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7 Ways to Make a Virtual Team Work

Matthew MacLachlan

13 May 2017

More than 80% of us work in remote or virtual teams. Quite a startling figure – particularly as so few of us have received any training on how to make the most of this new working practice. So, how do we make a virtual team work?

Virtual Working – the New Norm?

Today, the number of organisations that are adopting a remote work culture has exploded. It is no longer unusual for employees to be permanently home-based – whether that be in London or in the French countryside. While that may be an extreme case, more and more companies are allowing their employees to work remotely at least one day per week at home.

You get more for your money – studies show that remote workers give you 20% extra for free!

Virtual Working – Are we Prepared?

With employers working with employees in different countries and continents, managers conferring with staff across the globe, and manufacturers and suppliers dealing with customers and clients geographically, culturally and linguistically removed, there is an urgent need for virtual team working to be as efficient as physical team working.

But, is anyone taking the time to prepare staff to work and collaborate remotely? Languages and communication patterns differ greatly, embedded as they are in cultural values, beliefs and mindset. However, there are many challenges to providing such training which, if done effectively, can greatly enhance the productivity, convenience and reputation of an organisation.

Is anyone taking the time to prepare staff to work and collaborate remotely?

So, let us look at seven major considerations that go into such virtual team building and how we could deal with these:

1. Virtual Working – Getting the Basics Right

First, decide whether you need face-to-face or online training, or a combination of both. Virtual training has many forms: webinars, virtual classes, video or skype conferencing, and/or even self-directed learning with distant guidance.

2. Identify what your people require training on

Apart from technical training, make sure you include cultural awareness training. To work successfully with people from different backgrounds, you need to understand not just how they think and behave, but why. The last and most important is often overlooked. Cultural differences are hidden and even speaking the same language does not guarantee you understand each other.

3. Work with the right people

Find designers to create interactive sessions that are relevant to your needs, and expert trainers who are themselves trained in and comfortable conducting online training.  The trainers should have the knowledge and expertise to keep you engaged and motivated while they teach. Also, the design and delivery should match both your and the participants’ expectations.

4. Prepare, prepare, prepare

Educate in-house and “away” staff or other participants so they have a clear understanding of the goals and the benefits of the training, both to the organisation and to themselves. Any change is hard, and resistance may come from your own teams. So when you create virtual teams and design distance training, be aware that first and foremost you may have to change hearts and minds.

5. The computer says no!

Finally, make sure you have the right technology and that it is tested before the start of the training. Nothing is more demotivating or frustrating than machines not working properly or even breaking down during the course of the training.

Make sure you have the right technology and that it is tested before the start of the training

6. Overcoming mindset problems

One of the biggest roadblocks to virtual working can often be the mindset of those resistant to change. Once convinced, the other challenges are of a more practical nature.

7. Building a culture of trust

Teams have to work across time zones, understand and be understood, and put up with technical glitches that may sometimes be unavoidable. These can be reduced by inculcating a culture of awareness and fairness where turns are taken in adapting to the time zones of all members. Small considerations such as providing proper headphones that make for a clearer and smoother hands-free dialogue can create a happier mindset and more willing participation.

You have a happy workforce – work life balance is now top of the agenda for most employees

Virtual Working – the Benefits

With the need for virtual teams understood, it is important to not only understand the benefits but also convey this vision to the team members.

  • You have access to the best talent – wherever they are
  • You get more for your money – studies show that remote workers give you 20% extra for free!
  • Diversity breeds success – studies show that a diverse workforce is a profitable workforce
  • You save money – that’s the easy one to understand!
  • You have a happy workforce – work life balance is now top of the agenda for most employees – keep them happy and they will stay – saving you money yet again!

Work life balance is now top of the agenda for most employees. By offering flexible working conditions employers can help to keep employees and save money!

Remember, motivation and focus on the end result are the key to creating positive virtual teams who are comfortable and happy working across time zones, countries and cultures because they believe in a common cause that benefits them both personally and professionally.