As our work environment evolves to meet the complexities of business, the presence of VTs adds an extra layer to how we engage employees. We feel the impact of VTs in company culture, systems and processes, and even learning and development. According to an August 2017 Gallop poll, 43 percent of U.S. employees work remotely. Combine this with our challenge to use blended learning principles to drive development and revenue, and we might be amid a virtual learning epidemic!
Logically, we know that remote teams benefit employees, companies, and customers. In my research, I found that effective virtual teams can:
Over the years, many companies increased their remote workforce to capitalize on such benefits, and have saved money in doing so, only to bring workers back to the office. The culprit? Lack of engagement. If there are so many benefits to effective virtual teams, how can we contribute to their success? This question drove me to ask more than 130 virtual workers what we can do to influence engagement, and ultimately impact the bottom line with VTs.
1. Acknowledge the differences of a virtual team and its members
Virtual teams may have the same reporting structure as traditional teams, but they operate differently. The number one difference (according to a poll of 130 virtual team workers) is how VTs build and maintain trust. When virtual workers report experiences of isolation and being left out of decisions, trust is harder to build and is easily broken. This, combined with the frequent ambiguity of roles in VTs, can devastate productivity. Using technology such as video calls to connect with your VT is the first step in establishing trust. During each connection, take the time to clarify roles, share best practices, and learn about how your teammates works—all while looking each other in the eye.
2. Build these skills…
When hiring, we scour resumes looking for a candidate who aligns with the values of our company and the competencies of the role. How do we modify our search for virtual employees? My research has found the competencies that affect the success of a VT include communication, cultural sensitivity, critical thinking, managing complexity, self-motivation, time management, attitude, and trust. Consider ways to seek these competencies when filling virtual roles and to give employees ongoing support and training in these areas.
3. Engage the team in a variety of ways
Communication and trust are critical components of an effective team—even more so when a team is virtual. Isolation can occur and may impact the team’s motivation and cause anxiety. Consider using knowledge-sharing platforms, increasing the frequency of interaction through technology, and helping team members explore ways to learn from each other and their environments.
Working in and/or leading a virtual team can be challenging but very rewarding. Work on implementing these quick strategies, and watch your team grow, learn, and produce results!