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What works in a virtual team environment?

In this article, Chris Hope describes what works in the virtual team environment.

Before we jump into key factors that make virtual teams successful, I want you to pause and reflect. 

  • What works for you as a virtual team member? 
  • What are the three things that you must have to succeed in a virtual team environment? 
  • Do you think your ‘must-have’ list is similar or different from others in your virtual team? 

Take a moment to reflect, and then continue to read about what works in the virtual team environment.

Key steps to managing successful virtual teams

Key steps to managing successful virtual teams. More information on each key step, is directly below.click to enlarge

  1. Bring the team together: Bringing the team together physically early on has been found to be very successful. Giving team members the chance to connect during this time builds trust and effective relationships. Teams that get the opportunity to meet in person maintain stronger professional and personal relationships when working remotely. 
  2. Clarify tasks and processes – not just roles: All new teams need to be able to align goals and roles, however, with virtual teams, it’s very important to focus on the details of how tasks are designed and will be collaborated on, with specifics about who does what in the project and when. 
  3. Commit with communication: Communicating with a virtual team is often less ‘rich’ than face-to-face interactions. Managers can help to overcome this by having clear rules and expectations around how and when the team will communicate. Some best practices that you could establish for virtual meetings include allocating social time, limiting background noise, keeping cameras on, and taking notes. 
  4. Use the best communication tools: Selecting the best tools does not mean selecting the most complex communication technology. For successful virtual teams, a tool that is robust and allows everybody to be on the same system is more important than the number of features. 
  5. Make time to connect: When team members are working virtually, it’s easy to get disconnected from the normal routines and rhythms of work life. One way that successful virtual teams are overcoming this is by creating regular meetings, ideally at a consistent time each week or day. They are also considerate of time zones and don’t put too much pressure on one time zone for meetings. 
  6. Agree on a shared language: Successful virtual teams have a shared language and use emojis (for example, on Slack) that convey consistent meanings for each team member. 
  7. Create a virtual ‘water cooler’: It’s very important to allow team members space for social connection and avoid meetings that are only task-focused. One simple way that teams are implementing this is by starting each meeting with a check-in. Adding in team-building exercises and doing regular fun activities is also very important. 
  8. Don’t forget one-on-one time: It’s very important for leaders to set aside one-on-one time to meet with their team members and spend some time with them on a regular basis. Successful virtual teams also encourage their team members to set up one-on-one time with colleagues from other teams that they may not interact with very often but would see in a face-to-face environment.

Reference

1. Watkins MD. Making virtual teams work: Ten basic principles [Internet]. Boston: Harvard Business Review; 2013 [cited 5 January 2023]. Available from: https://hbr.org/2013/06/making-virtual-teams-work-ten

Share your thoughts

Reflecting on your answers to the prompts at the start of this page, did your original ideas align with any of the principles outlined? In the comments below, share what principles were already a part of your practice and which you’d like to take forward in your work.
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