As few as five years ago, virtual teaming was hardly the undisputed way of the future. According to a report developed for the Association for Talent Development, factors such as language difficulties, distance, time-zones, cultural differences and personal communication styles seem to make virtual work … well … complicated.
But don’t throw in the towel just yet. Our virtual comrades aren’t suffering quite the same pains as they once were. Technological advances are largely to credit. The development of advanced video infrastructure, platform compatibility and more are changing the game. Heck, we have HD and the Cloud, right? And these advancements have eased our virtual belly aches.
But for most of us, we’re still treating symptoms and not addressing the root cause of our virtual struggles. The virtual workforce is emphasizing problems that the traditional, co-located workforce has been struggling with for years: communication and poorly prepared managers. Call it soft skills, interpersonal skills, personality traits, emotional intelligence – it all falls into the same bucket. Our workforce isn’t prepared to manage the challenges that this virtual staffing dynamic is demanding. And we’re feeling the growing pains.
The virtual workforce is growing in record numbers – 1.3 billion within the next few years, according to the Harvard Business Review. So, we had best figure this out fast. In addition to strong technology, consider these five absolute “must haves” for any virtual team:
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.
To most of us, this sounds redundant. But with a virtual workforce, you must have formal and informal communication channels that are exercised regularly. One-on-one meetings, team meetings, newsletters, synchronous and asynchronous platforms, etc. People need information that’s easily obtainable.
Virtual teams need opportunities to connect for the sole purpose of building relationships. They need to know each other as more than a project lead or administrative support. Successful workplaces have team members who feel a sense of camaraderie and connection. They understand each other’s interests and know how to support one another. Take any high-performing team and you’ll find it has meaningful relationships and established connections. And a nice byproduct of this effort is a more satisfied workforce.
Everyone loves a good party. Although you may not always need the Zappos balloons and confetti, you do need the benefits that come from offering kudos for a job well done or acknowledging a birthday. Celebration brings out the human side of a business that all too often becomes lost amid the spreadsheets, PowerPoints and project plans.
- Establish a culture without walls
In a virtual workplace, there are no walls to support those company values posters. So figure out how your culture can live without the walls. How can your remote workforce “feel” it? The answer really isn’t that difficult but does require us to take a look at our workforce behaviors. How are our team members demonstrating the culture through their behaviors? What do we see when we look at an average day? How do we treat each other?
This is a must. Our team members need formal opportunities to hone skills like listening, conflict, critical conversations, trust and the like. Removing the aspect of face-to-face connection further complicates the communication process. The employee with a skill deficit is really going to suffer. Believe me, adding a happy emoticon to a less-than-happy email is not the answer.
Virtual teams are challenging and we need to prepare our workforce to meet that challenge in order to reap the benefits.
Want to know more about these ideas? Register for our free, one-hour webinar, The Virtual Workplace: Managing Teams Without Walls, available 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. CST, Wednesday, April 8. We’re going to cover everything you need to know to be successful with a virtual workplace.
We hope you join us!