Technology and Teamwork: Helping vs Hindering
Effective virtual communication and collaboration have become key predictors of success for high-performing, geographically dispersed teams.
In order to achieve efficiency and efficacy in virtual teams, four critical sets of skills have been identified: Planning & Design, Virtual Facilitation, Technology & Tools, and Cultural Awareness. (See more in this related [Infographic]: How to Make Virtual Meetings Work.) This article focuses on how to use technology to reach your team’s goals and establish a highly engaging, motivated virtual team.
Choose the right technology for your virtual team
Team members are often at different comfort levels for using virtual meeting tools (e.g. instant messaging/video chat) or fully-integrated technologies (e.g. virtual project management platforms). Fear of the unknown, non-native language issues, “tech anxiety”, or concerns about the security of shared information may have contributed to a belief that virtual technology is unreliable, or worse, counter-productive. These fears and concerns need to be addressed to create buy-in from all team members to effectively use the installed tools for better collaboration and virtual team development.
While the development of new tools, platforms and technology to support virtual teams is growing at a rapid pace, a virtual team does not necessarily need the latest and greatest of tools to achieve success. It’s more important that all members of the team that will be using the technology on a day-to-day basis should feel comfortable and become familiar with the tools put in place. Over time, new tools or virtual platforms can be introduced and added, but it is advisable to ensure the added functionality speaks in your team’s best interests.
Furthermore, it is absolutely vital to pick tools and technology that help meet a team’s meeting objectives. If you are, for example, at the start of your virtual team-forming process, a proper video conferencing platform combined with social chat can help alleviate some of the “impersonal walls” between team members. Getting to know each other via video in addition to hearing each others’ voices can help to build trust and form stronger bonds. Often times we assume that “connected” teams are also connecting through the developing of relationships. However, just because team members may all be plugged into the same technology, it does not mean they are making an effort to connect on a personal level. Relationship-building activities in an online space, as well as an engaging and interactive facilitation of virtual team meetings, are mandatory first steps to create well-functioning, sustainable, high-performing, remote teams.
7 steps to successful virtual team collaboration and management:
1. Give Time to Familiarize: If you are expecting virtual teams to meet tight deadlines, perform well across multiple times zones and across different work-styles, give them the necessary time to test and dry-run new tools and systems. Once team members have had a chance to become comfortable with the technology, it will be easier to establish good habits in using them.
2. Make Effective Processes a Habit: If a process works, make sure it becomes a habit for all team members. Share best practices on a continuing basis. Check processes regularly for continuous fit and adapt as the team identifies unmatched needs.
3. Leave Room for Different Work & Communication Styles: Enable different technological functionalities for communication and collaboration across borders to ensure an inclusive offer to all team members. Some cultural profiles or work-styles may prefer different means of reaching out (i.e. instant chat vs. email, audio vs. video). Learn about preferences within the team and ask for regular feedback.
4. Buddy Up: Find knowledgeable, tech-savvy members of your team to partner with less experienced team members. Set up learning resources for those with more needs. Spend time on team building activities online (e.g. live stream during lunch hours, virtual office parties, share photos) to decrease barriers.
5. Provide Guidelines: Create guidelines around which tools should be used in various situations. Typically, the more information that needs to be communicated, the more direct and immediate the communication tool should be. In a conflict situation, for example, team members may need to use the phone or video conference tools, whereas a quick question can be answered via chat, instant messenger or email.
6. Be a Role Model: Asking remote employees to adopt new systems, processes and means of communication and collaboration should be coupled with someone in a manager’s role setting an example and modeling the ideal behavior. Use the provided tools and platforms, share best practices, and be a visible super-user.
7. Show Gratitude: Implicit communication is much harder to decipher in virtual spaces. Thank your remote team explicitly for their efforts. Depending on the cultures you are working with, you may choose to either create visible group or individual moments of pride and praise.
Aperian Global offers customized solutions to enhance virtual team collaboration, communication and leadership, we also have our own internal experience with numerous virtual teams in our own organization. We speak from more than 25 years of accumulated experience helping our own geographically distributed teams work effectively together!
If you’re interested in finding out more about improving virtual collaboration, we invite you to take a look at some or our most popular virtual teaming solutions: