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According to a study conducted by RW3 CultureWizard, an intercultural communication training organisation, 87% of white collar employees of multinational companies conduct at least part of their work virtually. It’s no surprise that as the working landscape continues to evolve further into the communication technology, cost-cutting, fast, demanding interface that it is, virtual team-working has become the norm.
However, the study went on to find that while the vast majority of these employees encountered challenges in virtual work, only 16% had any training to prepare them.
Now, statistics have an amazing ability to tell us what we already know. It’s clear that virtual working is here to stay, that the challenges are known, and that we need to begin addressing and overcoming these barriers if we’re going to become truly effective when working virtually.
And you know what? We know what we’re talking about! Here at The Colour Works, we are an organisation of 21 individuals, 15 of whom are stationed UK-wide, and 1 of the 6 from HQ works from home on an extremely varying schedule. We live the challenges, and it’s tough, but we’re firm on making sure everyone is working together, apart.
First, remind yourselves of the “manage vs. lead” debate. A manager who relies on command-and-control tactics to get work done will flounder when tapped to lead geographically-dispersed teams.
Virtual leadership can be isolating, lonely. Camaraderie and personal connection can feel lost among the consecutive conference calls scheduled in for the next couple of days. Technology is both an aid and a barrier to effective communication, and psychologically, virtual workers become distanced from their organisation.
Naturally, it is harder and more time-consuming to lead a team that isn’t physically in front of you, never mind one that spans a variety of time zones. Building team trust is also a challenge. How do you engage remote workers? There may be a lack of, or an uneven spread of active participation among team members, too little or too much information sharing, and poor communication. How can you ensure success?
Effective virtual leadership requires a culture that focuses on outcomes, supports worker autonomy, values diversity and a facilitative leadership style.
The Virtual Team Member
Of course, a lot of the same can be said at every level of a virtual team. Decision-making will probably feel too slow, and often the lack of awareness of other team members’ workloads is a recurring problem. Some team members might seem to participate more than others. The absence of visual cues might make it more difficult to collaborate, to form relationships within the team, and to interpret and work with different leadership styles, especially if 41% of virtual team members never meet their colleagues in a face-to-face setting, (Virtual Teams Survey Report — Challenges of Working in Virtual Teams).
How DO I Manage a Virtual Team?
Here at The Colour Works we have the upper hand. It’s true. Each of us uses the Discovery Personal Profiles and colour model in our work because it has had an impact on us personally. We know it’s strength, and we advocate it as a vital stepping stone to learning about ourselves, about others, and about how the hell you’re meant to get on and work effectively with a team of people whom you rarely see! Though we’re continuously striving to do better, here’s what WE do:
Take the time to get to know your people, and give them time to learn about themselves and their co-workers. Organise socials, book in designated Team Days (TCW hosts 4 annually among various other get-togethers), support and budget for CPD for each team member, and ask them what they did last weekend!
Make sure regular phone calls/Skype sessions/email conversations are scheduled in with each member of your team, (unless, through discussion, you have both agreed something different), and encourage them to do so with each other, if appropriate. Working alone, even if you are somewhat practised in it, can be hard-going and it is important to have the opportunity to talk things through and gain perspective.
Encourage your team members, (and lead by example here), to share their current projects with the group. Gaining an understanding of what other individual’s roles look like, and what skills they bear, can help put your own work into perspective and promotes a deeper understanding of how the team, and further, the organisation, works as a whole, allowing team members to feel more connected to the collective vision.
Inspire a network of individuals to ask questions and ask for help when needed by doing so yourself. As their leader, being confident enough to appear vulnerable demonstrates your levels of trust within the group, and your faith in their ability to want to help.You’re not together, physically. You can’t observe body language, it’s difficult to note tone of voice, and without your team around you it can feel a challenge to satisfy each individual’s differing needs effectively. The truth is that it’s simply a different way of working, and it does not mean you can’t be a high performing and happy team of people.
You’re not together, physically. You can’t observe body language, it’s difficult to note tone of voice, and without your team around you it can feel a challenge to satisfy each individual’s differing needs effectively. The truth is that it’s simply a different way of working, and it does not mean you can’t be a high performing and happy team of people.
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