As technology and telecommuting provide greater flexibility for project teams, virtual teams are becoming more common across multiple industries. This is especially relevant now because preventative measures taken to combat COVID-19 are increasing the number of virtual teams across the United States and the world. Many employees have been encouraged or told to work from home, which can add complexity and hurdles for teams trying to accomplish project goals.
At Credera, we believe that teams work their best when they are together, so working remotely is the exception, not the rule. Still, when our clients are in different locations or unique circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic arise, it can necessitate distributed teams.
It is a priority for our teams to stay connected and work closely together even if they are not in the same physical place. So, I will highlight four ways to effectively contribute when placed on a virtual team. These tips come from personal experience spent working on a team dispersed across different states. There are many successful ways to work on a virtual team, but the four points discussed below are a great starting place.
1. Get Face Time With Teammates
Since virtual teams are separated geographically, it is important to build strong lines of communication at the start of a project. Meeting people face-to-face is a smart strategy to facilitate these connections. According to Ulrich Kellerer, face-to-face connection has the power to build trust, decrease misunderstanding, and help teams reach their goals by incorporating physical cues into communication. While there are many ways to get face time with virtual coworkers, two good options are video calling and traveling to be together for onboarding and introductions.
Traveling to meet and work with a team in-person can be valuable to build rapport and understand expectations and team dynamics. During my time on a virtual team, I was able to travel for the first month to meet team members in person. This was an especially helpful way to start the project because it allowed me to quickly complete onboarding tasks and develop rapport with my team before transitioning to a virtual team structure. Travel is not always a possibility, so using video calling is an effective alternative. With such wide access to the internet and a slew of video conferencing options, this provides the ability to connect with team members without the need to travel. One thing to remember is that building relationships with coworkers should be a focal point of projects and will require investment of time and other resources.
2. Prioritize Communication
Physical distance can be a blocker to communication on project teams. It can be easy for remote team members or groups to feel isolated because if they are out of the team’s sight, they may also be out of mind. This can lead to bigger problems like misunderstanding project goals, lack of motivation, and missing important deadlines. A promising solution is to communicate with intentionality.
Intentional communication looks different for every team, but these practices were a good starting place for my virtual team experience:
- Set up a regular meeting cadence.
- Be available to respond to messages or calls as problems arise.
- Talk through all confusion or misunderstandings.
- Clearly outline goals and expectations at every step of the project.
These strategies take time to set up and maintain, but the effort should pay off by helping virtual teams be more efficient and successful. For development teams, using an agile framework is another great way to encourage communication.
3. Utilize Technology Resources
Technology is a great asset to virtual teams which can help with communication, planning, and much more. There are countless options for technology use on dispersed teams, and choosing the right tech can make or break the group. My virtual team used technology to help organize our project in these ways:
- Personal and video messaging to encourage communication.
- Virtual whiteboards to aid in brainstorming or explaining concepts.
- Code repositories to store development work.
- Online conference rooms for hosting meetings.
- Project management software to track goals and progress.
There are many beneficial ways to leverage technology on virtual teams, but there is no perfect solution to apply across the board. Each team has to decide which technologies will provide what they need based on the group and their goals.
4. Be Considerate and Inclusive
The separation that virtual teams experience is difficult and has potential to cause problems like perceived isolation. One way to combat this is by practicing inclusion and consideration of all team members. This can remind dispersed team members that they are valuable and encourage healthy communication. There are several ways to consider and include others, so there is flexibility to be creative.
These are some strategies that helped make my virtual team experience feel more inclusive and considerate:
- Send links to online meeting rooms when scheduling meetings.
- If possible, book a physical room for separated team members in their geography.
- Reach out to check on coworkers often.
- Give frequent feedback to team members.
- Remember time differences when scheduling calls and meetings.
- Talk about non-work-related things occasionally, like holiday or weekend plans.
One special case to keep in mind is international teams. When teams span different countries, it is important to consider cultural differences and time zones. Relying on regional leaders and conducting cultural research may be a good path toward identifying culturally sensitive ways to promote international team success.
Overcoming the Challenge of Distance on Virtual Teams
While often a necessity, virtual project teams introduce new challenges to work successfully because of separated team members and other barriers to connection. At Credera, it is extremely important that each member of the team feels included and valued. Using effective communication skills, getting to know the team, leveraging technology resources, and being inclusive were strategies that helped ensure we met our goals during my virtual team experience. Each team must experiment with their options to figure out what practices work best for their group, but it is important to remember that communication is a top priority.
I hope these tips from my experience provided useful ideas for how to work effectively on your virtual team. If you are looking for more help conquering issues on your separated teams, please reach out to us at email@example.com.