Leading Virtual Teams

April 15, 2020

The advent of the Internet has certainly shrunk our world! It has brought groceries to our door, answers to trivia questions in the nick of time, and even facilitated marriages! E-commerce is thriving! So it is without question that harnessing the power of the Internet has a vital position in the workplace. Balvinder Singh Powar, the Director of BOOSTER Space Industries says, “Technology and globalization mean we can access the best talent anywhere in the world—but this requires the ability to lead virtual teams.”

Sounds promising! The question is how to keep talent working for you, and not your competitors. Communication, as always, is key. Powar’s first tip for successful virtual team leading is to use SMART (Specific, Measureable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals. He must be on to something. SMART goals appear as best practices in a wide variety of industries including Virtual Learning and Development, traditional Wall Street businesses and Education. Why are they so popular? Because developing SMART goals objectifies the conversation and easily transcends time zones, individual cultures and job titles.

Defining the job to be done and by whom is commonplace in effective work cultures. But do you, the leader, know your team? Do you know the people you are leading as individuals, or more as email addresses or phone numbers? More importantly, do your team members know each other- or are they just respondents on the other end of messages sent?

It is easy to get caught up in the doing, in finishing the task assigned, asking this person for information, and delegating something to another. Working virtually almost puts blinders on team members because meeting face-to-face does not happen. Virtual team members may work from home, or simply another time zone, or both, making face-to-face meetings rare or impossible, unless of course that too is virtual!

If you’re a virtual team leader, consider these tips:

Increase quality and quantity of communication. Effective communication combats the possibility of virtual workers feeling isolated. It helps them see how their contribution fits into the bigger picture. Leaders should encourage partnerships within the team, and possibly create interdependent tasks. Regardless of the support of leadership, virtual team members should do their part to increase everyday interactions.

Setting clear goals and expectations can help virtual team members build trust since they more easily see how each member contributes to the project, even though they don’t literally see each other, possibly because they don’t work at the same time, or get immediate responses to communications.

Reduce conflicts among multicultural teams by getting all team members to agree on common, acceptable work ethics and team customs.

Share leadership to create greater team spirit. Leaders should emphasize focus on a clear direction fashioned by common work ethics and customs. This will help ensure all members are working toward a common goal.

Right now, physical distance is required due to COVID-19. But physical working distance often feels cold and unnatural. This false sense of isolation may deter team members from asking questions. A lack of clarity could jeopardize the team’s ability to function and deliver well. Combat this by reaching out to individuals to foster team commitment and ownership of success.

Multiple collaboration tools will help your members working in different time zones coordinate their efforts. Efficient time management may reduce the need for virtual meetings as well, which are especially tricky between time zones!

Encourage structure. Working from home, or just remotely can be exhausting. The temptation is to keep working because you can- the Internet allows 24/7 access to nearly anyone, anywhere. But not allowing time to rest reduces the quality of team contributions and motivation. Trying to live in one time zone but work in another is challenging. Even if your team members work non-traditional hours, they should still try to work the normal length of a traditional workday.

Team leaders should consider their team members might work in the same physical space where they live. With this in mind, encourage team members to balance the time spent working and time spent living. Family and friends should not be neglected. Team members need to refresh themselves by not focusing on ANY task, be it business related, or part of running a home, during part of each day.

Virtual team leaders have a multitude of challenges in coordinating efforts of their members remotely. They have just as many solutions at their disposal. Team members require the same strong, clear, consistent leadership workers at brick and mortar locations often experience. All members are providing the same productivity; they are simply delivering it by different venues.

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