The Challenge of Virtual Teams

“Of 1,700 knowledge workers surveyed, 79% reported working always or frequently in dispersed teams. Armed with laptops, Wi-Fi, and mobile phones, most professionals can do their jobs from anywhere.” Harvard Business Review, Dec 2014

As someone who does much of his consulting and training in virtual space, the issue of how best to manage virtual teams has become a significant issue for many organizations. It was one of the topics that Udemy for Business customers indicated was a high priority. You may have received a request to participate in an online survey on your experience with virtual teams a couple months back. I promised to share the results of that survey and I have developed an online course to train managers and facilitators to manage virtual or dispersed teams.

Here is a coupon for the course, Leading Virtual Teams, for a cheap $9.99 ;-).

You can see the complete results of the survey here: Virtual Team Survey

Here are some of the highlights from the survey:

The survey asked “What one piece of advice do you have for others leading virtual teams?”

  • Make sure the team has a clear charter.
  • The agenda is key
  • Send agenda, send reminders, send action plans before and after meetings.
  • Rotate facilitation
  • Ensure engagement and ownership of tasks
  • Pause and wait for others to respond
  • Spell out the guidelines and enforce them
  • Distinguish between “review/update” meetings vs. “problem solving.”
  • Be as inclusive as possible.
  • Make sure you can SEE each other.
  • Keep and publish attendance record.

Somewhat to my surprise, those responding indicated that the technology was more problematic than the behavior of members.

I also asked about the software they were using and how satisfied they were with that software. The software that received the highest satisfaction was Zoom.

By far the biggest problem reported by those leading virtual meetings is simply keeping participants focused and engaged, rather than multi-tasking and distracted. In my course I recommend a number of strategies to maintain engagement of those participating in virtual team meetings.

“Also make it clear that multitasking on calls isn’t OK. According to a recent study,82% of people admit to doing other things—from surfing the web to using the bathroom—during team calls. But virtual collaboration requires that everyone be mentally present and engaged. Explain your policy, and when the group has a virtual meeting, regularly call on people to share their thoughts. Better yet, switch to video, which can essentially eliminate multitasking.” HBR Dec 2014

Many of the issues faced by leaders of virtual teams are the same as those facilitating in-person meetings. I have tried to address the key facilitaton skills that apply to both virtual and non-virtual meetings in my online course.