Working in virtual teams is a major advantage for many people. It enables colleagues to work in groups that would previously have been impossible, and it is more cost-effective and environmentally friendly to work via digital contact at least some of the time and avoid travelling as much. However, it is easy to forget that this way of working often places different demands in terms of cooperation and how we relate to our team mates. As you have no doubt noticed, we work and communicate slightly differently when doing so digitally.
I myself often work in different groups with colleagues from other offices, both in Sweden and in other countries, and I’ve noticed a few points that are worth thinking about. I try to read through these points regularly to remind myself of the differences, particularly when it comes to communication. You may also find them useful.
Tips for virtual work teams
- Support each other in your work. Keep the team and the work together – things become difficult if someone lags behind or races ahead.
- Be flexible in relation to each other. Schedules and meetings times can be particularly challenging. Ensure that meeting times work for everyone, whatever their normal working hours and time zones.
- Find out what you can do to help each other or what others need from you. Don’t assume that everyone in the team knows your strengths or how fixed or flexible your time is.
- Always try to highlight other people’s strengths. You can assume that we all have weaknesses, and that no one benefits from having these weaknesses commented on.
- Try to give people the benefit of the doubt – it can be hard to ‘hear’ the tone of written communication. If you feel that your feathers have been ruffled, try to take a step back and consider whether you might be jumping to conclusions about your colleague’s intentions. Being a little forgiving can make things much easier.
- If you need to investigate something, try to ensure that you discuss it direct with the person involved, for example by Skype or by phone.
- If possible, it can be useful to have a project space where you can gather together shared materials.
- And last but not least: Each and every member of the team is responsible for ensuring that their own work is backed up during the course of the project. It’s good to have back-ups somewhere else in case materials are lost.