A few years ago a study was done by Forrester Consulting of Fortune 500 companies that found around 40 percent of employees were currently working in virtual teams with more than half of them expecting virtual teams to increase in the next three years (now). For many in the tech sector, working virtually with others is now second-nature. There have been a lot of changes in technology within the past five or so years that make virtual collaboration easier, but I believe there are still some guiding principles that managers of virtual teams should follow.
It is essential that each team member clearly understands their assignments and the timeline for completing them. The best practice that I try to use is communicating assignments in an e-mail and confirming them via direct communication (over the phone or IM) to make sure there are no misunderstandings or questions. Communicating assignments this way can help keep the person assigned with the task more accountable.
There are many different virtual collaboration tools available such as Lync and GoToMeeting, so establishing the set of communication tools your team will use is important. This often isn’t a problem when you are only dealing with an intracompany team, but if you are working with people outside your organization it is essential step to make sure you can easily and quickly communicate with all team members.
You Are Not Alone
When you have team members that work solely in virtual teams along with team members who work in the same office, it can be easy for them to have feelings of isolation, even if they work in an office with many people. Special care may need to be taken to ensure they really feel that they are a part of the team by specifically eliciting their feedback in meetings and establishing fluid communication with them.
Even within the same country, teams will consist of people from varying cultural backgrounds. It is important to learn as much as you can about the cultures of those on your team and be sensitive to them so as not bring about any miscommunication.
Stop Communication Breakdowns Early
Virtual teams can tend to over-rely on email communication. Depending on the authors writing style, emails can be easily misunderstood. If you sense that this is happening or you see an email chain rapidly start to get out of control, the best way to handle it is to pick up the phone and discuss it or schedule a meeting if there are several people involved. Verbal communication can often douse the flames that a heated, misunderstood message might start.