If you don’t work as part of a virtual team on a regular or occasional basis, chances are you have colleagues or friends who do. Fifteen years ago it was a different story. I remember asking my boss at the time if I could telecommute one day a week. I have a 40 mile (one way) commute to the office and spend nearly two hours a day driving back and forth to work. I argued that I could spend those two additional hours working, not driving. The answer? A resounding “no.” Even though the technology at the time could support it, culturally our organization wasn’t ready. My, how times have changed!
There is a wide variety in the definition of what comprises “working virtually.” It can include those who work full-time from home, part-time telecommuting, and everything in between. Regardless of the amount of time you or co-workers spend working off-site, virtual teams have unique needs that need to be addressed if they are to reach their maximum potential and effectiveness.
All successful virtual teams have three common characteristics: trust, attentiveness, and communication.
Trust – Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship and it’s even more important when building relationships virtually. Without the benefit of regular face to face contact (or any face to face contact), virtual teams have to be much more intentional about focusing on building trust. There are four core elements of trust: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Virtual team members can build trust by demonstrating competence in their responsibilities, integrity in their actions, care by developing personal relationships with colleagues, and dependability by following through on commitments.
Attentiveness – It’s easy to “check out” or fly under the radar when working on a virtual team. Without the benefit of face to face communication, virtual team members have to work extra hard at being attentive through their verbal and electronic interactions. Leaders of virtual teams have to be diligent about encouraging participation, dealing with conflict, and appropriately rewarding and recognizing team members.
Communication – Body language adds tremendous context to communication with some studies suggesting it comprises more than 55% of the message transmitted…and virtual teams miss out on that (unless you regularly use webcams which I highly recommend). Virtual team members have to work diligently on their tone of communications (written and verbal) and learn to be more perceptive of the emotional content of the message being communicated.
Trust, attentiveness, and communication are essential characteristics of virtual teams and there are a number of strategies leaders can employ to develop these attributes in their teams. To learn more, I encourage you to download our free white paper, Achieving Excellence, Virtually.
Feel free to share your comments, tips, and suggestions on how you foster success in your virtual teams.