Over the past decade, the global shift towards remote, or virtual teams has been huge. According to the Office of National Statistics, 4.3 million people in the UK are in remote or virtual work. This has increased by almost 250,000 over the last 10 years. If this trend continues, up to 50% of the UK workforce will work remotely as part of a virtual team by 2025. Big numbers, right? But what’s it all about...
What is Virtual Team Working?
For many workers, increased connectivity in personal and work lives have made the transition into remote-work a relatively easy one. Faster and more readily available Wi-Fi and easy-access cloud systems enable virtual team tools such as Slack, to bring 'The Office' just about anywhere you take your laptop. And more and more companies are catching on to the fact that time zones are becoming increasingly closer together.
It's clear that today’s working economy is in a period of flux as more people migrate to modes of working that offer them a better work-life balance that fits around their own schedule. To prepare for this shift, businesses can start by ensuring they have the right connectivity and leadership capabilities in place to support a more virtual team.
Why are virtual teams important?
There’s a lot to be said about having open plan offices, with colourful bean bag seats and retro video games all designed to drive the most creative working. But some people prefer not to commute, rather than have a hipster barista serve a free latte every morning. In today’s economy talent lost, or missed out on, due to commuting time and geographical restrictions can be easily avoided by being more flexible in your approach to virtual teams.
Each team member contributes to the collective operating culture of the team bringing their unique ideas, abilities and experiences. This can be amplified when you expand the talent pool to include everyone. Remote teams offer widespread benefits; they also bring unique challenges.
Gone are the days of completely co-located teams where your entire team worked under the same roof. Remote or virtual teams can have members anywhere in the world.
It takes a bit more effort to make remote teams operate successfully but given this new norm it's worth learning how to do it right. Building and managing teams is enough of a challenge when everyone is in the same location. Collaboration when working on a team that's virtual requires even more commitment.
Like any team you need to build trust, there are many behaviors that undermine trust in virtual teams, when teams are working in virtual offices it takes a bit more effort. All teams need guidelines, but virtual teams need them even more to improve performance, focus on making it clear how you want the team to work. This means clearly articulating principles, recommendations and best practices.
Remote teams need clear boundaries within which to operate and make decisions. But you also need to show your trust in their professional judgment, avoiding the temptation to micromanage, focus on protocols for effective team interaction like methods of communication and virtual meetings. Your standard of communication improves as email, shared documents and chat functions leave little room for body language, so you need to be clear, concise and efficient with how you communicate. Read more about the opportunities and challenges of virtual teams here.
Who typically uses a virtual office?
When you think of examples of successful virtual teams, you may think of an emerging tech start-up, creative media company or a group of web developers and SEO gurus. More commonly than not, any industry can avail of becoming virtual. Dispersed sales teams, customer service and support teams can also function virtually. With the increase in speed of home broadband and Wi-Fi, combined with collaboration tools and applications it's possible to do pretty much any job with a computer and enough coffee.
Think about the office you're in now, how many people are actually talking face to face? How many are probably using a group chat to communicate even to their desk-mates? Gone are the days of watercooler conversations, the mobile era has ushered in a new paradigm of communication that is virtual in every aspect. Recognising this and embracing it will only drive morale, productivity and overall image of your company.
Why Would you use a virtual office?
Access to the best candidates worldwide is the main reason why any business would begin the conversation around moving to a virtual environment. Overheads are dramatically reduced for operations as providing a laptop is far more cost effective than desks, swivel chairs, lighting etc. for an entire team, having a core team or smaller office is more beneficial. For those important meetings that require face to face interaction, you can have assigned days where being in the office is required.
Depending on your business, offering a 24/7 support model by employing remotely in different time zones allows your customers no matter where they are to receive support as and when they need it. Similarly, being able to quickly scale for peak periods or seasonality ensures you’re able to reduce idle time and maximise productivity.
Virtual team tools
Can a distributed team be as efficient as co-located teams in the absence of face-to-face communication? Certainly! As long as team members have quick and flexible access to information and each other and can follow predictable standards regarding the flow of information they can be just as successful. The nature of a virtual team mandates that effective communication is key to success.
The best tools for team collaboration
The virtual work environment is shaped by the combination of communication tools used to share information and documents, give and receive feedback, brainstorm, make decisions, and share knowledge. Effective communication is perhaps the biggest challenge facing virtual teams.
A virtual office team is faced with two main communication challenges. The first is the way they deliver messages. A good rule of thumb is to let the purpose of the message determine the tool used that is sending information in an appropriate format. The second challenge is that communication can easily lead to misunderstandings. Members must be able to judge the meaning of the message, read between the lines of an email and judge someone's tone of voice while video calling.
There are tons of software for effective collaboration out there on the market. Some are fast becoming industry standards like Slack, Office365, google drive to name a few. However, it is more important to think about how you want to communicate & collaborate before aggressively trying to use every part of every tool. .
The best project management tool
Encouraging the team to complete tasks, without the ability to oversee, can seem risky. Create accountability with the right project management software. Monitoring performance and time doesn’t have to be overbearing but having clear expectations allows virtual teams to focus on their tasks.
Which tools are essential for productive virtual teams?
One of the most important decisions you have to make is which technology tools, or combination of them, your team needs to effectively meet your company goals.
Using virtual team software such as Zoom, Join.Me, GoToMeeting and Huddle encourage adding visuals to video conferences, allowing you to share presentations or documents with participants. These can be edited live, downloaded to work on later, or just shared for visibility. Adding this visual layer to meeting helps avoid distractions, as all participants are engaged with the content and not distracted with side activities.
Don't be daunted by all the available virtual team communication tools, let the task at hand guide you in your choice of technology. Start by thinking about the nature of the task; How many features does the task need? Consider the timing. Do team members need immediate answers or can there be a delay? And finally what's the social context? Is your goal better suited to a meeting where team members can interact or is written communication enough?
When every team member is able to work from where they feel most comfortable, accommodating their work/life balance you get the most productive version of them. The Internet has brought the world closer together, people are more conscious of their carbon footprint, cities are expanding far beyond a 90 minute commute.
Having a corporate culture flexible enough to embrace this and let the best people work they way they want, where they want, is key to getting the most out of them.
Our Scale solution allows you to confidently extend the reach of your internal learning programmes globally. Scale programmes efficiently and cost effectively for virtual delivery using our managed end to end service designing learning experiences for global audiences.
Enabling us to help you develop engaging content specifically tailored to the learning needs of distributed teams, creating a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration. We can upskill your L&D facilitators to enable them to engage learners and drive retention through blended virtual learning sessions incorporating the latest in virtual team tools.
Once onboarding, compliance updates, development training or technical upskill training is delivered across your entire workforce we can also track return on investment, ensuring you're getting the best out of your virtual and remote teams.
Talk to Logicearth today about getting the most out of your virtual teams, or request a live preview of Scale: