Virtual teams are here to stay. Due to globalisation, pressure on resources and concern for the environment, remote working is on the rise. In a recent Harvard Business Review survey, 79% of knowledge workers reported working "always or frequently” in dispersed teams.
Unsurprisingly then, companies in the oil and gas industry are accelerating their use of virtual teams. The increased pressure to further scrutinize cost given the recent volatility in oil price and the growing political risk in conducting business globally are adding to the pressure to work in this way.
In some ways Oil & Gas is ahead of the game. ‘Remote' is a vital core of its productivity with countless people working in the field, both reporting to a central hub and linking virtually with colleagues dispersed across the globe, not to mention stakeholders and contractors. Productivity gains from virtual working can include cuts to person-hours needed to solve problems as a result of improved interactions between land-based drilling engineers and offshore rig crews, fewer helicopter trips to offshore oil platforms and reductions in rework during construction projects because designers, fabricators, construction workers and operations staff all collaborate more effectively.
Yet in my experience working with global leaders, the benefits of virtual teams can come at a price. Team members struggle to build trust and feel isolated, and companies grapple with lack of engagement, resistance to collaboration and high rates of attrition.
So what are successful virtual teams doing to build trust? What could you do on a practical level to drive up team performance and strengthen your career profile? Here are three ideas to get you started:
How to drive up performance in virtual teams
In a face to face situation the impromptu conversations happen by the water-cooler or coffee machine or photocopier or while we are waiting for colleagues to arrive at a meeting. They happen naturally. So naturally, in fact, that we don't notice them. We take for granted what we have done to build the engagement because it is invisible.
These conversations allow us to tune in to what wouldn't be apparent in a formal meeting. In this way you might pick up anxieties, family problems, knocks in personal confidence, and resistance to team goals.
Create a Virtual Water-Cooler™ and adopt an intentional mindset. Re-create what happens by the water-cooler. Look ahead to ensure informal conversations actually occur. Just as you would plan to be in touch with key customers, decide each week how you are going to reach out to your team members.
Find out about children’s achievements, hobbies, and holidays planned and allow good ideas to come to the fore. These interactions are like the glue of team relationships. However, when we are leading people we cannot see, and the pressure is on to meet targets, we end up in back-to-back meetings with no time to even think about building relationships. The point is that ad hoc exchanges do not happen by chance in a virtual team and we have to take care of that.
Be clear about why you are encouraging more ad hoc conversations. Introduce informal one-to-ones with care and ensure people know that they are genuinely part of your efforts to help you get to know each other better, not performance management in disguise! Explain that it is not only a good thing to do but that it makes sense for team and business performance too.
Research shows that the best way to drive up productivity is for people to feel a sense of purpose, that they have some control over what they are doing and that they are part of something bigger than their immediate environment. Your Virtual Water-Cooler™ helps people to combat the isolation of ‘me’ and feel part of the ‘we’.
What will you do right now to power up engagement in your remote team?
© Move Ahead Global 2015