Eight Ways to Build Your Virtual Team and Avoid Conflict

Already a growing phenomenon prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, telecommuting has become the new abnormal for many office workers due to the pandemic.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, telecommuters composed approximately 3 percent of the American workforce which is equivalent to roughly 3 million workers.

But according to Business Insider, many major companies – including Google, Uber and American Express – have no immediate plans to return their workers to the traditional office setting.

How is your business managing the virtual office space? The latest Dr. Cherry’s C-Suite video offers some insights.

Meanwhile, along with growing number of businesses and workers adapting to the work-from-home model, the dynamics in virtual workspaces are also developing and evolving over time. Traditional offices are experiencing challenges of the current state. In the same way, virtual offices are confronted with inevitable issues. The good news is that these problems can be dealt with. Challenges are a good opportunity for organizations to grow. 

Here are eight ways to build your virtual team and avoid conflict. 

  • Communication

There is no doubt that communication is one of the biggest challenges of working virtually. A virtual workspace is prone to miscommunication due to the absence of vital elements such as body language. Although there is technology to bridge this gap, communication through computers are prone to noises. For example, if you are teleconferencing, sound quality may be poor. Poor connection or technical issues may hinder understanding. Without smooth and clear communication, it could lead to breakdown and failure to accomplish certain tasks. To overcome this challenge, Star Dargin of Corporate Education Group (CEG) suggests creating a communication plan. This plan shows “what communication needs to happen, who needs to be involved in the communication, how frequent the communication should be, nuances, and the communication medium.” This plan must contain information on how the needs of the stakeholder/s can be met. Mind tools also say that all messages should be communicated as clearly as possible. One way to do this is to encourage people to ask for clarifications. 

  • Operations

Another challenge virtual companies experience is operations. This problem is closely related to communication as seamless operations can never be achieved without smooth communication. A method suggested by Dargin is to have ‘team operating agreements’. This agreement must contain information on ‘how to work together daily, how to resolve issues, how to report status, how to assign work, how to show up for meetings, and many more.’ It sets expectation among team members. It also allows members to interact with each other more effectively. According to CEG, information in this document must be “understood, realistic, used, updated, and shared by all virtual team members.”

  • Roles

Darleen DeRosa Ph.D. and Richard Lepsinger of OnPoint Consulting says that, “it is especially important for team members to clearly understand their individual roles and how their work impacts other team members.” By doing this, members of the team will be more accountable for their job which could help prevent frustration and misunderstanding. By communicating roles and how each member of the team affects the work of others, members will become more responsible for their actions. On top this, it is also important to assess team performance, identify impediments to company development as well as take steps to overcome these challenges.  Periodical evaluation of each team member can also help to leverage individual and organizational performance.

  • Technology

Since virtual workspaces use an online platform, there is a high need to use technology to keep things operating smoothly. Using traditional tools such as a pen and paper may work at first; however, when the demand grows, it would be inevitable for things to fall through the cracks. And that is one of the things that a stakeholder must not let happen. Project management can be difficult to handle without advanced tools. There are many tools online that can help virtual leaders deal with this difficulty. Examples are Freedcamp which aids in project management, Evernote in keeping notes, and Salesforce for CRM. They help in the automation of virtual workspace processes which could help make the job of the virtual leader easier.

  • Relationship

Trust is the foundation of every team’s success. Without trust, any organization is prone to break apart. Trust among team members creates harmony, and harmony leads to productivity. DeRosa and Lepsinger say, “Because there is a lack of face-to-face contact inherent in virtual teamwork, the process of establishing trust and relationships that lead to group cooperation can be very arduous. Over time, this lack of collaboration can lead to a lack of trust amongst team members.” In order to deal with this challenge, having periodical meet-ups like going out for lunch or dinner would help. If this is not possible, creating a venue for team members to get to know each other would help a lot.  Using social media as a platform can work. It can be a venue where members of the virtual team can interact with each other informally. It is also important to celebrate successes either in-person or virtually. It is also important to create a ‘we’ culture rather than the ‘I’ culture so that team members can be accountable for each other. 

  • Vision

As a virtual leader, communicating vision can be challenging. As mentioned earlier, communication and operations can be the biggest challenges in every virtual team. The dynamics of a virtual workspace is different from a traditional workspace. DeRosa says that “better planning could dramatically improve virtual teams’ odds for success.” Hence, it is important to have regular meetings to communicate goals and direction. Creating systems and processes on how those goals can be achieved is crucial. Every success begins with a concept, and this concept can only materialize when team members are engaged, motivated, and do the work.

  • Engagement

Lack of engagement among team members is one of the biggest pitfalls of every virtual team. Without engagement, progress slows down and members may deliver poor work quality. DeRosa and Lepsinger say that it is crucial for every virtual leader to know the ‘limitations of distance’ and leaders in a virtual environment must be ‘sensitive to interpersonal communication and cultural factors.’ It is essential for a leader in a virtual team to build relationships among team members to increase engagement. Celebrating success, spotlighting people, and reinforcing cooperation and trust can help boost engagement in every team member.

 

  • Take it slow and things will speed up

Star Dargin of Corporate Education Group states that “slowing down to speed up is a best practice principle for virtual teams”. According to him, slowing down means taking time to set expectations, to create processes, and to put necessary tools in place. He also adds that taking time to learn how things work will help the team work smoothly in the long run. This can lessen project failure and can help the execution of projects become smoother and faster. This also helps establish focus among team members which could help them deliver quality rather than quantity. 

Keith Ferrazi of Harvard Business Review says that “when it comes to workplace conflicts, the virtual environment is a double-edged sword.” However, he also states that “bad relationship conflicts don’t occur as often because virtual team members are typically focused more on their work and less on interpersonal issues and office politics.” Every team experiences challenges and issues. This is natural, and the only way to deal with this is to talk about these challenges as a team and be proactive in solving them. Once you have overcome these challenges, there is no doubt that your virtual team will grow, and this could lead to your company’s success

 

References: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/08/your-money/when-working-in-your-pajamas-is-more-productive.html?_r=0

http://www.corpedgroup.com/resources/pm/6BestPracticesMVT.asp

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/working-virtual-team.htm

http://www.reliableplant.com/Read/27807/Virtual-teams-are-different

 

Dr. Cherry

Dr. Cherry Collier Ph.D. in Social/Organizational Psychology from UGA. Master Certified Coach (MCC) through the ICF and a Master Certified Coach and Trainer of NLP (MCNLP), Certified Mediator and Denison Culture Certified Consultant. Author of Move Out of Your Own Way and a 100+ book series The Science and Art, a collection of best selling books on the science of human behavior and success being used as reference for leaders, executives, managers and coaches from a variety of industries and professions. Professor of Coaching for the last 6 years at a University. Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Business School of a University. Over 5,000 hours helping with clients and coaches get massive results. Over 15 years serving as a mentor coach. Published scholar and has mentored Ph.D. and MBA learners. Founding Member of Coachville. Certified in various assessments Disc, MBTI and more