Creating a high-performing team that can achieve its strategic objectives can be quite challenging. Creating a high-performing virtual team that can achieve its strategic objectives is, unfortunately, still proving to be nearly impossible for many business leaders!
I recently led a workshop on best practices for virtual teaming for a group of project managers in Los Angeles, and we discussed some of the greatest challenges that they continue to face with their virtual teams. No matter how prevalent the use of virtual teams has become over the past 20+ years, things like communications and lack of physical presence, not to mention the lack of standard protocols with technologies they use, continue to impact the performance of these virtual teams. (See Part I of this two-part series for more on that.) The flip side to that coin though is the tremendous business benefits an organization can gain from their virtual teams that more traditional, co-located teams cannot offer.
While there clearly are some inherent challenges to address with virtual teams, the following are some of the greatest benefits the project managers I met with have accomplished with their virtual teams:
- Access to remote skills – Have you ever been part of a team and wished you had someone else – or really, someone else’s core capabilities – available to you? In geographically-dispersed, and especially global, companies, the skills required to complete a task are not always sitting in the cube next to you. Virtual teams enable leaders to tap into people and skill sets that are not immediately accessible.
- Less commute time = Greater work time – Employees who telecommute or who work from remote office locations can be more far more productive than those who must commute to a central site. When teams are based in major metropolitan areas like New York City, for example, that can equate to an extra two to four hours, if not more, a day that somebody can be working rather than sitting in traffic or riding a train or ferry not being productive.
- Follow the sun/always working schedule – One of the clear advantages of virtual work is that you can extend your working hours well beyond what a more traditional, co-located team might work. In a global environment, this is often referred to as a “follow the sun” schedule when someone is always up and working. Even in a less global environment, teams can still increase their productivity and complete their work faster by passing tasks back and forth across multiple time zones.
- Flexibility with telecommuting can lead to happier employees – Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of virtual work is that employees who telecommute tend to be happier. Whether that has to do with the reduced cost of gas and dry cleaning from working at home or simply the greater flexibility and control over one’s life and work schedule, when employees are happier, they generally will go that extra mile or put in a few extra hours to get the job done.
- Cost savings from reduced facilities requirements – When companies do not have to provide fixed office space or the associated facilities (including telephones and network connectivity, printers and copiers, parking, etc.) to their employees, they can significantly reduce their operating expenses. Imagine what you could do with hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars a year if you didn’t have to spend it on facilities for co-located employees!
In order to gain these clear business benefits, you will want to perform the following key activities to create and maintain successful virtual teams:
- Clearly articulate the vision and corporate objectives for using virtual teams to all employees
- Strategically select specific individuals to be members of the team based on their technical competence as well as interpersonal skills
- Conduct initial face-to-face meetings early on to clarify the team’s purpose and goals and establish trust among virtual team members
- Equip the team with any required communication and information tools and technologies
- Recognize ongoing individual and team efforts through rewards and recognition programs, and other performance incentives as appropriate
- Continually assess team performance and check-in with remote team members on a regular basis
Do you have a virtual team that is struggling with some of the greatest challenges that virtual teams continue to face? Maybe you’re getting through the basics, but your team doesn’t seem to be producing the clear business benefits listed above. Maybe it’s time to take a pulse of your virtual team and see how it is really performing. See the Organizational Assessment page of Plus Delta’s website for more on that. You can also call us at +1.310.589.4600 or email us if you would like to discuss the best approach to designing and supporting an effective virtual team. Plus Delta’s CEO Dr. Jeremy Lurey can even facilitate a targeted team workshop to review some best practices with you and your team if you would like.