Working in Global Virtual Teams: 5 Tips for Success

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By Angela Johnson

August 01 , 2020

Employees armed with Wi-Fi, laptops, and cell phones can work from anywhere in the world; home, coffee shop, hotel rooms, or even the beach! They have the flexibility and frankly, the luxury of working from whatever location in which they can be productive. As this trend expands and extends its reach into all parts of the globe, companies and employees find themselves in unchartered territory.

Unfortunately, many employers have believed that employees could not be productive working remotely and employees who have worked virtually have felt the skepticism and pressure inhibiting their productivity. However, as the concept of virtual teams becomes more acceptable around the world, new concepts of working together must be explored to eliminate any previously conceived notions and move forward.

Ensuring productivity, collaboration, and cohesiveness of virtual teams is a challenge that many managers are not familiar with. Working in global virtual teams does not have to be the topic that leaders struggle with nor the point of contention. It can be an efficient and effective process for employees and leadership with the right people, the right leadership, the right culture, and the right technology.

According to a Culture Wizard’s study in 2018 about Trends in High-Performing Global Virtual Teams, organizations surveyed indicated that “virtual teamwork is “extremely critical” to their organizations, and another 32% said it was at least “somewhat critical,” for a total of 88% critical!” In other words, the trend of global virtual teams is not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, to ensure that organizations take advantage of all of the many benefits that global virtual teams offer, it is important that leaders and employees understand what it takes to be successful.

Yale’s School of Management has identified 5 tips for success to best manage virtual teams around the world. Each of these suggestions expands on the concept that the right people, the right leadership, the right culture, and the right technology are all already in place.

  1. Shared trust. When various cultures are involved, the idea of building trust may differ across geographic lines. Virtual teams should work to develop a shared vision of team objectives and goals in which everyone shares the responsibility for success. According to Professor Amy Wrzesniewski, “teams must resist the tendency to favor colleagues who are geographically closer.”
  2. Virtual teams have the unique quality of bringing together expertise from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. Leaders tend to want to draw upon their commonalities rather than their differences. It is these unique skills and experiences that give the virtual team its competitive advantage and ability for creativity and problem-solving. Embrace and encourage the team’s diversity.
  3. Implicit trust. Each person in the virtual team must be appreciated and trusted in their competence and knowledge. This implicit trust may open the door for vulnerability and setbacks but virtual teams will work best if they believe in and trust that each is working in their gifts and can be relied upon to do what is in the best interest of the group.
  4. Is misinterpretation the cause of a communication breakdown? When virtual teams exist across different cultures and languages, effectiveness and productivity are heavily dependent upon proper communication and understanding. It is not simply the delivery of the information but more importantly, the interpretation and comprehension of the goals and objectives.
  5. Cultural assumptions. Employees around the world think and make decisions differently based on their cultural norms and expectations. It is unfair to assume that all members of the virtual team will process information in the same way or have the same understanding of concepts and ideas. As we are all products of our cultures, it is important that virtual teams clearly define expectations and concepts to ensure cross-cultural understanding.

Developing a cohesive, productive virtual team is no small accomplishment and requires hard work, consistency, and strategy. As the world transitions to virtual teams, working remotely and collaboratively will become the new normal that leaders and employees have to become familiar and comfortable with. Choosing the right talent and utilizing the right technology is just the beginning. By following these tips and putting in the effort, global teams can be just as if not more productive than local teams and organizations.


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