As technology both in the home and workplace has become more pervasive, virtual teams are on the rise. Companies are increasingly going virtual for the plethora of benefits. For employees, virtual teams allow more flexibility in their work hours and increase productivity by eliminating time typically wasted by commuting. A recent survey by Deloitte also found that millennials (expected to take up 75 per cent of the workforce by 2028) are more likely to stay in a role for more than five years if they are empowered to determine when and where they complete their work.
Companies can see more direct benefits from transitioning to virtual teams. Encouraging employees to work remotely can lower office costs significantly. Furthermore, it opens up a greater availability of talent to draw from by hiring workers based in countries—or even continents—other than that of the one single location.
Despite these many benefits, virtual teams can quickly become plagued with feelings of disconnect or a general lack of productivity. At Harbinger, we have operated as a tight-knit virtual team for many years to accommodate our frequently travelling consultants and workers in need of flexible schedules. To help with other companies already working remotely or considering transitioning to virtual teams, here are our four principles for ensuring the success of your virtual team.
1. Communication is Key
The most important aspect of any virtual team is communication. Without frequent communication, employees can start to feel isolated and disconnected. The solution? Regular and consistent touch points with the team can make sure everyone is on the same page and gives the opportunity to debrief past achievements and plan next steps. At Harbinger, we are frequent users of Skype and don’t hesitate to connect through a group phone chat.
The solution for effective communication must primarily come from the leadership. If employees don’t have trust in the leadership, it will be impossible to foster open and honest dialogue. Leaders can guide their teams along to success by establishing clear, well-articulated goals for the work that needs to be done. Leaders must also be wary of conflict in online communication as people can often become excessively harsh in their criticisms online to others without any face-to-face contact. Miscommunication can also arise when people read written text differently based on their interpretations. It is essential that team leaders strive to resolve these conflicts amicably and ensure employees are comfortable approaching them with any and all concerns.
“The biggest mistake you can make when beginning a virtual relationship is to assume that your previously successful face-to-face approach is going to be effective in a virtual setting.” – Lynette Van Steinburg, Virtual Effectiveness Driver
2. Onboard for Success
One of the most effective strategies for building a cohesive virtual team is preparing employees even before they join the team. That’s why a well-designed onboarding process is critical for a virtual team’s success. This requires laying out well-defined roles with transparent responsibilities right from the get-go. This also means, perhaps, investing extra time to ensure employees are comfortable and proficient in using the technology required for virtual communications. If employees feel confident in themselves and their team right from the start, any other issues that arise later down the line will be more easily resolved.
3. Keep it Small and Connected
One of the biggest concerns about virtual teams is a lack of bonding and cohesion. This, however, can be resolved by focusing on keeping the teams small—or at least within a manageable size. OnPoint Consulting’s research puts the ideal team size at 10 people or less. However, a simpler principle to keep in mind is just that employees should be put into teams where they have the chance for frequent and repeat contact with colleagues. Employees should know, at any time, who to reach out to for help or collaboration while also having open channels to contact their leaders for further direction.
Another way to promote team bonding is to hold occasional employee or team events in person. While virtual communication can be effective, almost all of the time for work-related matters, holding quarterly or annual events face to face can help form and strengthen more personal relationships to help your team flourish.
4. Select the Right Tools
A final point to keep in mind when it comes to virtual teams is selecting the right tools for your company. Simply adhering to a one-size-fits-all perspective by applying the technology used at another company to your own will almost never work. There is a multitude of different tools out there for a virtual workplace, including instant messaging programs, email, cloud storage services, and video conference call services. Matching the right tools to the people on your team and the types of projects your team deals with is necessary for effective communication. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to integrate multiple forms of technology to customize the ideal solution for your team.
So Why Go Virtual?
It’s clear that virtual teams provide a wide range of benefits for both employees and their companies. Despite these, companies remain hesitant to make this seemingly daunting leap. However, by following the tips above, companies can feel more confident in transitioning towards the increased flexibility and productivity virtual teams can offer.
Interested in learning more about how Harbinger stays connected as a thriving virtual team and how to successfully integrate technology into your workplace? Feel free to get in touch with us or check out our case study with RSA Canada who made the shift to an agile and flexible culture.
Krista Schaber-Chan Managing Partner