With the seismic shift created by a global pandemic it is widely accepted that virtual teams have become ‘a norm’ as organisations embrace remote work and global collaboration. However, it is also apparent that managing and building an effective virtual team comes with unique new challenges which leaders need to identify and design a values-based strategy for– despite distance, time zones, technical challenges, and communication barriers that still produces a team which is collaborative, productive and vitally: happy!
As a Coach working with leadership teams to develop their effectiveness and contribution, I have the privilege of witnessing first-hand the contrasting perspectives and impacts of remote work. It has some clear advantages, as individuals appreciate the elimination of commuting stress, the relief from the burdens of busy and costly travel, and the autonomy and trust that come with it allows for a better work-life balance, resulting in increased job satisfaction and well-being. – and organisations appreciate the benefit to the bottom line! However, it is increasingly apparent there needs to be a new purposeful approach from leaders if virtual working is to remain effective into the future.
It is widely accepted that virtual work offers a liberating and flexible environment that empowers individuals to work in ways that suit their preferences and needs. The freedom to work from any location fosters a sense of trust and autonomy, empowering most individuals to take ownership of their responsibilities and deliverables, however this also creates more multi-cultural teams, time zone issues and the simple challenge of finding a time to suit everyone when they are most alert can be a block to success.
However it’s apparent that working virtually can also create barriers to effective communication and collaboration and a lack of ownership. The absence of face-to-face interactions limits the opportunities for team members to build personal connections, share experiences, and develop a sense of camaraderie. Managers face the challenge of addressing performance issues remotely, as the nuances of non-verbal communication and direct observation are missing. This can hinder their ability to (or experience of) providing timely feedback, coach team members, and drive performance improvements. Without social connection there can be a sense of isolation and detachment among some team members, leading to decreased morale, motivation, and overall team effectiveness.
POSITIVE VIRTUAL TEAM BUILDING – CONSCIOUS PLANNING!
To overcome the challenges creating and implement strategies that promote meaningful virtual interactions, such as planning the size of team calls (more than 10 will restrict interaction) dedicated virtual team-building activities, regular check-ins, and virtual social events, as these can help foster a sense of community and connection. Equipping managers with the necessary skills to effectively lead and manage remote teams, including remote performance management and coaching techniques, can contribute to maintaining performance standards and supporting individual growth.
SET THE SCENE
Step one is to train your team for meetings, so they are present, focused, and not scrolling or multi tasking, you need clear focus and purpose. Emphasise that its everyone’s accountability to contribute to ‘’xxxx’ meeting and set your expectations of their contribution.
ESTABLISH CLEAR GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS
To build a successful virtual team, it is essential to establish clear goals and expectations from the outset. Ask the team; “what will make this meeting a good use of your time?” Clearly define project objectives, deliverables, and timelines. Ensure that team members have a shared understanding of their roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations. By setting a clear direction, you provide the team with a common purpose and focus.
FOSTER OPEN AND TRANSPARENT COMMUNICATION
Effective communication is the lifeline of a virtual team. Establish communication channels that facilitate frequent and open dialogue among team members. Leverage technology tools such as video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management platforms to foster collaboration. Encourage regular check-ins, virtual team meetings, and individual updates to ensure everyone stays connected and informed.
CULTIVATE TRUST AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Trust is crucial in virtual teams where face-to-face interactions are limited. Foster trust by setting clear expectations, providing autonomy, and valuing each team member’s contributions. Encourage transparency, honesty, and open feedback. Foster a culture of accountability, where team members take ownership of their tasks and deliverables. Celebrate achievements and recognize team members for their contributions.
LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY AND COLLABORATION TOOLS
Utilise technology and collaboration tools to enhance communication, project management, and workflow efficiency. Choose tools that suit your team’s needs, allowing for file sharing, task management, real-time collaboration, and virtual meetings. Explore tools such as project management software, cloud storage, and video conferencing platforms to facilitate seamless collaboration across distances.
ESTABLISH REGULAR CHECK-INS AND FEEDBACK MECHANISMS
Regular check-ins and feedback sessions are essential to maintain alignment and address any challenges. Schedule virtual team meetings to discuss progress, resolve issues, and provide updates. Encourage team members to share their insights, challenges, and successes during these sessions. Foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement by providing constructive feedback and encouraging individual growth.
ENCOURAGE COLLABORATION AND TEAM BONDING
Despite physical separation, virtual teams can foster collaboration and team bonding. Encourage virtual team-building activities, such as icebreaker games, virtual coffee breaks, or online social events. Provide opportunities for informal interactions, such as dedicated chat channels for non-work-related discussions. Celebrate milestones and achievements as a team to foster a sense of camaraderie.
DEVELOP A STRONG ONBOARDING PROCESS
Effective onboarding is crucial for virtual team members to feel connected and engaged from the start. Provide comprehensive orientation materials, including team introductions, project overviews, and access to necessary tools and resources. Assign a mentor or buddy to help new members navigate the virtual environment and connect with the team.
EMPHASISE TIME MANAGEMENT AND FLEXIBILITY
Virtual teams often work across different time zones, making time management and flexibility critical. Encourage team members to set clear priorities, establish realistic deadlines, and communicate their availability. Foster an environment that respects individual working styles and personal commitments, allowing for flexibility when possible. Emphasise the importance of work-life balance to prevent burnout and respect time zones.
PROMOTE CULTURAL AWARENESS AND INCLUSION
Virtual teams often bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds, cultures and those challenging timelines! Foster cultural awareness and promote inclusivity within the team. Encourage open discussions about cultural differences, language barriers, and communication preferences. Create a space where everyone feels valued and respected.
EVALUATE AND ADAPT
Regularly evaluate the team’s performance, processes, and communication effectiveness. Seek feedback from team members to identify areas for improvement. Adjust strategies and tools as needed to optimize productivity and collaboration. Embrace a culture of continuous improvement and adaptability to keep pace with evolving needs.
Building an effective virtual team requires thoughtful planning, clear communication, and a strong emphasis on collaboration and trust. By establishing clear goals, fostering open communication, leveraging technology tools, and prioritising team bonding, virtual teams can overcome the challenges of distance and achieve high levels of productivity and success.
Embrace the unique advantages of virtual collaboration and create an environment that promotes engagement, creativity, and inclusivity among team members. – and remember the simple task of checking in regularly on the individual for their feedback!
Denise is a qualified & licensed Personal Development Coach supporting senior leaders and C-suite professionals with career and leadership coaching. Following a senior role in the retail sector she joined the recruitment Industry in 1994. She is also a member of the Association of Business Mentors supporting the Help to Grow scheme. Prior to her successful career in executive search, she worked for large retail groups including House of , John Lewis and Next Retail Group where she was a member of the inaugural leadership team in Next Directory leading Operations. As a talent recruitment specialist with large search led organisations as well as agency recruiters Denise has an instinctive and broad understanding of the challenges leadership teams face in a challenging market – reach out if you would like to chat with her about your thoughts on this article: