A virtual team can be defined as “a group of individuals who work across time, space, and organizational boundaries, and interact primarily through electronic communications.” According to a study conducted by RW3 CultureWizard*, 87% of employees working within multinational companies conduct at least part of their work virtually. The study also found that only 16% had the training to prepare them for carrying out their virtual job.
Teams don’t work in the same way everywhere. Here are a few ways team culture differs around the world:
- U.S. managers solicit input, choose a direction quickly, and make adjustments as the project moves forward.
- In Sweden, teams make decisions through lengthy consensus-building which eventually leads to rapid implementation.
- French teams debate and confrontation are necessary elements of any decision-making process.
- Within Japanese companies, decisions tend to be made in informal one-on-one discussions before a formal group meeting.
The 2012 Virtual Teams Survey Report found that in the virtual workplace decisions take longer to make, the absence of visual cues makes it more difficult to collaborate, and building team trust is difficult. The survey also identified working across time zones as one of the biggest hurdles facing corporate employees.
The report identified the following challenges of working in virtual teams:
- 41% of virtual team members never met their colleagues in a face-to-face setting
- 87% of respondents indicated that at least 25% of their productivity depended on working virtually
- 33% said at least half of their virtual teams were outside the home country
- The top five challenges during virtual team meetings were: insufficient time to build relationships (79%), speed of decision making (73%), lack of participation (71%), different leadership styles (69%), and the method of decision making (55%)
How can virtual teams work more effectively?
- Choose team members who are familiar with one another. Virtual teams are more likely to be productive and innovative if they include some people who already know each other.
- Make sure that members can learn quickly about one another. Online tools can help in the same way that social-networking websites help college and high-school students get to know other members of their communities.
- Encourage frequent communication. Simple mechanisms might include intranet team home pages or open chat rooms. Electronic bulletin boards and virtual and face-to-face team meetings.
- Create a space where a team can exchange ideas and inspire one another. An online workspace ensures that while different team members are working relatively independently, they can continuously follow the progress of other team members.
- Break work up into modules so that areas are not overly dependent on one another. Depending on the type of work, try designing the workflow so that contributions from different locations can be assembled into a whole toward the end of the process.
- Build trust among members. Trust can be developed from positive experiences among team members. It also comes from the sense of accountability, that is, from seeing that others follow through on what they agree to do.
- Celebrate success. Develop a strong culture of posting fun and exciting news to a team bulletin board or team webpage.
We hope these tips can help you overcome some of the challenges of working with virtual teams!