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What’s the Best Way to Manage and Communicate with Virtual Teams?

The number of people working remotely has been increasing progressively across the globe.  An employee benefits report narrates that around 60% companies in the US offer telecommuting opportunities.  Telecommuting not only benefits people but also presents several advantages for organizations.  Research has attributed an increase in savings of around $2000 per employee each year on real estate costs, enhanced productivity, and lower attrition rates to telecommuting.  Employees have been found to focus better on work and take less days off while operating remotely.

Building effective teams is difficult, more so when these teams are remotely managed.  For managers and leaders who constantly deal with virtual teams, it is communication that is one of their biggest concerns, in the absence of face-to-face settings.  Some of their other concerns include ensuring all team members are connected and striving towards the same organizational goal, recording accurate hours, assigning appropriate tasks, trust, and teamwork.  Therefore, having a Communications Strategy and structured approach becomes critical.

Addressing these challenges and properly managing a virtual team requires the managers to establish clear goals, conduct frequent team meetings, leverage team members’ strengths, and communicate clearly.  However, most leaders believe that the increasing sophistication and proliferation of collaborative technologies enable better virtual communication.  On the other hand, studies on globally scattered teams relate performance not with technologies but with effective utilization of these technologies.

Research has revealed 5 best practices to enable effective communication between virtual teams.  The teams who embraced these communication approaches were found to produce quality deliverables, complete tasks timely, collaborate productively, and meet or exceed their targets:

  1. Select the Fitting Technology
  2. Be Clear
  3. Stay in Sync
  4. Be Responsive
  5. Be Inclusive

Now, let’s take a deeper look at the first 3 approaches to facilitate effective communication with virtual teams.

Select the Fitting Technology

To enable proper interaction between virtual teams, leaders need to develop communication protocols and choose appropriate communication technologies.  A variety of communication tools are available to teams—e.g., email, chat platforms, web conferencing, and videoconferencing—yet most people prefer those that they are proficient in instead of other better-suited options, which causes problems.

The selection of technology should complement the purpose of communication.  Text-based media—e.g., email or chat—should be used to convey routine information, ideas, and to gather simple data.  For more complex tasks—including problem solving, negotiations, or to settle arguable interpersonal matters—richer media tools such as web conferencing and videoconferencing should be preferred.  Team managers need to arrange proper training of their people to ensure all the team members can use the tools to their best.

Be Clear

A major portion of communication around the globe is text-based.  While using email communication, the intentions of the sender are often misunderstood by the recipient, causing assumptions, biases, and disputes that are not destructive for team performance.  The reasons for this misinterpretation can be attributed to unintentional negative tone by the sender, absence of nonverbal cues, and difference in perceptions of the sender and recipient.

To avoid misinterpretation, biases, and disputes, virtual teams should try and outline their intentions as clearly as possible in the message, ensure appropriateness of the message tone, use emojis to convey emotions, and emphasize the important information.

Stay in Sync

Virtual teams are more likely to lose track of each other and become out of sync due to a number of reasons.  This could be due to the absence of in-person meetings, the inability to tell if the messages have been received and read, unintentional exclusion of certain team members from an email, and the inability to keep the virtual coworkers constantly informed of all in-office events.

Globally dispersed teams can overcome these challenges and effectively in sync with each other by maintaining consistent flow of information to all teammates, avoiding silence, acknowledging the receipt of important messages, clarifying others’ intentions, maintaining a favorable opinion about others, and keeping negativity at bay.

Interested in learning more about the 5 best practices to effective communication with virtual teams?  You can download an editable PowerPoint on Effective Communication with Virtual Teams here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Mark Bridges

Mark Bridges is a Senior Director of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is your go-to resource for best practices in business management, covering management topics from Strategic Planning to Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation (view full list here). Learn how the Fortune 100 and global consulting firms do it. Improve the growth and efficiency of your organization by leveraging Flevy's library of best practice methodologies and templates. Prior to Flevy, Mark worked as an Associate at McKinsey & Co. and holds an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. You can connect with Mark on LinkedIn here.

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