In my last post I referred to how the oil and gas industry, in common with most other sectors, is making use of virtual teams. As well as the obvious cost and productivity gains, benefits include reductions in travel time, reduced time to market, and, crucially, access to a wider talent pool. This is going to be critical over the longer term as, despite recent lay-offs, the sector faces a growing scarcity of experienced workers. Operating in virtual teams widens the net and helps ensure talent is deployed where it is needed and at the right time.
Technology continues to provide all of us with new tools to work efficiently from home and from remote locations - a 2009 study of 80 global software teams by BCG and WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management found that well-run virtual teams outperform those working in a single, shared office. However, there is a perception that virtual communication is less productive than face-to-face interaction, and many people feel that it is difficult or impossible to build trust and engagement remotely.
I offered three tactics in the previous post:
Understand the building blocks of trust
Create a Virtual Water-Cooler™
Explain the reasons behind ad hoc conversations
So what else can you do right now to notch up collaboration in your team?
3 more ways to fuel performance in virtual teams
Create a collage or mindmap of what matters to you outside of work and encourage everyone in the team to do the same over time. One leader I worked with made this a priority and set the ball rolling by doing just that which she then posted in the team's shared space and brought to life in a team phone conference. Gradually even the most shy of her people began to do the same. It proved to be the foundation of a deeper level of trust which hadn't existed before. Innovation is a key deliverable for this leader and she is already seeing huge improvements as people are more willing to share their ideas openly.
Generate other opportunities to share experiences and even emotions. Resist the urge to get straight down to business and spend the first few minutes of any meeting checking in. Encourage people to air what they have achieved, what is troubling them and how they are feeling. In terms of time this is a ‘pay now’ or ‘pay more later’ situation - you will get the return on your investment. Organize open, optional and agenda-free meetings on a regular basis where you can demonstrate your ability to listen without judging what people want to say. You may have few attendees to start with, but if you do this well, word will get round and more will join.
Encourage more frequent contact - we make good use of Skype Instant Messaging by keeping our availability status up to date and often send short messages via WhatsApp. It's surprising how good it feels to know that someone is thinking of you or has remembered there was something important going on. These methods are simple to put into practice and also leave you enough time to do the rest of your job.