The cooperation in virtual teams has by now become routine in many companies. Particularly in the area of IT, the team members are often located all over the globe and can only communicate online. While technological hurdles are not a problem, soft skills such as trust and team spirit are difficult to achieve.
The advantages of virtual communication
A globalised work environment, a lack of skilled workers, cost savings, and low transaction costs: all those are reasons for virtual communication. If you are aware of the characteristics of online communication, you can indeed draw a competitive advantage.
However, you should ask yourself two questions in advance: how do you create trust between employees that do not know each other personally? And how do you make binding agreements online?
Trust and motivation are the two driving factors of a business relationship, independent of the geographical location of the team members.
According to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), working in virtual teams is often perceived as very inspiring as long as the working relationship is temporary. However, when the virtual cooperation extends over a longer period of time, the respondents perceive it as a strain and prefer a fixed working structure. This means that you, as an entrepreneur, have to provide your employees with exact instructions. Particularly the permanent control of the specified goals is important. Such measures also help you to fulfil all tasks according to your schedule, while the freelancer or external employee has specific guidelines he or she has to adhere to. Time management tools are useful appliances in a virtual team. This regularity might seem “bourgeois” but it makes for structured working on both sides. If everyone knows what is asked of them, misunderstandings can be avoided and the mutual trust increases because you can rely on your business partner.
Make sure to set aside enough time for external employees. With employees on site, you talk several times a day. Plan for meetings and conferences as well. You should also allow for spontaneous occurrences. It is important that you are always available in case of problems, before they escalate.
Try to add routine to your virtual business relationship and allow for continuous communication. It is important that you respond to the needs of your co-workers. Not everyone is open and communicative. Therefore, Skype may not always be the right medium. With such employees you should establish intensive email contact or use chats.
Besides trust and the rules connected to it, team spirit is an essential factor for an effective work atmosphere. As the appreciative backslapping is not possible, you need to find other ways to commend your employees after a good performance.
In call centres, it is common to send messages directly to the desktop when a co-worker has achieved a particular success. These messages increase the motivation and strengthen team affiliation.
Should you employ only a few external co-workers, you need to conduct Skype conferences regularly. This allows your employees to get to know each other and build stronger relationships.