Teams - Remote and Virtual

by Claire Snowdon and Mark Bouch

Principles for success with VRW teams

If a VRW team is to be successful, there are certain basic principles that must be established:

  • Select the ‘right people’ for the job – as you are not bound by time or location, you can and should choose the very best available person for the job
  • Common goal alignment (clear view of what success looks like)
  • Rapid identification and resolution of issues
  • Excellent communication (multi-channel, multi-level)
  • Mutual trust and respect (for competences, expertise and opinions)
  • Devolved project leadership (in which project leadership becomes a relay baton which is passed round the team according to project phase).

Critical success factors for effective VRW teams

The leader of a VRW team must

  • Organise agreed ways of working that establish expectations around when team members are available
  • Demonstrate effective behaviours in the remote environment, such as working across national, cultural and time boundaries, empowerment (when people are working remotely, it is more than usually important to display trust in their capabilities) and using technology effectively
  • Establish a safe environment and ‘high trust’ culture, where teamwork and collaboration are the norm
  • Ensure that team members work within a performance culture, based on clear goals, objectives, project specifications and performance metrics
  • Establish standard and aligned team workflow processes and procedures.

Additional requirements include

  • The ability to meet face to face as the need demands; the occasions on which this adds the most value include:
  • Project kick-off
  • To establish or manage a fundamental change in strategic context or direction
  • To set the high-level project/task objectives
  • To celebrate success as a group
  • Individuals must go to find information rather than wait to be sent it
  • Individuals should have access to information on how to work across cultures
  • There must be an effective division of work to make the best of each team member’s strengths
  • Teams should be trained to self-facilitate because it may not always be possible for the leader to be there, due, for example, to working in different time zones
  • There is a need for the effective capture and dissemination of the tacit and explicit knowledge that builds up concerning the team’s activity; this is especially important because a virtual team may well be working around the clock and individual members will come and go, depending on their part in the process
  • Realigning reward structures (for example, a lot of companies have pay reward structures based on team goals, but members of a VRW team may be part of many teams and may themselves only be working towards part of the virtual team’s overall goal, so the reward structure must reward their particular activity).

The technology

Virtual and remote teams rely to a high degree on the ability to access and make best use of communications technology. At the same time, it’s important that everyone recognises the challenges of a virtual environment and the limits of the available technology. The following must be in place

  • Sufficient resources to invest in up-to-date communication and collaboration tools for all team members
  • Appropriate tools with which to manage and access organisational knowledge
  • Team members should have access to technical training.

Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress. Working together is success.

Henry Ford