As the workplace continues to evolve, virtual teams are becoming a reality for many organizations. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, 3.7 million employees (2.8 percent of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time and approximately 20-25 percent of the workforce teleworks at some frequency.
Virtual teams offer organizations access to a quality-level of talent that might not otherwise be attainable. At the same time, they present remote workers with newfound freedoms, converting commute time into personal time while working from their favorite place on earth. Whether you are managing the team or contributing to the team effort remotely, there are things you can do to maximize the opportunity.
For managers, it’s all about putting the right structure in place for virtual success.
- Define expectations from the outset. Be crystal clear about what is expected of each virtual team member in terms of availability, hours contributed, and how their performance will be evaluated. It’s also important to share how they may receive coaching and support from you and others when it’s needed. Let the team know that your “virtual door” is always open when it comes to helping them succeed.
- Encourage engagement. You need to think beyond simply providing virtual project data repositories. Designate preferred team communication channels that foster connectivity, such as web cams, video conferencing and instant messaging. Demonstrate the value of these communication tools to the team by being a proactive participant. Stay in touch. And stay involved.
- Nurture camaraderie. It’s easy to develop a sense of isolation working in the virtual office space. Look for conscious ways to humanize your virtual office so that your team members look forward to connecting and sharing with their peers. Using your imagination here encourages team members to do the same. Having each team member post their picture in their online profile is a start. Connect on social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to stimulate those “water cooler” discussions that spark connectivity, drive interaction and fuel a more vibrant and creative virtual workplace. Don’t be afraid to inject a little fun into the mix with a “bring your pet to work day” or other light-hearted, video-conference opportunities on designated days.
- Recognize contributions. Acknowledgement is critical. Recognizing contributions within the team helps keep virtual teams motivated and on task. Mixing it up is key. On occasion, make your acknowledgements public to reinforce great work behavior for the whole team.
For the virtual team member, structure is equally important.
- Establish boundaries. Virtual offices offer their share of flexibility and freedom. But they also can lend themselves to an atmosphere of 24/7 access to your talents… especially in organizations that extend across multiple time zones, or span the globe. It’s best to have ground rules in place going in, so neither side feels like they are being taken advantage of from an availability perspective.
- Engage personally. Making a conscious effort to engage other team members on a personal level can pay dividends. Well-rounded interaction leads to the free exchange of ideas and information that can advance your work… while enriching the personal satisfaction you get from your professional life.
- Engage professionally. Reach out to team members via video chat or instant messaging regularly to draw inspiration, insights and a shared sense of enthusiasm for the task at hand. It can stimulate thought processes, while helping to prevent a sense of isolation. It will make you more productive in the long run.
- Leverage flexibility. Don’t be afraid to offer up suggestions to the group and your team manager – especially when it comes to technology. For example, if you find certain apps helpful, there’s a good chance your team will, too. This crosspollination of ideas and technologies is precisely how flexible organizations are able to accelerate their growth beyond industry expectations.
While the virtual office may not be right for every organization or department, these tips can help form the foundation of a highly successful and rewarding virtual team – for managers as well as the virtual team members.