Virtual teams create all different kinds of distance, physical and emotional. Distance affects how people perceive others. It creates a sense of “social distance” with a perception of an “us vs. them” mentality. There is a lack of shared identity.
Distance also affects what you know about people. Team members do not know what knowledge the other team members hold, because a shared sense of context, a shared understanding of not only what you do but how you do it and why, is a key driver of your ability to coordinate and collaborate.
Both unshared identities and context have been shown to be strong drivers of task-based conflict.
Recent Australian research shows that leading effective virtual teams does not require a huge investment in technology, but it does require strategies which are fit for purpose and not a carbon copy of face-to-face leadership practices.
Below are five practices that can assist in managing a high-performing virtual team.
- Establish communication tools
Defining platforms on which to communicate makes communication across the team quicker and more efficient. So too, by using the same platforms, a sense of togetherness can be created.
- Schedule regular meetings
Scheduling meetings at the same time on the same weekday contributes to creating a routine. Routines provide the team with something they are used to and familiar with. Routine can put the team at ease and reduce stress.
- Have clear and detailed deliverables
Ensure that deliverables are very clear. Some ways to ensure this is to provide detailed descriptions of the tasks and an example of what the end product should ideally look like. This will help to reduce miscommunication and conflict as everybody should be focused on the same goal.
- Make sure work hours overlap
Regardless of what time zones your team members are in, it is recommendable to have at least two to three hours a day where most of the team is online at the same time. When everyone is online together, solving problems become quicker and more efficient.
- Find the right people to work with
Not everyone is cut out for remote work and not everyone fits the team personality-wise. If possible, ensure that different personalities provide diversity, but that no two personalities are likely to butt heads. This can ensure a smoother team process without unnecessary stumbling blocks.
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George, P. (2007). Managing virtual teams for high performance. Retrieved from https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/managing-virtual-teams-high-performance-7310.
Mortenson, M. (2015). A First-Time Manager’s Guide to Leading Virtual Teams. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/09/a-first-time-managers-guide-to-leading-virtual-teams.
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