Virtual teams are becoming more common with each passing year. In 2017, a little over 50 percent of professionals reported working remotely at least half of the week. From teams leveraging global resources to organizations using remote work as an option for employees seeking a better work-life balance, more and more people are having to learn to work within the context of a virtual setting.
While virtual leaders face several challenges managing these groups after getting them off the ground, team members can proactively help boost team performance. Here are three practical tips that can help virtual employees work with their leaders more effectively and improve team performance.
Due to the unique demands of working remotely, virtual team members tend to be much more independent than the typical employee. Much of the work they do will be completed in isolation, so they’re expected to manage their time and tasks without extensive oversight. A good virtual leader knows to give them the latitude to complete work in whatever way makes the most sense for their schedule and the needs of the team, but they also make themselves available to provide assistance and direction when needed.
Virtual team members must learn to be proactive on a number of fronts for this approach to be effective. They must be self-starters, identifying work that needs to be done without being told to work on something. If they are unsure about how to proceed, they can’t be afraid to reach out to their leader for guidance. By taking responsibility for their own work, team members can take a lot of pressure of virtual leaders, which in turn allows them to focus on other critical tasks rather than having to remind people to complete their work on time.
Good communication is essential for any team’s success, and especially so for virtual teams. Team members have a number of communication channels available to them, but they won’t anyone much good if they go unused. Gaps in communication can result in unclear expectations, a lack of comprehension, and general confusion regarding important projects. With many virtual teams working on concurrent tasks that are dependent upon deliverables being passed between teammates, any breakdown has the potential to completely derail the team’s efforts.
Team members should embrace their independence, but also need to be sure to seek guidance and clarification when they encounter difficulties. Virtual leaders have a lot of tasks to manage and they don’t always have the ability to check in with individual team members as much as they should. In some cases, it can be easy to fall prey to the assumption that “no news is good news,” even when a team member may be struggling to deliver on a particular task. By maintaining steady lines of communication, team members can ensure that virtual leaders are able to provide assistance when and where it’s needed to keep important projects on track.
When it comes to virtual meetings, remote team members can make things run more smoothly by adhering to basic etiquette strategies like speaking clearly and concisely, pausing for questions, and not multi-tasking or interrupting others. This takes a lot of pressure off virtual leaders, allowing them to focus their attention on the agenda rather than corralling problematic participants.
Without trust, virtual teams will struggle to maintain the strong relationships they need to be effective. When team members don’t trust their peers to be accountable, their productivity tends to decline and they become less engaged in their work. Resolving conflicts also becomes much more difficult, resulting in negative outcomes that can slowly undermine morale. Given the physical distance involved with virtual teams, it’s easy for people to keep their heads down and stay busy without paying much attention to their fellow team members.
While team leaders typically take on the challenge of building trust in a team, much of this burden falls to team members. Taking the initiative to get to know other people and understand their values and motivations can greatly improve trust and working relationships within the team. Rather than waiting for the team leader to organize activities or conduct team building exercises, members can decide among themselves to set aside time before/after meetings or schedule virtual “get-togethers” to learn more about each other.
Learning to work effectively within the context of a virtual team can be difficult for many employees. If they’re not careful, they can easily end up engaging in behaviors that make it more difficult for virtual leaders to manage these teams. By following a few simple strategies, team members can help leaders drive productivity and deliver results while also boosting engagement and morale.