xxxviii) Virtual Teams

Introduction

. With Covid-19 pandemic (starting 2020) resulting in more people working remotely from home, more teams are becoming virtual. Plus, with the increasing importance of global collaboration and improvements in communications via technology (Internet, etc), the concept of virtual teams has grown in importance.

. The virtual team is described as a group of people who work together on a project but are at different geographical locations. They may never meet face-to-face and communicate via the Internet, eg web pages, e-mails, videoconferencing, etc and phones.

. It is suggested that simple and/or specialised tasks are more suited to virtual teams than complex ones. Furthermore, they are best suited to experienced team players with independent focus and the necessary skills.

Challenges

. Multi-geographical locations accentuate some of the usual challenges in making a team effective, ie communications, leadership, team structure, roles, shared objectives, co-ordination, conflict management, etc. These challenges are accentuated by the lack of visual and tactile interaction between members of with virtual teams

. Specific challenges for virtual teams include

- time-and-distance issues (need to schedule meetings so that one time-zone is not disadvantaged)

- absence of face-to-face contact results in members being unable to read non-verbal cues. This can result in

"... absence of collegiately, difficulty establishing good rapport and building trust, difficulty seeing the whole picture, reliance on e-mails and telephone, and a sense of isolation..."

RW CulturalWizard, 2010

(handle this challenge by establishing clearly defined and transparent structures, procedures and processes and convening periodic face-to-face meetings which provide an opportunity to build rapport and collegiality)

Importance of face-to-face meetings

"...I find true business gets done when you break bread, have a few drinks together and really get to know the other person. I believe only then can you really get your message across...... that's hard to do over an e-mail...:

Ido Leffler (co-founder of beauty empire "Yes To"), 2014

- understanding and respecting differences (cultural and language) - behaviour of members is culturally based, eg in some cultures respect for hierarchy/experts can result in lack of necessary feedback and critical appraisal of ideas; lack of understanding of language used in the meetings can lead to misunderstandings (need to follow up verbal conversations with written communications)

NB Technology is not seen as a major challenge

. These challenges require different approaches from those of traditional teams in managing conflict, making decisions and expressing opinions

. Some elements of these unresolved challenges include insufficient time to build relationships, speed and method of decision-making, leadership styles, participation rate, lack of conflict resolution, etc

Positives

. There is some evidence that successful virtual teams are more innovative and of higher quality than traditional teams. It is thought that virtual teams are more focussed and have fewer distractions than traditional teams

. Successful virtual teams have the following characteristics

- a willingness to share information

- proactive engagement and collaboration

- well-organised

- members have good social skills and shared focus

- strong effective leadership

- members provide and receive regular, transparent and useful feedback

- members are willing to help each other

Some tips to increase a virtual team's effectiveness:

i) meet early (as most people are more productive in the morning, have meetings first thing in the morning; having meetings when you are fresh, ie early-morning)

ii) avoid 'wandering mind' (the mind is more likely to wander when meeting electronically; need to find ways to reduce the chance of missing important points and/or not providing valued inputs; eliminate the chance of this loss of focus by keeping the meetings concise)

iii) meet often (more regular short meetings are more impactful and effective than longer less frequent meetings; cost of virtual meetings are considerably less than a physical meeting as there is no physical space to rent, no commuting costs, time-saving, etc)

iv) technology (need to be careful of gimmicks, distractions, etc; only use when needed)

v) quick to praise and slow to criticise (written criticism has a stronger negative impact than verbal comments; praise in public then criticise privately)

vi) be careful (when there is a physical gap between you and your team, it's even more important to select words and actions carefully; when face-to-face in a shared physical space, it is easier to pick up body language clues when compared with online meetings where you have only the face visible)

viii) KISS (keep it simple and short)

(sources: Jeff Cochran 2020; RW CulturalWizard, 2010)

 

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