The economy is changing and successful companies are responding by investing in programs that will position them to maximize their human resources potiential. By understanding how to manage people virtually, you can lower expenses and improve your return on investment.
Yet, with some foresight and careful planning, the worst storm can be weathered. Virtual teams offer a compelling way to offset potential risks. A virtual team is a collection of individuals who are geographically dispersed and who collaborate via communication and information technologies in order to accomplish a specific goal.
According to a recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, 77% of respondents said that offering virtual leadership development is important yet more than a 25% of these organizations do not currently offer training or development opportunities to improve virtual leadership skills.
Many argue that virtual teams are not as effective or efficient as collocated teams, which prioritizes face-to-face contact. What many fail to realize is that the benefits typically associated with face-to-face teams can be achieved more conveniently, and at a fraction of the cost, by using virtual teams. The delivery may differ, but the results are the same.
To be successful, virtual teams need to grasp the importance of frequent, open communication. Trying to duplicate the workings of a collocated team in a virtual environment proved to be both frustrating and unproductive for many companies trying to make the leap.
The truth is that traditional teams and virtual teams face many of the same challenges. However, small problems that would pose a mere inconvenience to traditional teams can prove to be major hurdles for virtual teams, including: cost reduction, improved work-life balance, future access to meetings due to ease of recording, and conference attendance regardless of geographic location.
Understanding the “new dynamic” of the virtual world takes more than a bit of getting used to.
But there are also potential pitfalls if you don’t take the necessary precautions.
For example, technology can be an obstacle when conducting virtual meetings. Some tips around this obstacle include:
- At some point, the technology will fail. Always have a back-up plan.
- Have a tech person on call so meeting planners can focus on conducting the meeting and not on technical glitches that may occur.
- Have an alternative conference call-in number available when conducting video or audio conference calls.
- Ensure meeting participants understand how to use the technology, including laptops, projectors, conference lines, etc.
- Confirm that the technology being used is appropriate to the type of meeting you are holding.
Another obstacle is engaging the participation of people that are not face-to-face. Some tips around this obstacle include:
- Minimize the feeling of isolation from remote participants by having everyone attend remotely. If this is not a possibility, make sure those who are not in the room feel valued and involved, by soliciting their input or acknowledging their responses.
- Establish some rules of engagement for meeting behaviors and attach it to the meeting agenda.
- Look for opportunities to verify that the person on the other end of the phone is engaged and understands what is being discussed. A simple way to do this is to check in with people every three presentation slides or every 10 minutes.
- Have multiple presenters. The change of voice and pitch can help keep people engaged.
Circulate information about the myths of multi-tasking. This is to limit the number of tasks meeting participants will perform while attending/participating in a virtual meeting.