Thursday, July 16, 2009

Strategies for Working Successfully Within a Virtual Team

I’ve been working on virtual teams for several years now and recently started to think about some of the tools and techniques that I’ve seen used to effectively engage employees when there is little or no face-to-face (f2f) interaction. Some of the little interactions that we take for granted in a traditional work setting are not as easily replicated in a virtual work environment. In a traditional office setting, employees typically greet one another, even if it’s just a passing hello on the way to one’s desk. These settings allow for virtually endless opportunities to connect throughout the day whether it’s as they walk by colleagues on their way to another office, the lunch room, or just to stop by to check-in on a project. Then, of course, there’s the coffee/lunch room – a veritable meeting place for most workplaces.

With the ever-increasing advances of technology and the subsequent comfort people have using it, virtual or distance workers are becoming more commonplace. Some of the techniques I’ve seen for engaging virtual work teams are listed below:
  • Annual retreats, allowing staff to reconnect, build relationships, and engage in professional development opportunities
  • Regular team meetings (e.g., weekly teleconferences, audio conferences)
  • Regular project meetings using suitable communication technologies
  • Online document storage to ensure that all team members have equal access to required documents
  • Effective use of available communication technologies, including:
    • Telephone
    • Chat (e.g., MSN)
    • Videoconferencing using web cams (e.g., Skype)
    • Audio conferencing (e.g., GoToMeeting)
    • Email
    • Online planning software as a virtual white board (e.g.,
Some of the challenges that virtual teams may face, include:
  • Taking longer to build relationships and trust amongst team members
  • Misinterpreting electronic communications (e.g., email, telephone, audio conferencing, text chat) because of a lack of body language
  • Developing processes for communication and providing feedback amongst team members
Despite there being some challenges to working within a virtual team, there seem to be an endless number of benefits that this type of work arrangement can offer. Some benefits include:
  • Working with colleagues from other regions and countries
  • Enhancing one’s technology skills
  • Working flexible hours, particularly when a team is spread across various time zones
  • Saving money by not having to commute to an office (e.g., transportation, parking)
  • Decreasing wardrobe costs if working mostly from home
  • Experiencing a sense of well-being from lessening one’s environmental footprint
Although not an option for every workplace and not for every individual, I am happy that I’ve been able to work on virtual teams and experience the wonderful benefits of doing so!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Shifting Priorities
As I was sitting here contemplating my next blog topic I was having difficulty thinking of a new and exciting employee engagement topic for which to focus my next blog on; so I started to think of everything that I’ve done today and began thinking about how it’s near the end of my day and how I have stayed productive and engaged throughout the entire day. After thinking about it for a while I looked back over my task list I noticed that I have been able to switch from one task to another several times throughout the day. After working on one project for a considerable length of time and feeling my creative juices for that project fading fast I decided to put it aside and refresh with a new task: writing my monthly blog entry. So this is where I am now.

If you have the flexibility within your own job to create your own schedule throughout the day – I encourage you to do so. If one project begins to become mundane, set it aside and pick up a new one. At least for myself I find this helps my productivity throughout the day. I find that I cannot force myself to be creative and once that runs out, the best thing to do is to switch up the project and come back to it at a later time. If shifting to another project is not an option, one source suggests shutting down your computer temporarily and taking a break as an alternative to staying productive

Now in the last few minutes I have been able to complete my next blog entry where if I had stayed focused on the project I was working on before I likely would not have accomplished nearly as much.