Many organisations are venturing into the world of virtual teamwork in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. Leaders are faced with new challenges while navigating the new reality. Virtual collaboration differs from physical interaction and productivity needs to be monitored in different ways.
The Increase in Cross-Cultural Teams and Consequent Challenges
Organisations are now leveraging the power of new technologies and working with virtual teams may be routine for several companies. However, human interaction and communications need to keep pace with this new normal. Oftentimes, people relate to others based on their cultural values, in virtual spaces productivity can suffer in the face of misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
Although remote working offers multiple benefits, virtual coordination may involve higher risks of misalignment, if not appropriately managed. If leaders fail to take proactive steps to address cross-cultural and communication barriers, it could take a severe toll on employee engagement.
Even with increasing awareness of diversity issues, virtual team interactions can often be stressful. This is mainly due to a combination of different work styles and communication lapses which eventually disrupt productivity and performance. Ironically, companies invest in supporting technologies but not in the cross-cultural training that can help them develop strong competencies.
While time-zone and linguistic barriers exist, the most common challenges involve lack of engagement, participation and accountability. For instance, team members may complain of excessive verbiage or irrelevant content in communications. All these issues are challenging to resolve as they are open to personal interpretation in terms of cultural context.
Targeted online learning diversity training can help leaders manage virtual teams effectively.
Five Strategies to Streamline Virtual Teamwork
Managing virtual teams can be complex. Some cultures may be dominant and upfront while others may be passive and low-key.
As a leader, how do you ensure that you are harnessing the benefits of virtual teamwork?
1. Interact with everyone in the Team
An effective leader articulates the team’s goals, values, expectations, scope of work and decision-making processes clearly to every team member. In addition to virtual team meetings, leaders should separately engage with team members on a one-on-one basis. Doing this helps leaders gain a better understanding of different working styles.
2. Equip Your Teams with Cross-Cultural Training
No one is born with the skills to collaborate with others from different cultures – it’s a skill that is learned over time. To maximise the achieving potential of virtual teams, they need formal training. Yet, less than one-third of companies invest in structured equality and diversity e-learning programmes.
Online training workshops can encourage employees to understand different perspectives instead of viewing them as challenges.
3. Establish New Norms
The first 30 days are always crucial for virtual teams. During this time, leaders should consider establishing norms regarding schedules, communication processes, as well as acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.
Virtual teams are as vulnerable to misunderstandings, stress and acrimony as physical office teams. Create a clear-cut framework to ensure that every team member is fully engaged.
4. Be Visible and Track Progress
Monitor individual and collective progress and evaluate engagement and productivity. Research shows that virtual distance has the potential to reduce innovation by as much as 93% and engagement by 80%. To counteract this, keep yourself visible and consistently communicate with your team.
Make sure you address complaints and resolve any problems that may arise.
5. Promote an Honest and Open Culture
Virtual teams develop their own culture quickly and leaders play a vital role in this process. Pay attention to every employee and encourage every employee to voice their opinions. Validate every member’s views and listen carefully to their ideas.
Unconscious bias e-learning helps build robust and inclusive leadership skills required to manage virtual teams effectively.