Four points to consider if building a virtual team.
Virtual teams offer modern business enormous productivity benefits, cost savings and flexibility. The ability to work remotely or collaborate with colleagues and experts in different locations is unlocking enormous growth and value.
1. Clear direction
Virtual teams require a manager who can provide clear direction and remove any ambiguity from the project, according to INSEAD adjunct professor Erin Meyer.
While a team working in the same office can overcome loosely defined roles and job descriptions, doing the same with a team spread across the world is a recipe for failure, Meyer argues.
2. Consider cultural differences
Cultural differences can conspire against global teams, particularly if a US-style manager is trying to manage employees from more consensus-oriented cultures such as Japan.
Meyer suggests that explicit descriptions of how decisions will be made in the team can help give all team members a clear idea of the process, while the team leader should also be willing to try different approaches at various stages.
Working in a virtual team means losing the opportunity for those valuable conversations in the lunch room or around the water cooler, which can help build trust and bonding.
Social media marketing firm Buffer took extreme measures to address this, including providing employees with a Jawbone UP wristband tracking sleep, exercise and other activities, with the data shared with its team. Transparency is a fundamental value at Buffer.
Another social media company, LKR Social Media, reportedly uses a range of tools to aid communication, including Yammer for casual chats, Google Hangouts for video conferencing and Wrike for structured conversations about projects. Foursquare developed its own always-on video conferencing system, but another suggested solution is Sqwiggle, which uses the user’s webcam and monitor.
4. Build the right team
Zapier’s Wade Foster says building the right team and culture is crucial for success, since remote working is not for everyone. He says businesses need to hire “doers” who can work unsupervised and are willing to provide customer support.
In Foster’s web company, his team holds weekly Google Hangout chats, monthly virtual one-on-ones and an annual trip where the team meets the old-fashioned way: face to face.
By building the right team, using virtual tools and developing proper processes, it can be possible to extract maximum benefit from remote working, even if it isn’t for everyone.