The future of work seems to be moving from physically being present in an office to working remotely. In the face of globalization, cloud computing, internet, and mobile, virtual teams are a reality that businesses can never run away from. In addition, the aforementioned factors improve virtual team communication and thus the success of virtual team operation. According to 34% of the Business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London, 50% of their workforce would be working remotely by the year 2020. An additional 25% said that more than ¾ of their staff will not be working in any traditional office come 2020.
The factors driving the trend of virtual teams
Globalization is affecting the way companies are recruiting and retaining skilled workforce. Companies that are able to balance their employees’ needs with their business needs can maintain a competitive edge in the race for talent. Here’s a look at the factors that are driving this trend of virtual teams:
Increased competition for talent
Many thought the high unemployment rates would create a talent surplus. However, this is not true. There is a shortage of great talent in critical positions. Work flexibility is a deciding factor for one in every three workers considered to be a top talent. This statistics is higher among millennials as well as family people who do not have children.
Attracting digital natives
Generation Y (the digital natives) will dominate the workforce in the coming years. Their acquaintance with mobile technologies as well as online collaboration tools – factors which are already transforming the way businesses operate – makes it so natural for them to work remotely. Millennials consider flexible working conditions as a key retention factor for any organization. A research by Deloitte confirms that 88% of millennials wish to have work flexibility.
Adam Henderson of Millennial Mindset also asserts the need for consideration of virtual teams in the following quote: “A flexible approach to work also helps businesses retain their best talent as they are giving their employees an option to do great work, but in a way that fits their lifestyles, providing a win-win scenario for all.”
According to data cited by Gallup, 43% of Americans worked remotely at least part of the time. In this open talent economy, employees are no longer bound by location. The new phenomenon is already redefining the 9-to-5 workday program and research confirms that remote workers are more productive and log in more hours than those in the office.
Advantages and disadvantages
Now that we’ve looked at the reasons behind the implementation of virtual teams, let’s take a look at the advantages and the disadvantages of creating a virtual team.
First up are the advantages:
Cost saving – This is the biggest advantage virtual teams bring to the table. They require no huge office expenses like real estate, utilities, gas, water, and electricity, etc. Besides outsourcing is normally done from low-cost regions hence low cost for wages, raw materials, and operational costs among others.
Leveraging the global talent/the freelance economy – Since virtual teams do not require physical presence in a certain location, organizations are now able to source for talent from all over the globe and not just their locality. The freelance economy is on the rise with statistics showing that 20%-30% of the working-age population in the U.S. and Europe is made up of independent workers. Freelancers now represent a powerful force and organizations need to reassess how they can benefit from this growing economy by incorporating this strategy. They should look for a way of integrating freelance workers with other permanent and contingent talent, e.g. for specific tasks where additional manpower or specific expertise is needed. Furthermore this means that employees can now travel a lot more and still be able to work effectively for their company.
Increased productivity and reduction of time to market – Virtual teams not only log in more hours but also work in different time zones. This could mean when one is asleep, another could continue working. This shortens the time for product development to the time the product reaches the market.
How to manage and enhance virtual team communication
Virtual teams thrive on team communication and if something goes wrong, one cannot simply go to a colleague and work out a solution. So here are a couple of things you should do in order to enhance the communication within your virtual teams:
Be close to the team. Go beyond work-related queries to asking about their day, mood, and even social life. This will ensure that trust is built and that people will share potential insecurities a lot earlier.
Ensure clarity of responsibilities then follow-up with monitoring and evaluation. You should also make sure to give constant feedback.
Have regular team and individual meetings for every department. This can be done through Skype, social media platforms, video conferences, etc.
Encourage informal meetings. Encourage your team to share their feelings and chat informally whenever they can, after all humans are social beings and this will help build relationships and trust between team members.
Be sensitive about time zones. With teams spread around the world, you could rotate every week the times for meetings to ensure that other members are not always waking up early or staying up late for meetings.
Be culturally sensitive. It’s important that you have an awareness of the cultural differences in your team and promote cultural training for all members. For example, you may have an employee who sends short and "very direct" emails to other team members. If other team members do not know that this is part of his or her culture, others may feel uncomfortable working with that person.
Enhance team building and socialization for existing teams. If you are planning to introduce virtual teams in your organization ensure that you build relationships between the whole team or, recruit someone new in every location and start from scratch since barriers are set to arise if employees begin working virtually especially with other unfamiliar team members.
Look for shared understanding when hiring. Look for people who share past experiences and similarities when it comes to virtual teams. The goal is to have a certain diversity, but to make it easy to build trust with points of contact.
Ensure efficient and effective communication, documentation and information sharing as well as ready access to the same. Members should have the right tools to carry out their functions.
It is evident that the future of work will be defined by virtual teams which can be just as viable, professional, and successful as a traditional on-site company, and even better. Enhancing virtual team communication enhances the efficiencies and effectiveness of such teams. When seen from a business strategy perspective, there is great potential in virtual teams and the above tips could help any organization achieve this. As a result, organizations will be able to attract top-notch talent from anywhere in the world, boost their bottom line, and build a loyal, effective team.
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