In a world were technology continues to shape the way we do things, it is no surprise that a group of people can come together for a particular purpose and achieve the desired objective without actually seeing themselves physically. It is becoming more of a norm not just in the Information Technology industry, but also across various sectors like Banking, Finance, Engineering, and Construction, for various people to engage in projects from distant locations.

Virtual Team is the term given to people from different locations, organizations or countries who come together only by technological means to perform a particular task, and they never meet physically at any point in time. It would be assumed that such an innovation would have its own challenges as human beings are social beings and getting to interact with other team members fosters the necessary emotional bond. This need for socializing apart from the task at hand could be encouraged through video calls and such. It is left for the team leader to deliberately bring in some type of social element into the work flow as this would be essential to the success of the team as a whole.

It is no surprise that this is becoming more and more of an accepted practice because of the way everyone in this century has adopted some sort of virtual life. In technology, the word Virtual refers to the world within the computer space, where people interact either with one another or with computer programs. Today we have technological creations like mobile devices, virtual reality goggles, video games and such that have received more power from the innovation of social media, which is a platform or a series of platforms where people of all walks of life interact and share information through the World Wide Web.

Any organization facing restrictions that may come as a result of proximity and does not look into the possibility of developing virtual teams, may be setting themselves up for extinction. Organizations everywhere should begin to accept that the world is changing at a rapid rate as a result, the way in which we communicate with each other is changing. For this reason the way in which we do business also has to catch up with the positive innovations of our time.

When Virtual Teams may be required

This is not usually the way to go for most organizations, hence there a various reasons why organizations may choose to set up virtual teams. One of which may be the fact that the organization is expanding into other locations, but may still require certain people who may not make the move to work together with teams in the new location. Similarly, if the organization is simply expanding into different brands apart from the one they are majorly known for, but may still require employees who have been moved to different departments, to work with themselves in spite of the change in departmental locations, a virtual environment may need to be established for these professionals to still communicate and work together.

Some employees may require more flexibility with their time, due to various reasons. Some may opt to work from home or from a more favorable environment that may enhance greater productivity on their part. For example, a lady may be heavy with pregnancy or another person may have just come out of the hospital due to a certain illness or an accident. Other reasons could be that a person may have relocated recently or be on vacation. One might expect that in situations like these, if the organization does not want to let go of the employee, some type of virtual environment or team would need to be set up for them.

Apart from this, some of the most qualified people to hire for a particular project may be in other locations. So instead of simply allowing the project to come to a stop, this type of arrangement is developed to foster the cooperation of these professionals. Sometimes having workers do the work from their present locations may be cheaper for the organization as money would not be spent on rent, travels and other miscellaneous expenses.

In addition to the previously stated point, inter organizational collaborations may also cultivate the need for virtual teams as these organizations may be in different geographical locations or even in different industries, but have chosen to come together on a mutual project. Sometimes, due to the high level of responsibility these professionals have at their primary organizations, making out time for physical meetings may not be feasible. Working through a virtual environment would be the way to go.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Teams

There are advantages to be gotten from establishing a virtual team, one of which is the possibility of working with talents that would have been impossible to get without the use of a virtual environment. There are global professionals that are very good at what they do, organizations may need their services, but may not have the opportunity to transport them down to where the organizations have their facilities. In such cases, a virtual team can be created for the specialist to still offer their services to the organization. This way the organization gets to enjoy the advantages that will come from his/her input without having to bother about the many logistics with moving the person over.

Cutting budgets and saving money are the major things that excite those in top management. Establishing a virtual team offers savings from various expenses like renting an office, accommodation for workers, transportation and so on. Workers within this team can simply work from wherever they are, without the need to engage in any of the daily activities that the regular worker may be accustomed to. Consequently, productivity is increased because the various distractions of commuting and environmental rigidity when working from a formal environment are taken away. Workers can actually bypass some of the hierarchical systems of the formal work place within this virtual team and relate with themselves in real time as information continues to develop.

Technological costs can be sited as part of the disadvantages of developing a virtual team. The quality of and/or quantity of technology needed to successfully run a virtual team may be expensive for the organization. In order to get the best out of the process, every person within the virtual team most possess not just the latest in technology but also the ones that are compatible with each other.

Conflicts may arise while working in this type of environment that may increase the lack of trust between team members and produce a lack of collaboration. How these challenges are addressed depends on the overall team leader, it goes without saying that a strong leadership presence is needed to address issues like this. Resolving conflicts when working in a physical environment may be much easier, as the parties involved can come together with a mediator broker peace. Apart from this, isolation from other people may create a challenging approach to the work at hand; however this too can be rectified by an involved team leader, who creates contingencies for issues like these.

HOW TO MANAGE A VIRTUAL TEAM EFFECTIVELY

Before you begin working on whatever task prompted the establishment of the virtual team, you would have already placed candidates on probation in order to ascertain if they are a good fit for the team. It would be a very frustrating experience if there are people on the team who do not fit into it. The way you choose to establish this test period depends on you, the coordinator. One way is to give each proposed team member tasks to accomplish and then observe if they meet the target.

When you have effectively selected the best candidates for the job, you would need to establish some type of training program for the ones you have selected. It may not really matter if they have previous experience working with virtual teams, it is important for everyone selected to come together for the training. The training which could be anything from minutes to even days, depending on the seriousness of the project, can be developed by professionals. Such training will give the virtual team members the much needed skills to work with you on the project.

Furthermore, some type of system must be established for the management of the team members, their tasks and the entire project. Management is also important as every team member would need some type of guidance and supervision. One could say that using proper management techniques may help encourage team members to stay within the task at hand and not digress into other areas that have no relevance to the project.

Apart from this, a system for evaluation needs to be set up so that the team leader can effectively consider how the work is progressing. There is a desired outcome hoped to be achieved by those who put the team together, with this also comes the timeline within which such outcome should be attained. The team leader would have to pay close attention to how the work is progressing, looking into the various deliverables expected to come from each team member from time to time according to the project pathway. If the team members are falling behind on performance, then the team leader must identify what the problem is and make sure he/she develops some method of motivation to stimulate better performance from team members. In contrast, if the team members are performing up to standard or even better than expected, then some type of incentive should be placed to encourage such behavior.

Basic management practices are expected despite the fact that the environment within which such practices are employed are virtual and the personnel involved in the activities are remote.

Tips for managing a Virtual Team Effectively

Skill Set : This could actually be done in the probation stage, when you are getting to find out who to select for your virtual team. Now do not make the mistake of putting a team together where everyone has the exact same skills. You want to pick those who’s skill sets complement each other, where one person’s weakness becomes another person’s strength. That way, when you are eventually able to synchronize your activities and find some type of synergy, the team would be effective. It will be easier to achieve more together than as individuals when the team complement each other.

Communicate Frequently: This cannot be over-emphasized if the virtual team is going to be a success. You have to put the communication level on overdrive if you want the team to really come together. This is due to the fact that you and your team are not physically present to see face to face. This communication would include not just formal interactions that have to do with the tasks at hand but also informal as a cordial atmosphere makes for better performance of team members. As the team leader you may also want to engage with individual team members from time to time, not only for the purpose of evaluating or managing their activities but for the purpose of socializing a little. This will inspire some type of personal stake to the project and as result better performance. When engaging communication, feedback must be specified for every message transmitted whether privately or generally. This will ensure that everyone is on board and in sync with what is going on through the entire project period.

Encourage Team Bonding: Although the major reason for the virtual team should not be sidelined for any other activity, nevertheless gestures that creates a stronger sense of bond between team members will go a long way in swaying dedication to the project. Do not take for granted the need for people to feel like part of something important, something personal, so bring in the human person into the mix. When members achieve major milestones, it would be a welcome idea for there to be some type of celebration, where all the other team members get to receive encouragement or even inspiration to aspire toward their milestones. Such celebrations of course would have to collectively experienced, through video call, so every team member feels the excitement that comes with the achievement.

Have more Face to Face Communication: Whether with a particular member of the team or with the entire group, more face to face communication is the catalyst that would further encourage synergy. This is different from the general tip of increasing communication immensely, what is being said in this point is that this channel of communication which is video calls to be exact should be increased exponentially in order to over-compensate for the fact that team members are not physically together. With more face to face communication, the distance between team members would not be felt as much, because every team member would know how their team mates sound and look.

Working Similar Hours: Depending on whether you have team members in other time-zones, from time to time, you may want to encourage members to work together at the same time on various portions of the project. In as much as those from different time zones may have their own challenges with this, the sacrifice they would make would add more to their level of dedication to the work. I can imagine that those within similar time-zones may have it much easier to synchronize their activities. Again, each member may have to take time to meet up at the agreed time for the particular task to be done. I can imagine that this too, may present a challenge to the participating parties, but will foster dedication all the same.

Tools for Project Management: When you have set some type of schedule or plan for deliverables to be made by team members, it would be very smart to engage the use of project management applications or software that can keep the entire team on track with the task at hand. Encourage each of the members of your team to also have such applications either on their phones or on their PC’s. By this all members can synchronize activities and further keep track on themselves. The great thing about using these applications is that they can help with alarm and such. They can provide weekly, daily or even monthly updates on how the project is going and the areas that still needs to be covered.

Document Sharing System: Establish proper channels by which documents would be shared and/or edited. Sometimes the project might require for documents to be edited collectively; in order to make this as efficient as possible, you would need the appropriate tools. Also looking for platforms where files however bulky could be shared is also a priority. So these things should be taken into account when putting together a virtual team as the sharing of knowledge and information is also part of the communication backbone that will make this entire system work.

Engineer a Leadership Mindset: When you are working with people who take responsibility for the work they put in, then you may as well have made the work easier for yourself. Leaders are known to take great responsibility for the things they do, as they are to be blamed if such activities do not succeed. One way to encourage this type of approach is to either make every team member a leader of a particular part of the project or to simply interchange leadership positions at different aspects of the project. Whenever a team member becomes the leader of the project, he/she will feel a sense of responsibility. The hope of this approach is that even after the leadership position is passed to another member, the sense of dedication inspired by when a particular member was a team leader would remain. This is expected to further inspire members into greater levels of performance seeing as some type of personal stake has been made. Furthermore, the idea that his/her performance would be evaluated would be a motivator for excellence.

Use Similar Software: Depending on the type of project you are working on, software compatibility is one of the reasons for high success or sudden failure. As a matter of fact, team members should possess compatible software before the project begins. Failing to do so can cause delays, not to mention corruption of valuable information that would have had positive impact on the project. This happens while software of different compatibility levels try to synchronize data received from numerous counterparts within the virtual team environment.

Be Present: This has got to be one of the top tips for managing a virtual team effectively; your presence cannot be over emphasized. What this means basically is that you should be available throughout the entire project. If you are not dedicated to keeping the team together, team members would not perform at their best, and as a consequence the project could be completed with results that are less than excellent. In the same way, your lack of presence can cause project failure.

Being present for all meetings, engaging members by constant emails, text messages and such will foster an atmosphere of unity that is so important for the success of an operation like this. Your personal interest will inspire the same in your team members, and as a result, they too will continue to give their best to the project. Success would eventually be achieved when all the hitches, glitches and unexpected setbacks are addressed because of your dedication and attention to details. Things like project delays or even failures can be curbed by making sure you are fully present through the entire project.

The full tips on how to manage a virtual team effectively may be inexhaustible, but the ones mentioned above can provide a light to anyone who is about to get into such a venture. These ideas are meant to open up your mind to various concepts that will make your virtual team succeed.

CONCLUSION

There are numerous things that can be achieved with a proper virtual team. Apart from technological differences or personal performance of team members, I can’t see much limitation to the range of good that can be done with a system like this, when it is properly managed.

Making a virtual team work is not so difficult as you would have already come to know by looking through this article, but commitment is needed when putting these tips to work in a real-world venture.

Ajaero Tony Martins