In an increasingly international work environment, the workplace –and the way teams work together –is undergoing significant transformation. As companies’ needs and capabilities change, it’s becoming more and more common for teams to include remote workers or even entirely virtual teams. How can you prepare to be part of a successful virtual team?
Teamwork of any kind can be challenging, with participants needing to find a balance between their different personalities, opinions, and ways of working. Virtual teamwork comes with its own set of challenges, because these differences are often amplified in virtual work situations. Most of these difficulties arise from a lack of communication –or rather, a lack of effective communication.
Think about it.Unlike your co-located team members, virtual colleagues don’t have the opportunity to walk over to your desk to ask you a question, or to get to know you at the coffee machine. They often have to interpret emails or texts to the best of their abilities and hope that they are reading your tone and intentions correctly. You may even have technical difficulties during video calls that result in misunderstandings.
To mitigate these complications and create empowered, successful virtual teams, you need to develop a few new skills. This way, you’ll be able to offer your remote team members the same opportunities available to co-located team members, built on the same foundation of mutual trust and respect.
The first step to achieving successful virtual teamwork is developing trust among your team members. When starting work with a virtual team, you need to find quick ways to build relationships with your new colleagues. Video chat is the best way to do this. When can hear
the other person’s voice and read their body language, it makes us feel safe and more certain that we understood their tone.
Set up a video call with your virtual team at least once a week. Discuss the status of projects, but also ask your teammates what they find challenging or rewarding, as this will help you understand them better. Ask for feedback on how they experience collaborating with you, and praise your teammates for their good work.
Secondly, ensure that you communicate responsively and encourage your team to engage, ask questions and give input. Following calls or video calls, it’s good practice to send a follow-up email containing a summary of any key decisions or instructions arrived at during the call, and to check whether everyone isin alignment. This way, you’ll be sure that the team is on the same page about the way forward.
Connect with your teammates on an instant messaging application and be online as often as you can. Respond to messages as quickly as possible, so that you canresolve any queries or complications as they arise.
This is especially important if members of your team are in different time zones and you could lose many working hours because they’re waiting for you to respond. Establish clear working hours together, inform your team members of hours or days that you will not be reachable, and set a profile status message with information on when you will return.
When communicating through instant messaging, remember to use clear language that can’t be misinterpreted. Rather provide more information and ask more questions than you think is necessary. Remember that it’s difficult to communicate the tone or intention of your message via text. Assume that your colleagues mean well if their messages seem short or irritable, as you don’t have sight of their context.
Be sure to use the appropriate communication channel for the kind of message you are sending. Instant messaging is great for timely communication, whereas email is better for formal processes, while video chats are best for sensitive topics such as constructive feedback. Also be sensitive to which communications you handle as a group and which ones you tackle one-on-one.
A third important aspect of digital collaboration is workflow management. It’s essential that everyone in the team knows which tasks to prioritize, and when the work is due. You certainly don’t want to discover that one of your team members has been working on the wrong task after a few days!
An easy way to streamline your workflow is by using a project management tool that allows everyone to see the status of different deliverables. This way, everyone is on the same page and knows exactly what is expected of them –and when.
A key part of workflow management is ensuring that everyone is aware of important dates, such as deadlines, meetings, leave periods, and even team members’ birthdays or other special occasions. Luckily, it’s easy to implement this kind of transparency by creating a shared calendar. This way, everyone has equal access to this information and can prepare accordingly.
In the various configurations of co-located and virtual teams you encounter in the course of your career, you’ll find that your colleagues have varying abilities when it comes to collaboration –virtual or otherwise. While you can’t control or fix this, you can significantly impact the overall success of the team through your own collaboration skills, and hopefully, influence your teammates in a positive way.There you have it! If you follow these four simple steps, you’ll soon be managing virtual teams like a champion.
For more detailed tips, take the Academy of Brain’s Virtual Teamwork course
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