This post has been updated on March 4, 2020.
Generally, when we are thinking about a team we picture a group of people working together in the same space, having formal and informal meetings, face to face interactions and perhaps even hanging out after office hours. The way team members feel about each other is very important for the success of any project they are working on together so very often companies will invest in team-building activities – some simply pleasurable, some with an important learning component.
Traditional teams are made up of people who spend a lot of time together and as a result develop a certain group dynamics that can either be beneficial to the work they do or counterproductive. It’s the manager’s job to make sure things run smoothly.
Globalization and the rapid technological advancements have led to a new type of team – one in which members may never meet face to face.
Global virtual teams are the future of teamwork
Global virtual teams represent the future of collaboration in the workplace. With organisations having offices all over the world and with the increase in demands for work from home coming from employees belonging to the younger generations it’s becoming clear that a new way of working together has to be adopted by modern companies.
This new concept states that team members are fully capable to engage in and deliver projects with limited or no direct physical interaction with other members. For big multinational companies this means they can tap unhindered into the large talent pool available in their global employee base.
Internet based apps and platforms make collaboration easy and efficient. Team members practically never meet in person but still manage to work together flawlessly due to the wondrous possibilities of present-day technology.
The benefits of having global virtual teams
Having this option of people working together from remote locations allows organizations to really hire the best people for a certain job without being geographically restricted.
It could also mean huge savings since highly trained people from different zones might have more reasonable salary expectations and change jobs less frequently. Employee turnover is one of the great challenges HR departments face today as is finding skilled professionals. With big cities becoming overcrowded more and more people choosing to move to more quiet, family-friendly locations and welcome the opportunity of doing their jobs either from home or from a small satellite office.
Using their own devices at work is also becoming the preferred option and again it means savings for the company and satisfaction for the employee – using the equipment of choice comes with a certain degree of comfort.
The key to a seamless process is good technology
The most important aspect when it comes to properly managing global virtual teams is investing in the right technology. Everything needs to be and function online.
All the capital saved from leases on spaces and office equipment should go towards securing an excellent internet connection, spacious servers and programs that will ensure everybody can access all that they need when they need it. VPN solutions are fantastic but I have had some pretty bad experiences with it trying to connect remotely from locations where all things remotely technical were set up ‘on a budget’.
People expect at least the same connectivity speed they have in their homes or on their smartphones. Being tech-savvy has long moved from the ‘additional skills’ section to ‘basic requirements’. If things are not functioning well they will know and get frustrated immediately.
The key to a functioning team is empathy
With all this talk about technology and the wonderful things that can be accomplished by making use of it, it’s easy to lose sight of the human factor. In traditional teams all members work in the same place and as a result the level of social distance is usually rather low.
Even if they come from different backgrounds, have different music preferences or opposing political views, the fact that they buy their produce from the same supermarket, face more or less the same degree of traffic coming to work and can talk about the same weather outside the office windows gives them the common factor they need to interact both formally and informally and ultimately align. In layman’s terms, they find their mojo.
Co-workers who are geographically scattered, however, can’t easily connect and align. As a result, it’s a bit of a struggle to have effective interactions and closing this gap of social distance becomes the most important managerial challenge.
Learning is universal
It’s a known fact that people with the same interests and knowledge develop a certain reciprocal liking which is the groundwork of a good relationship. Implementing a state of the art LMS with e-learning that can be accessed by everyone and from everywhere is a good step towards involving team members in activities that are adjacent to their work but not the projects themselves.
Enrolling in the same courses will provide participants with a common knowledge they can then apply to achieve the common goals. Even if it’s obviously compulsory for all members of a virtual team to understand and be able to communicate in the same language, completing the same e-learning materials will allow them to genuinely speak in the same jargon and avoid misunderstandings and regional lexical differences. It will help not only with the development of each individual but it will contribute to the creation of tightly knit group.
Diversity has always led to ground-breaking innovation. With the right technology and proper management, global virtual teams will ensure a bright, successful future for organizations everywhere.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.