The power of virtual teams

The future of teamwork is distributed.

How and why did teams virtualize?

Virtual teams, also known as remote or distributed teams, are getting much media attention recently, involving both positive and negative sentiments. Although not a new phenomenon, this trend is directly related to the new world of work – a style of working that many organizations are currently grappling to introduce and navigate successfully.

In the early days of virtual teams, the true pioneers of this concept were the multinational companies whose only way of doing business was by working in a distributed manner. In the beginning, snail-mail was the go-to communication method, although it sometimes took weeks to arrive. Not surprisingly, international trade blossomed with the introduction of phone and fax technology. Still, navigating through different time zones, different languages, and different cultures couldn’t have been easy in the era of non-instant communication. It’s often challenging even today, when we’re armed with voice recognition, instant translation and messaging technology.

Naturally, dial-up internet was a game changer and massive facilitator of distant collaboration, although some of the challenges of the pre-world wide web times remained, perpetuated by speed and connectivity issues. Eventually, the world progressed to ultra-fast connection speeds, thanks in part to investments in infrastructure and governmental cooperation. With fast speed came VoIP, video conferencing and a plethora of remote communication and collaboration tools that have since become commonplace, even for collocated teams. This shift enabled tremendous efficiencies in remote collaboration and distributed decision-making. Plans and proposals could be evaluated and decided on real-time in teams, regardless of which corner of the world their members hailed from.

The case for virtual work

Because of the tech revolution and proliferation, good technical talent is hard to come by and retain. This mandates remote hiring and employment arrangements that the IT sector has increasingly embraced. As larger numbers of employees continue to shift to freelance status, this, too, will drive up the numbers of remote workers and teams.

Aside from necessity, when it comes to teams made up of geographically diverse individuals, the advantages of virtual teams have been understood and appreciated by many C-level executives worldwide. Workers are no longer focused 100% on their jobs, no longer willing to work long hours at the office at the expense of family and personal life.

Instead, today’s workforce is striving to achieve a greater work-life balance – one, which would allow them to pursue personal interests in addition to professional ones. In the pursuit of more holistic individual enrichment, people are discovering hobbies and activities that can become just as important as their careers. This is especially true of millennials and the generations after them, who were among the first cohorts to truly prioritize personal life over work. Young people are taking gap years at unprecedented rates, choosing freedom over financial stability, and the ability to travel over career progression. To retain and develop talent, competitive businesses need to adjust to the changing needs of today’s workforce.

Tips for optimizing virtual teams

Studies have revealed time and again that remote workers tend to work more hours and are more engaged at their jobs. This is mostly due to their greater work focus, as stress about personal issues is minimized when compared to full-time office workers. Still, to ensure virtual teams are working smoothly, it’s important to follow a few simple rules:

  • Commit to shared values: To stay committed, virtual teams need to share an engagement policy, goals and values that all members can commit to from the start. Those need to be defined together and agreed on as a group to ensure everyone’s buy-in. 
  • Set regular, in-person catchups: Having face-to-face group meetings is still important for the long-term bonding and collaboration of the team. Team members who know each other offline are more likely to understand each other’s styles and respect individual differences, which leads to improved communication.
  • Choose the right tools: Making sure virtual teams have access to user-friendly, time-saving skills is almost as crucial as having the right people in the right roles. Up-to-date collaboration and project management solutions like Slack, Trello, Draft, Hubspot, Basecamp, Google Drive/One Drive/Dropbox, Google Hangouts,, Sifter, Jira, and Invision can streamline virtual teamwork and make it more rewarding for individuals. 

Outlook for virtual teams

In the wake of Yahoo! recently announcing the end of their remote working program, we can’t help but wonder whether that means that virtual teams are, in the end, ineffective in the context of large corporations. Certainly, if most of an organization’s employees are working virtually and this isn’t properly monitored and managed, inefficiencies and miscommunications can arise. However, this alone doesn’t provide sufficient reasoning against the concept of virtual teams and renders further investigation into the learnings of Yahoo! Rejecting the concept of remote work on this basis would be a giant step back in a world that continues to be more demanding of individual contributors each day.

The best advice for any organization, regardless of size, would be to carefully plan the rollout of a company-wide remote working initiative and execute it gradually, evaluating every step of the process and using learnings to improve it along the way. Having a framework and a dedicated team who is managing virtual work operations and processes can prove beneficial.  

Do you have any experience working with virtual teams? Let us know @pegusapps.

Copywriter Ina Danova

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