Empowering remote teams to thrive in the new world of work
Although working remotely is not a new concept, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pervasiveness of people working in virtual teams. For the first few months of the ‘hard’ lockdown, many teams were suddenly thrust into the remote working space and had to quickly learn to cope with the dynamics of virtual teamwork.
Experts are predicting that even when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, remote working will remain to some extent. Many corporates have realised that having fewer employees in the office allows for office and other related overhead costs to be reduced. For the individual, it means less commuting and more time to be productive.
It seems that most teams will be working with a combination of office or site meetings (face-to-face) and virtual teamwork.
A new focus on virtual team training
For teams to remain productive and effective, new team skills are key to coping with virtual teamwork. Managers should not assume that teams that are effective when together physically will be as effective when working remotely. For this reason, it is critical that organisations equip their employees to operate within the virtual team space. Challenges that virtual team members face, especially when they are new at working remotely, range from operational, to cultural, to technological.
Whilst most teams have undergone some form of teamwork training in the past, there must be a new focus on virtual team training to deal with the specific challenges associated with working remotely. Failure to do this will lead to teams that underperform when distanced from each other.
There is also the issue around most teams working in both environments. The adaptation from remote to physical is normally easier than the other way around. Team leaders should work on ways to ensure that at times when the team is interacting face-to-face, it is healthy to the point that it ‘feeds’ them sufficiently to operate effectively during the times they are working remotely.
So, what level of virtual team training is necessary to ensure that teams develop a clear understanding of the unique requirements of operating in a virtual team?
The team leader must understand how their leadership style and approach must be different in the virtual team situation.
There are some fundamental challenges that team members must understand in order to become effective virtual team members. Virtual teams must be given the tools to use in order to overcome these challenges effectively. In turn, the team leader must understand how their leadership style and approach must be different in the virtual team situation. This is key to ensuring the team is effective and remains motivated even though they are not physically together. The team must develop team protocols around how they interact virtually and develop a clear understanding of how the team will achieve its goals while working remotely.
Leveraging technology for effective team collaboration
Technology is the key enabler in the virtual space. Organisations must provide the best digital platforms and network to its teams to ensure effective digital collaboration. Team members must be comfortable using the technology effectively during their meetings and to execute remote work. There are specifically tailored training programmes which focus on the technical aspects of working in virtual platforms.
Building a virtual team culture
Another key aspect of virtual team training is on building a virtual team culture. Issues such as collaboration, bonding and team performance through effective virtual leadership must be understood. Continuous improvement must remain the key focus of any work team. For this reason, virtual team training must be based on building its culture around continuous improvement supported by a participative and collaborative leadership style.
The virtual team culture must revolve around some key issues. These include:
- respect for diversity
- cultural differences (especially in global teams)
- trust through empowerment
- understanding the temperament of team members
- and team collaboration
These cultural issues will initially rely heavily on the team leader and their ability to drive this in a virtual environment.
So, for example, how does one build trust when you are not physically together? Usually it is through team actions and empowerment, but the important issue here is that leadership must create the environment for building team trust from the outset. Trust through collaboration is key in a remote situation. Team leaders and members must truly believe in the value of collaboration. Everybody in the team should actively encourage and drive collaboration in the way they work all the time. If this culture is not already evident in the team, then the leader must drive it by influencing specific elements of a collaborative culture using clear governance processes, team goal setting and rewarding the team for displaying the right behaviours.
The need for clear governance rules and regular self-assessment
Virtual teams need clear governance rules. The fact that they are remote means it is even more critical. The team must clearly understand its scope, purpose, business challenge and goals. The way the team works remotely, meeting frequency, communication, how it captures knowledge and shares information are all important. Managing daily actions and feedback is key to successful achievement of team goals.
Once the virtual team has been functional for a few months, it is important to reflect on its performance to date. This is key to sustaining or improving virtual team effectiveness. It is recommended that teams perform a self-assessment to understand any issues and formulate an improvement plan.
The need for virtual team building
Finally, virtual teams need teambuilding events as much as, if not more than, physical teams. There are several highly creative digital approaches to virtual team building. The beauty of virtual team building is it can be done in a shorter period and more regularly than once per year as the ‘remoteness’ of the team means team building activities must be more regular.
Building or sustaining effective virtual teams in the new world of work is critical to the ongoing competitiveness of the organisation.
Ready to optimise the productivity of your global virtual teams? Contact us now to find out how TRACC Virtual Teams Training can help you build high-performing virtual teams that drive results.