Updated: Jul 27, 2020
Virtual workforces are not just the latest 'trend', considering that they have been in existence with large organizations like IBM since the 1970's. Since then, more companies have gradually expanded positions and given their employees the option to work remotely. Although there has been published research that highlights the multiple advantages of virtual work teams, the initiative for organizations to implement and widely accept this phenomenon has been lacking because it hasn't been considered to be an essential way to work. The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed that, and this is leaving many organizations wondering what they can do to minimize the negative impacts on their teams. Some of the most common issues amongst virtual teams are misunderstanding of expectations, lack of effective communication, and effective team leadership. In order to prevent those issues from arising, here's what you need to know to get your workforce ready for the virtual revolution:
Foster a culture of collaboration. Leadership buy-in is key when it comes to any initiative, and creating a workplace environment that is supportive of team development is critical to any team's success. Without setting the appropriate stage and jumping into building teams, this increases the likelihood for toxicity between members. This also makes the end result extremely difficult to achieve which can negatively impact the team's ability to meet deadlines. If teamwork is not viewed as a cultural and essential value by your organization, employees simply will not see the point of expending their energy on making their team successful.
Composition is everything. Management should understand what kind of team is needed to perform the task, including member skillsets, experience and overall motivation. All of these aspects have an impact on a team leader's effectiveness. For example, if the task that needs to be accomplished is complex and on a tight schedule, team leaders may feel inclined to drop certain members from the team if they do not have the skills or motivation to complete it, the timeline being too tight to expend any effort on building up those shortcomings. Other aspects to consider are team alignment (how well members may work with one another) and size (too large of a team can have a negative affect on productivity). With potential leadership changes, it is important to reassess organizational culture to ensure that teamwork structures are still supported.
Evaluate (and re-evaluate) your team's competencies. In order for teams to become high-performing, members must have a clear understanding of their direction and expectations in order to achieve their end goal. Although management may have created the team, the development of these competencies should be made jointly by the management and team members to promote empowerment and responsibility. This will also promote a sense of commitment and support amongst members because of the transparency of communication. As a team's relationship and tasks change over time to complete overarching goals, so should the competencies.
Create dependencies that influence trust and increase productivity. If one or more team members feel that their contributions are isolated, minimal and unimportant, they won't feel like they are truly contributing to the product that is created by the team. By each member understanding that their portion contributes as a critical piece to the final product, they start to become viewed as a person, rather than a number, especially when other members must work with them to achieve their desired objective. Creating dependencies such as these give members an opportunity to work on their overall chemistry, building a rapport faster and minimizing the potential for silos.
Never stop innovating. Consistently working remotely within a team is something that many employees are starting to do for the first time. Since this is seen as a change for many, the desire for team members to make suggestions to improve overall relationships and work process dynamics may be minimal because they are still relatively uncomfortable. Such suggestions should be encouraged by team leads. Taking acceptable risks when they are proposed by team members who are constantly aware of process pitfalls is a sign of a more collaborative relationship that has the potential to increase productivity as a whole. Even if an idea is proposed that is not agreed upon as a whole, it is the responsibility of the team lead to build an understanding amongst the members that this kind of behavior is rewarded because it is the first step to embracing new approaches that can lead to improved decision making.
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Dulebohn, J. H., & Hoch, J. E. (2017). Virtual teams in organizations. Human Resource Management Review, 27(4), 569-574. doi:10.1016/j.hrmr.2016.12.004
Joinson, C. (2018, April 11). Workplace Trends: Managing Virtual Teams. Retrieved July 22, 2020, from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/pages/0602joinson.aspx
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