Virtual teams are a fact of life and they are only becoming more popular as technology evolves. Because of this, management needs to adapt to new methods in order to succeed with a long-distance team.
Professor Leigh Thompson, J. Jay Gerber Professor of Dispute Resolution & Organizations in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, was surprised after a long-distance conflict-resolution simulation with her students resulted in a "bloodbath". However, she was able to gain insights on how to build stronger teams that can accomplish more together despite their location.
With the help of Professor Thompson’s research, we compiled 5 tips to help you manage your virtual teams successfully:
- Get to know your team: Before getting down to business, familiarize yourself with your virtual team members. One fun way to do this is sending an email survey of quick questions for team members to answer about favorite foods, places to travel, etc. or have everyone create a slide with a picture and fun facts about themselves. Perhaps the day before a meeting, set up a brief pre-meeting to introduce yourself. This builds trust amongst teammates and it's also a great chance for everyone to test their connections and work out any kinks.
- Test the technology: Professor Thompson’s simulations revealed that over 50% of virtual team members have technological breakdowns. If one person can’t connect, it brings the whole team down; this is known as the LCD (Least Common Denominator) effect. Make sure your audio and video are up and running and prepare any slides you plan to present prior to your meeting.
- Meet “face to face”: A picture is worth a thousand words, so imagine how many a video is worth! Video conferencing is the most effective virtual communication because you are able to interact emotionally and intellectually. If you do not have access to video technology, looking at a small thumbnail picture of your virtual teammates when on an audio conference is a great way to see who they are and realize that there are people on the other side of the phone line that you are working with, people who deserve respect and kindness in the workplace just like you.
- Look in the mirror: Literally put a mirror in front of you if you are communicating over the phone, so you can see what your teammates or meeting members would be seeing if you shared an office. If using video conferencing, sometimes checking your “picture in picture” can remind you that you are being seen by others. You may feel more protected behind the screen, but your team members can see every smirk or eye roll that slips during a frustrating conversation. Taking away tone and body language makes even the slightest snarkiness in messaging and emails seem exaggerated. Try to use positive tones when writing to avoid any unnecessary conflict. Using a mirror will keep you on top of your game, making sure that you are reflecting your best attitude even if your teammates are not in the same room.
- Compromise is key: Working with a virtual team can mean working with people in different time zones. A 9:00 A.M. meeting that works for you may mean a virtual team member thousands of miles away has to work late to join in. Be willing to find times that work for everyone or take turns starting work early or staying late for a meeting.
When managing teams, you do not always need to be meeting or working together. Remember it is important for your team to work individually as well as in a group in order for you to succeed. Can video conferencing improve your team’s communication and speed up your business decisions? Try Easymeeting free for 14 days to find out.