Many people automatically misconstrue virtual teamwork as a simple process because it uses tools that are commonplace and understood, such as telephones and email. On the contrary, despite the increasing trend in virtual working, the majority of virtual teams suffer some form of performance failure. According to the Gartner Group, 50% of virtual teams fail due to a lack of understanding of how to work virtually. More recent reports suggest that failure rates may actually be as high as 82%.
In the 2012 study Untapped Potential of Virtual Teams, Siemens Enterprise Communications designed and executed a research survey generating responses from nine countries, covering North America, Latin America, and Western Europe. The goal of the survey was to find the real-time problems companies struggle with that involve virtual teams and their effect on operations, efficiency, and the overall bottom line. The results show that:
- Over 40% of virtual team members always or frequently feel frustrated or overwhelmed by the complexity of communications technologies
- Only 50% experience success in establishing trust and maintaining fluid dialog among team members using the tools at their disposal
- 75% find their team members more likely to get distracted during virtual meetings, and 34% perceive remote team members as slacking off
Another survey showed that only 22% of employees receive training on working in the virtual environment, causing and exacerbating many of the above issues. Lack of face-to-face contact for employees without a solid foundation in working virtually experience productivity impacts in the following areas:
- Understanding the full context of what others communicate to them (51%)
- Managing conflict (48%)
- Establishing trust and building relationships (45%)
Further, even employees who work virtually only some of the time feel that their in-office colleagues don’t treat them equally:
- 67% feel that colleagues don’t fight for their priorities
- 64% say colleagues make changes to a project without warning them
- 84% allow these concerns to linger for days before addressing them; 47% did so for weeks or more
Yet globally, 85% of employees report working on virtual teams. At the same time, only 22% have received any training geared toward working in that environment. This disparity suggests that many of the people working virtually do not know how to do so effectively, which can lead to dysfunction including:
This is most apparent when it comes to rating virtual team leadership: 58% of employees feel that their team leaders are not adequately prepared to manage their team in the virtual environment.
This leads to virtual employees feeling that their managers are out of touch, exacerbating the difficulties in building trust and rapport that are already more pronounced in the virtual environment.
Communication Strategies for Virtual Colleagues
Virtual managers can set their team up to create successful, trusting relationships in the following ways:
Schedule a Virtual Lunch
You use web conferencing tools for business purposes like team meetings – so use them for informal chats as well! Schedule the occasional team lunch for your team to share unstructured time over a meal, even if they aren’t sitting side by side. These informal interactions are essential ingredients to deep, trusted relationship that help your virtual team members to build trust and support one another.
Run Mindful Team Meetings
On virtual teams, those who are out of sight can’t afford to be out of mind. One great tool for making sure everybody feels included is to circulate a “map” showing who is calling in from where. This visual reference helps your team be mindful of who is on the call, even if some colleagues are quieter than others.
Create Human Moments
When your team can’t simply walk down the hall to say hello or go for an impromptu coffee, it’s up to you to build “human moments” in to the workday. Whether it’s opening team meetings with an opportunity for everyone to share a recent success or conducting a team building activity, great virtual team managers are those who know how to make sure it’s never all work and no play.
Curious to learn more? Read our other posts in this series: