Technology has definitely changed the workplace. Two decades ago, who would have thought that it is possible to have a team which has members located in various parts of the world? But now, virtual teams have become as commonplace as say, coffee during morning meetings.
And virtual teams aren’t only tapped by small firms or upstarts. One study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management showed that companies with multinational operations are 66 percent more likely to use virtual teams compared to those which have US-based operations.
If you are part of a firm which has adopted telecommuting, then you will likely have an idea of how different communication is in virtual teams. After all, members of a virtual team don’t interact with each other as often as those who are part of a traditional office unit.
While communication in virtual teams is different, it doesn’t mean that effective communication won’t be achieved in this type of working arrangement. Here are some tips that can guide those who lead or belong to a virtual team:
1. Manage outputs and not activity. In the traditional office environment, the usual thinking is that busy people are the ones who really work. But things are different in the virtual world. Because you can’t see what your team members are doing, you won’t really know who’s busy and who’s not. And it doesn’t make sense to monitor their daily activities, as it can only cause confusion among and even infuriate team members.
So instead of monitoring their activity it would be more practical to set expectations and monitor their outputs.
2. Schedule regular communication. Regular time for reporting progress and potential problems in a project should be agreed upon by the team. This would help people keep track of the team’s progress particularly in key projects.
3. Use communication tools that save time. Like in the traditional office set-up, time is of the essence in a virtual team arrangement. Thus it is important to have communication tools that can save time like the use of an email alert software.
With email alert software, checking of email is fast and easy. The email alert software would check all the email inboxes of a particular team member, and promptly notifies him or her of new email messages. It can save time and effort. More importantly, it ensures that a virtual team member doesn’t miss out on important messages coming from the team leader or another team member.
Instant messaging is another indispensable tool for virtual teams. With the said communication tool, anyone can leave a message to another team member to follow up the status of an assignment, even if the recipient is away from the computer. It is even more valuable if the recipient is online, as he or she will be able to read the message right away unlike in an email which can take a few minutes to sync in.
4. Set rules of responsiveness. You may have email alert software or an instant messaging tool, but if your team has no rules of responsiveness then everything will turn sour. Rules of responsiveness set parameters such as the time people are expected to reply to an email, or respond to an instant message. Members should also know and agree upon on the protocol for being out of the office and on vacation, especially if they are part of a customer service-oriented team.
These four reminders should come in handy for virtual teams in any type of organization. Whether your firm is a Fortune500 or a start-up, it would benefit from having a virtual team that is on the same page all the time.