What Makes Virtual Teams Work

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How we work has changed

Sure, many people still pull out their office keys every morning or wave a name tag or fob to gain access to their workplace – but more and more, the workplace is going virtual and staying home.  There are pros and cons to working from home or going virtual.   The advantages are many and although more spare time may be one of them, spare time can be virtually non-existent in our our mobile work world.

Going virtual can solve some economical issues and is also a seemingly sustainable/green or pro-environmental alternative.  A pro/con I recently faced was with my car insurance company.  Now that I work from home, my car usage has dropped considerably – this is almost unheard of in California and my car insurance company had a hard time believing that I drive less than 12,000 miles a year.  Pro for me, con for them.

Here are a few more to consider…

• Less traffic = less pollution = less time lost due to commuting
• Less company overhead = company money saved = more money earned potential
• Less time away from home = cut day care costs for aging parents or young children
• Less stress = less friction at home and at work = less illness = less time off from work

While these pros sound great, related and unexpected issues will undoubtedly arise. Those who have the opportunity to clock-in when they want tend to do just that. Anytime. Anywhere. Converse to these stated advantages, many disadvantages loom and can easily cloud an otherwise sunny virtual day.

• Longer working hours, because you can and it’s there. Always there.
• Interrupted sleep patterns due to preoccupied minds that wander to that mobile office far too often.
• Virtual employees need to be self-motivated and enterprising -> not everyone is.
• Less commitment/loyalty to co-workers and company, as well as to clients/customers due to less developed personal relationships and less face-to-face interaction.

The disadvantages are weighty but with so many clear-cut advantages, there has to be a way to make it work. Given the ongoing sad state of the economy, it would appear that going virtual is becoming more popular and will probably be around for a while, if not forever. Another way “how we work” is evolving.

5 Rules for Making Virtual Teams Work

1. Clearly Defined Roles.
When working with on team, clearly define all roles. Written job descriptions and /or contracts with specific duties outlined will distribute work evenly while creating and presenting defined expectations for all. Manage expectations from the beginning

2. Clearly Defined Working Hours.
Allotting time for email, research, and regularly-scheduled conference calls will assist in efforts to not overdo it, but also manage time. Rules like, “No email after 7pm” may seem unreasonable but will force your team to be more productive during defined working hours.

3. Discover Their Strengths.
Learn more about team members through online assessment tests and alternating assignments.  Organic discovery of team members’ individual strengths can help to distribute work/ tasks more evenly and create team growth opportunities.

4. Meet Face-to-Face. 
Make an effort to meet with co-workers/employers and clients or customers regularly, face-to-face, as often as is feasible. Twitter convos, Skype, Google, or Facebook can help considerably, but these are not perfect solutions. Finding the balance of real life and virtual relationship-building is imperative for virtual success.

5. Set Goals.
Create goals which force your team to grow and stretch, that are difficult, but also improve your work ethic and relationships. It is extremely important to not only make them attainable but also achievable — as in successful.

Host a virtual Happy Hour to share successes or great experiences of the past month or week.  Invite team members to join you for a “jam session”…

Social Wows of Today

With social technologies like Skype, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Foursquare, Instagram, Vine, SnapChat, LinkedIn, ubiquitous wifi, and mobile everything — the crazy techs foreshadowed in futuristic movies like Tron and a 1930’s comic strip called Dick Tracy are no longer so far-fetched. It may be awhile before we catch up with Star Trek and Beam Me Up becomes a reality, but a virtual workforce is growing rapidly.

But working virtually won’t work without considerable effort.  And it is important to remember, that it isn’t for everyone.

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Benjamin Franklin said that, believe it or not… over 200 years ago. Pretty smart guy, then and now.

by Rayanne Thorn




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  1. I agree wholeheartedly with your premise but have a few exceptions. Many in my group work from home a few days a week. Because we have good communication tools, it works very well and is almost seamless. However, for me, It’s not the thing to do. I am single so I don’t like staying home. It gets lonely. I would also get distracted by housework. Also, since I’m a consultant, I’m always looking for that next job. Therefore, being in my office, where there are more than a thousand other people is great for my networking. But this was a great article. Happy New Year! I hope it is going well for you.

    Henry Motyka |
  2. Definitely a relevant post, Rayanne. The virtual workplace is here to stay (as demonstrated by your “pros” list). The rules you’ve outlined are spot on with what we’ve found at Sprocket Pro where I work (staffing services). In order to make sure our specialists (many of them work from remote offices) meet the requirements and expectations of the companies hiring them, it is critical that all parties involved are continually in open communication. It’s all about setting goals and boundaries.


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