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Putting the “T” in Virtual Team

Posted by on May 14, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Over the last three years, I have used this blog on a number of occasions to note the value of telecommuting or teleworking. I’ve called on corporations and organizations to look seriously at telework programs, which can lead to happier employees and greater productivity.

While telework programs are not the panacea for all workplace ills, they can serve as one important tool for motivating certain employees, increasing work-life balance, and increasing retention rates of top performers.

There is one challenge, however, that managers need to address as today’s employees spend more time working remotely from home or from other distant offices: maintaining the sense of team.

High-performing individual contributors can serve as a huge asset for any organization. Yet, the value of this asset is greatly diminished if these contributors are not effectively collaborating with team members toward a common business objective.

Also, there are immeasurable benefits that derive from a strong sense of team that cannot be overstated. Visibility to other team members and their accomplishments tend to increase the game of other teammates. Competition breeds increased performance. Case and point: a sprinter running the 100-yard dash against one or more competitors will almost always clock faster times compared to running the sprint alone.

Fellow team members also learn from one another in important ways. An employee that might excel in one aspect of her role can serve as a good role model for other team members – if there is visibility to these winning traits.

So how do you overcome the obstacle of geographic distance when at least some members of your team are working remotely?

First, leverage all the new collaboration and technology tools to increase your team’s “visibility” to one another. Thanks to fast, inexpensive broadband today at both work and home, relatively high quality VoIP (online) conference calls – including real-time document sharing and video – are easily within reach for your organization. Granted, these technologies are still no substitute for face-to-face collaboration, but they can play a critical role to the team experience.

Second, build regular face-to-face meetings and events into your annual budgets. Utilize existing office space or, better yet, a thought-provoking venue to spur creativity, team cohesion, and a more memorable experience. I’m not talking about a windowless, subterranean hotel conference room. Instead, seek out unique offsite meeting spaces such as an artist’s studio, a museum space, or conference room at a professional sports facility.

Third, include a fun, non-work event in every offsite retreat. It can be a team-building exercise; an informal round-table discussion or reception with a leading innovator; a nice dinner at a hot, new restaurant; or an inspirational training session. The point is to create synergies and chemistry within the team through shared experiences.

In short, use today’s telework and virtual office programs to reduce overall costs while increasing individual employee productivity — but not at the expense of eroding the team dynamic. Bring your team together at regular intervals that suit your company’s needs, and put them in intensive, idea-inducing environments.

You’ll soon find yourself building a winning team, which will take your company to virtually any new height.