Do you know if you have a virtual team?
It’s a ridiculous question, isn’t it? Of course you’d know if you had a virtual team.
But, would you really? It sounds strange, but we’ve seen leaders mistake their virtual teams for face-to-face ones, and we’ve seen this mistake cost organizations time and money. In this post, we’ll show how you can have a virtual team without realizing it.
Let’s start with some questions.
• Do you work more than 90 feet away from any one of your team members?
• Do you use communication technologies to accomplish specific goals?
• Do you have frequent web or tele-conferences?
• Are any individuals in your team “virtual”? As in, do they phone in, text, or email from a different location than the rest of your team?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you have a virtual team. This is important, because a virtual team is not the same as a face-to-face team.
Our image of a virtual team usually involves a small group of people dispersed across hundreds and hundreds of miles. While this is definitely one form of virtual team, it’s not the only model. What distinguishes a virtual team from a face-to-face one is how they communicate. And, if you primarily communicate with your team with technology, that makes you a virtual team. This means that you can have a virtual team that works in the same office but on different floors.
Imagine that you needed to connect with a colleague for a routine matter. You work in the same building, but on different floors. How would you do it? Would you pick up the phone, use email, messaging, or take the stairs? If it was a routine matter, you’d probably avoid the stairs and use one of the first three options. In other words, you’d use communication technology.
When you shift from face-to-face to technology-enabled communication, you shift from a face-to-face to a virtual team. And, thanks to a study by Tom Allen, we have an exact number for when that shift happens. Allen studied a team of engineers; he found that if they worked in the next office over, they had a 25% chance of communicating once a week. If they were 30 feet apart or more, they had a 10% chance of communicating at least once a week. But, if they were more than 90 feet apart, the frequency of their communication dropped. Past 90 feet, it didn’t matter whether they were in the next building, or in China, they began to act like a virtual team.
This study shows us that virtual teams are much more common than we think. Virtual teams exist in offices across the country. And with virtual teams comes a new set of problems that can’t be solved with face-to-face solutions. It is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole: a waste of time, money and resources.
You need the right tool for the right job; if you think use face-to-face solutions for a virtual team problem, you’re using a hammer when you really need a screwdriver.
In our next post, we’ll talk about the differences between virtual teams and face-to-face ones, and what you can do to start managing virtually.
Tell us about your experience with virtual teams in the comments.