The reason why organizations are now embarking on building their virtual teams is obvious. They want a talented and diverse workforce at cost-effective rates without a dedicated office space, bills, and other expenses.
A survey conducted by flexjobs in 2017 reveals that 77% of the employees perceive that allowing employees to work remotely will lower the business’s operating cost.
There is a great opportunity for remote workers to earn in dollars for globally distant virtual workers while sitting somewhere in Pakistan, India, or Srilanka. The currency rate differences help increase their standard of living by leaps and bounds.
Isn’t it amazing that you do not have to leave your family while taking pride in working for an international company? This is more inspiring that only in the U.S during 2005-2017; there was a 91% growth rate observed in remote work. You can also find some tips for a successful freelancer if you intend to pursue a freelancing career.
Significance of Virtual Teams
Although already a rising trend was being observed in remote working, virtual teams’ significance increased manifold after the burst of the global pandemic, COVID 19. Around the world, millions of businesses collapsed, and people lost their jobs. While some were bound still to work on-site such as doctors, most highly profitable sectors such as airlines, manufacturing, construction, restaurant, and retail businesses suffered huge losses.
But smart leaders can extract opportunities from the worst situations. At this point, many transformational business leaders figured out that telecommuting or forming an effective virtual team remains the only option of survival for businesses and helps you build a more productive workforce.
For example, many educational institutions remained successful in restructuring their strategies by capitalizing on E-learning and virtual programs.
Communication — A Secret to Success
One of my friends was working remotely for an educational consultancy during the peak times of COVID 19. While he was talking about his experience, he mentioned that when the organizations around the world we’re moving toward downsizing due to this pandemic, the organization he was working for was advertising more jobs for online teachers and coaches, hiring more, and even expanding its client base.
All the staff members worked remotely, some at the local level, while virtual assistants and writing analysts were globally dispersed. HR was extensively interviewing new coaches and teachers using virtual channels.
People in the other departments performed their duties, attended meetings, and trained new staff virtually as comfortably as if they were sitting in one office. He was confident to reveal that the only secret of their success was “Strong communication within the team members from top to bottom.”
By overcoming communication, which is the major challenge of virtual teams, the organization could maximize its profits. The State of Remote report 2019 states that 17% of remote workers believe that the biggest struggle while working remotely is communicating.
From my personal experience and found through talking to people working remotely, here are some useful communication tips. If you want to create or be a part of an effective virtual team, these are things you should incorporate in your work strategy.
11 Communication Tips for Effective Virtual Teams
1. Communicate the Goals Clearly
As far as communication is concerned, leaders of a virtual team are not less burdened than the leader of a conventional office-based organization. It is even more challenging for virtual team leaders to make sure that everyone is one the same page.
This all depends on how successfully a leader believes in communicating the organizational values, norms, goals, and actions. If people are geographically dispersed and still loyal to the company and following the protocols, this is a remote leader’s real success.
2. Management by Objective
For virtual teams, the best strategic management style is where the employer and the employees agree on the objectives. The employee has a say in goal setting and action plans. If you do not communicate openly and win your team member’s confidence, you cannot ensure a team member’s positive behavior you have never met in person.
3. Make the Assignment Easier
It would help if you can communicate in the simplest possible manner. Do not expect people to comprehend a technically written manual independently and start producing an error-free piece of work immediately. Explain them in an easy and detailed manner.
Tell them step by step how to do something. Share examples and previous samples that you deem excellent. Give them the confidence to ask questions before starting work instead of producing the wrong documents, which are a complete waste of time.
4. Familiarity with Technology in Use
You need to ensure that team members are familiar with the technology they have to use for specific tasks. For example, if some virtual team members are content writers, make sure they know certain online tools to make their work better, such as Grammarly, and can work on Google Docs instead of word documents.
Similarly, for data entry operators, make sure they know how to be effectively using google spreadsheets. This will help them easily pull out their documents at any time to make additions and edit.
At the same time, supervisors can comment on their work, for which they will be notified through email as well. This is called real-time collaboration on files. i.e., words, Excel, PowerPoint, no matter where you are, which device you are using, and when you want to work.
5. Ensure Access to the Necessary Tools
Think that your job in an office is to make a phone call to your customers, and you are not provided a telephone to accomplish your task. You are unable to perform your task, no matter how talented you are. Ensure that your employees working remotely have all the necessary tools to ensure proper communication and perform the assigned tasks.
For example, if a virtual call center agent doesn’t have a proper headphone set or internet speed needed, he will ruin your reputation no matter how excellent he is in his verbal skills.
This also demands that you communicate the job requirements while advertising the job and interviewing a remote worker. But, if he is absolutely the one you need for your business, try investing a bit in providing him the necessary tools.
6. Communicate the Due Date
Deadlines are crucial for virtual teams if you want to work within a defined timeline. Giving a due date considering the workload of a remote worker and task complexity is equally important as you do it for workers who work in front of you.
This is important because remote workers might have distractions at home, which on-site workers typically do not have, and they should also be conscious about the number of hours as a freelancer should work.
7. Use Suitable Communication Platforms
Virtual teams need a channel where members can communicate, assign work, and discuss some informal things.
Using a project management channel will help you put the due date in front of the task assigned, and the deadline will automatically be communicated to the assignee. For brainstorming, problem-solving, and discussing new business strategies, video conferencing is a much better tool.
It is also good to use video conferencing for interviews as you would like to know the facial responses and gestures of the person you intend to bring in your company.
You can schedule meetings and connect virtually anytime with the whole team (audio and video conference call) through google hangouts, Zooms, and Microsoft teams. To enhance productivity, you can create channels within Microsoft teams to work with small groups, provide feedback on tasks instantly, and easily track teamwork progress.
For assignments and discussions, tools such as Asana and Slack may be helpful. To create, store, and share files and documents with your team Dropbox, Google Drive is suitable. Also, make phone groups in case you think it is important to use those groups sometime as your team is working on different time zones.
Ensure that you use these platforms as per the team’s needs and the nature of the interaction. For example, an online meeting is a much better place to point out someone’s mistake than sending a written email.
Because sometimes, the lack of face to face interaction makes it feel worse than it is. People tend to forget the negative emotions associated with a verbal warning, but a written warning may prove very demotivating.
8. Stay in Touch with Team Members
Don’t let your virtual team members stay silent for a long time for them to remain vigilant about their work. Keep sending messages from time to time to know the work progress and if they have any questions. In case it’s a big virtual team, ask the manager to engage every of its team.
Using Microsoft, teams, or Asana, you can bring a conversation to people’s attention by mentioning certain people, tag someone to get an instant response, and like a comment or flag to yourself for later.
9. Ensure Team Member’s Participation
Some companies have some virtual team members from other countries and some professionals from their home country. It is observed that far off virtual members usually tend to be less participative in a meeting and avoid speaking and discussions.
This is the failure of leadership when some team members underestimate the power of their contribution in the workplace and think that they will only do the assigned work.
Also, local team members feel more privileged or in a better position to take a participative role. The leader has to make sure that everyone is contributing. Everyone can be a team member, regardless of the job role and how less he is paid than local members.
This is good for developing a sense of ownership, but sometimes a small idea from an unexpected person can benefit the organization in multiple ways. Instigate them to speak, ignore the little language mistakes, and appreciate the ideas even if they initially seem stupid.
10. Give Frequent Feedback
Keep giving feedback to your virtual team members and highlight their mistakes in a polite manner. Ethics are important for a virtual team that is needed to be observed during a face to face interaction.
If you think that there is a need for more explanation, which is previously misunderstood, take advantage of the video conferencing. Teach them how you wanted them to do through screen sharing, online training programs, whiteboards, etc.
11. Maintain Team Efficiency
Everyone in the team should know their job role very clearly so that not much time is wasted by making guesses and asking questions. It’s not a good idea to send emails to individual team members to assign a task as you may miss some of your members, or you may be confused in tracking a record of their work.
With a reliable virtual platform, you will know who is doing what and by when. You will know the status of the work happening around and the contribution of each member individually.
Microsoft Team provides a virtual staff notebook to each team member and team owner to see individual staff members’ work. You can share work instantly with the whole staff members (Collaboration Space) and share files with restricted rights, i.e., view and editable rights.
Ensuring smooth communication within virtual teams is important for the effectiveness of virtual teams. Learning and training about using new tools and technology are also important to stay up to date in this era of global competition.
For this, the best thing is to stay up-to-date with the latest technology trends and keep trying to use them to achieve efficiency within a virtual team. Even if you are working on-site, a complete plan to work remotely in case of uncertainty should be ready.
Also, virtual organizations’ leaders need to ensure that communication barriers are removed, and smooth interaction with their team members exists. Along with performing the traditional role of a leader, they need to make sure that their physically distant members are part of their team and take ownership of their work.