies (email, message boards) will allow team members to work on different schedules while being well prepared for online meetings. It also helps to remember while groundbreaking advances in technology can profoundly change the way we do business, older technologies need not be forgotten.
While your team will surely benefit from eight-way video conferencing, an old fashion phone call will sometimes be an easier and more direct way to answer a question.
3. Train Your Virtual Team
How do you ensure that every member of your virtual team will know the right tools for each task and how to use them? Provide each team member with specialized training on working in a virtual team.
The fast pace of technological advancement requires that team members stay up to date on how to use the technologies appropriate to their particular tasks, understand productive organizational structures and are familiar with established team processes. Training that addresses the most relevant cultural differences, such as differing norms in group decision-making processes, can also prevent communication problems before they arise.
4. Establish Formal Collaborative Roles and Processes
Because of cultural differences and the particular challenges of online collaboration, it is necessary to explicitly formalize certain processes that you might not regulate in a traditional office. Establishing a uniform decision-making process, clearly defining distinct roles for each team member and creating a clear schedule of deadlines are all doubly important for managing virtual teams. These measures will help to prevent misunderstandings and build trust among team members.
5. Respect Geographical and Cultural Differences
Collaboration between team members in different countries on different continents can lead to obstacles if individuals do not approach each other with respect, understanding and particular pieces of basic information. Some of these differences are obvious, while some are more nuanced.
For example, it is common courtesy for team members to consider each other’s time zones when scheduling video conferences. Cultural differences in group decision making processes may also require greater subtlety to navigate, as some business cultures tend to make decisions during informal pre-meeting conversations, while others tend to practice a long-term consensus building process.
This article was written by Social Media Outreach Coordinator Harrison Kratz on behalf of CAREEREALISM-Approved Partner, 2tor — an education technology company that partners with institutions of higher education such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to deliver their accredited MBA program online.
Virtual team leader image from Shutterstock