Leading Through Complexities: The Covid-19 Virtual and Remote Team Experience Matters

Written by Dr. K. Whelan

Dr. Whelan is the Founder and CEO of Belem LLC. She specializes in partnering, empowering, and positioning executive leaders and teams for success by helping them design strategies that create stakeholder impact.

March 13, 2020

There is no better time than now to understand the complexities of a virtual work environment that so many are finding themselves in with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Below are some excerpts from my book, Leadership Excellence By Design, to help leaders engage more fully in the virtual workspace.

In today’s tech-savvy world, the workplace is no longer utilizing only in-person options for communicating across channels. With advancements in technology, anyone with an internet connection has the ability to participate from any corner of the world.

 

Engaging in geographically dispersed, culturally diverse, virtual communication has become the norm.

 

Studies show there are many potential advantages to working in virtual teams such as increased creativity, finding acceptance of new ideas through an interconnected group, and developing culturally synergistic results. Other benefits include lower travel expenses, labor costs, and assembling teams quickly from any location.

However, with great capability, great challenges arise. 

As individuals and teams strive to communicate effectively in a global world, they are often at the mercy of technology, which at times creates ineffective communication.

Email and text messaging are primary communication methods for many organizations. Because of this, there is an open door for miscommunication that often lead to failed outcomes.

For the first time in history, multiple generations are working together. This means there are different communication styles.

 

 

Although we acknowledge generational differences, most people do not adapt their communication approach to align with who they are communicating. 

 

This lack of adaptation creates additional barriers to how communication is received and perceived. Just as the need to develop cross-cultural relationships have importance, leaders must develop and understand communication amongst the generations.

Risks For Teams

Although there are many benefits for assembling virtual teams, there are potential risks that impact performance as well as team experience.

Potential risks create weaknesses.

Lack of face to face meetings (which are especially crucial in the beginning stages), cultural diversity, language barriers, insufficient technical skills, lack of project management skills/leadership, and time zone differences can all lead to a failed team experience.

The human factor creates a multitude of challenges.

These challenges include: building trust, establishing relationships, developing competent intercultural communication, team leadership, managing global team dynamics, and accountability. Intra-team conflict is often triggered by a lack of healthy communication, which leaves team performance impacted.

Virtual team members often have uncertainties about their team members due to a lack of visual cues. However, these uncertainties become diminished when interpersonal trust is established.

Visual Cue Impact

In contrast to face to face teams who have communication with team members and are privy to visual cues, the lack of social cues for virtual teams can have a negative impact. Team members find a lack of visual cues, both visual and verbal, amplify circumstances, and open the team up for conflict.

Geographically dispersed virtual teams tend to have less organizational affiliation due to the absence of cues.

When the ability to impact emotions, voice tone, and self-expression is constrained, the lack of these nonverbal and para verbal cues [how we say the words] may lead to a breakdown in team communication in the virtual environment.

Preparing & Strategizing For Success

The preparation phase is a unique way to create an advantage in the area of virtual global team effectiveness. Key aspects of this phase include developing a team mission statement, task design, rewards system, appropriate technology [including training], and organization integration.

 

An effective initial design and launch phase helps with the success of the team. 

 

An integral part of a successful virtual team includes a kickoff workshop to get acquainted, convey goals, clarify expectations, and development intra-team rules.

Research suggests creating a virtual team charter. The charter includes the team’s mission, core values, business problem, and objectives of the team.

The charter also includes:

  1. clear individual and team goals
  2. rules of engagement, ground rules, boundaries
  3. information sharing practices
  4. meeting attendance, and,
  5. an explicit group agreement of the team’s long-term goals

A shared understanding allows for team collaboration and consistency. Without this measure, there is less ability to predict group and individual behaviors.

Task design is a structural tool and impacts remote teams. Remote teams do not have the advantage of seeing a team member in the hallway to discuss a detail or unclear expectation.

 

Rules that clearly state the basis for communicating must be overseen and managed with a constant effort. 

 

Trivial details down to e-mail response rules must be established. Individual and team performance is inhibited by a lack of goal adherence, which leaves opportunity for undisciplined behavior. It is up to team leaders to continually keep the team on task.

Heading Off Conflict

Constructing strategies on how conflict is addressed and tasks are distributed creates a collaborative decision-making process. This decreases task confusion and increases the project’s success rate. Task conflict is often an indicator reflecting a positive correlation between task conflict and perceived team performance in teams with high virtuosity.

Additionally, how tasks are performed leads to process conflict and negatively impacts the perceived team performance. The progress towards a team goal is diminished when disagreements of how to proceed amongst virtual team members conflicts.

Having clear, concise goals are essential for face to face teams and become even more critical for teams who work virtually. Tasks that are specific or have special goals may experience less task conflict. Task-related conflict is minimized through transparent task instructions and a clear distribution of responsibility.

Critical Components For Teams

Researchers describe several competencies for virtual teams to consider. Collectively, researchers identify important influences and characteristics which enhanced the virtual team experience.

For any team to be effective, time and effort must be given to its design, as demonstrated by the components outlined in the figure that follows. For teams to provide excellence from inception, each area must be acknowledged and planned.

With advances in technology, virtual teams have the opportunity to be face to face while still working remotely. This 21st-century way of communicating adds a crucial element and once missing piece for effective functioning teams. Investing in a communication platform that allows face to face visual cues is imperative.

Are you currently working remotely? Leave a comment below on what has been successful in your virtual/remote environment.

Until next time, keep doing great things!

Be sure to tune in here our podcast CONVERSATIONS For Leaders & Teams, or on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform!

Click here to purchase your copy of Leadership Excellence By Design: Strategies For Sustainability & Strength on Amazon!

 

 

Leadership By Design. Book by Dr. Kelly Whelan.

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