Teams - Remote and Virtual

by Claire Snowdon and Mark Bouch

Common questions

  1. What is the difference between remote and virtual teams?
  2. Why build remote and virtual teams?
  3. How is it best to lead and manage a remote/virtual team?
  4. What are the key factors that make for success with a VRW team?
  5. My team contains members from several different countries – what differences should I be aware of?

 

1. What is the difference between remote and virtual teams?

  • A remote team works directly for their manager to deliver defined work, but members are not geographically co-located. Remote teams are characterised by ‘solid line’ reporting. An example would be a field-based sales team.
  • Virtual teams are brought together to perform specific tasks or resolve specific issues, and are made up of people with differing areas of expertise. Team members report functionally to their own management and are seconded to a virtual team. Virtual teams formed for a specific purpose ‘disperse’ once their task is complete.

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2. Why build remote and virtual teams?

  • Organisations that can mobilise teams to solve challenges as and when required will be more competitive and responsive in today’s dynamic markets
  • Remote team members can improve their productivity and quality of life by spending less time commuting to work.
  • The global workday allows the load to be spread over 24 hours.
  • The highly-talented employees required to deliver a project may be located anywhere in the world.
  • Many complex challenges require collaboration and cooperation between companies and/or departments that are not co-located.
  • In many economies, traditional production environments are increasingly being replaced by service-/knowledge-based work environments.
  • Contemporary organisational structures tend to mean that resource is geographically dispersed. Remote teaming provides a cost-effective alternative to co-location.

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3. How is it best to lead and manage a remote/virtual team?

To be a successful virtual and remote team leader requires belief that

  • Virtual and remote teams work
  • People can be trusted in a remote environment
  • Operational work can be performed in remote mode without loss of performance.

Leadership in any business context is about identifying what needs to be done, aligning effort to that end and making things happen. It just takes more work in a virtual environment. You will also need to be more flexible with your leadership style.

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4. What are the key factors that make for success with a VRW team?

In a remote team, six activities related to the team’s way of working will be critical to your success:

  • Set goals, roles and responsibilities
  • Establish communication protocols
  • Establish fair and efficient workflow
  • Decide how the team will make decisions
  • Agree how the team will resolve conflict
  • Engage the team

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5. My team contains members from several different countries – what differences should I be aware of?

In today’s global economy, with organisations that have diverse teams located around the world, cultural differences and how they are managed and leveraged can have a big impact on the success of a VRW team. For example:

  • Be sure you know who you are writing to and how to frame your message to ensure the appropriate receipt and result – in more collective cultures, email can seem cold and impersonal and these people may prefer face-to-face communication or videoconferencing; some people who have a more direct communication style write very terse and informal emails which can come across to others as rude
  • Team members from more collective cultures or high levels of power distance may find it difficult to participate in the discussions unless the relationship has been long and is trusted and safe and all participants are on the same level of hierarchy. People may not feel comfortable saying anything different from the boss.

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