Technologies such as E-mail, IM (Instant Messaging) tools, and high bandwidth Internet have changed the way we work – in small, medium and large enterprises. The exponential explosion in communication technology has resulted in greater frequency of daily interactions among team members found in different geographic locations, allowing remote employees to stay afloat of day-to-day occurrences.
Communication technologies enable the creation of virtual teams. These teams count heavily on e-mail, chat tools, online conferences, instant messaging and other cloud-based information systems to accomplish their work. In an increasingly competitive and rapidly changing global economic and social environment, business organizations which are unable or unwilling to harness virtual teams may find themselves losing out.
At Big Bang ERP, we are a prime example of leveraging technology to communicate. We have two offices in Montreal and now Mauritius (where I work) and remote employees across North America with flex time, allowing our team to work from home or off-hours as long as they work out the details with their supervisor. We leverage communications tools in our own NetSuite ERP, Communifire, Trello, the entire Google suite, Slack and conference services including GoToMeeting and Join.Me. Like us, fast-growing companies are becoming dynamic to evolve to the changing workforce and business landscape.
The Virtual Team Challenges
A virtual team consists of geographically dispersed team members who must coordinate most of their tasks electronically. Numerous research conducted in this field has uncovered that team members face several challenges while working in a virtual project environment context.
Even though the “virtual team” concept is becoming the norm locally and globally, the profile of a virtual project manager or an e-Leader has neither been clearly defined nor researched in-depth.
According to a study carried out by Deloitte in 2005, 66% of the projects performed by virtual teams failed to satisfy the requirements. One factor could be the challenges encountered by project managers when leading virtually.
Some common and key issues found in ineffective virtual teams include:
Disconnected and demotivated team members
Inadequate performance recognition
Poor work-life balance
Lack of trust and transparency
Poor cohesion and team dynamics
The Importance of an Effective Leader
Ineffective virtual teams often lead to missed deadlines and poor quality of project deliverables. Since the early 1980s, the same leadership models are still widely in use nowadays – in both collocated or virtual teams. Furthermore, these models are still being taught in our academic institutions and are being applied in business enterprises, without any significant alterations, meaning they are unable to address the challenges faced by leaders in the digital age.
An effective virtual team leader or virtual project manager should undeniably possess some particular competencies such as cultural adaptation. An effective virtual leader should be able to adapt and be flexible to different cultures, whether in terms of communication or attitude towards work. Effective leadership is also dependent on developed communication skills. The virtual leader should be able to select the best communication channels and tools to set goals and motivate the team members towards the completion of the project objectives – on time and up to quality standards. For example, frequently requesting team members to join ad-hoc meetings at 3:30 am or 11:00 pm in their respective time zones will result in unproductive work and a demotivated workforce.
Another example of behavior to avoid is continuous micro-management including being over-controlling and over-monitoring using digital technologies including chat systems, computer logs, and video cameras. Rather than providing real visibility on team performance, micro-management kills creativity of knowledge workers and lowers the element of trust between the virtual team leader and the team members.
Characteristics of an effective virtual project team.
The transformational leadership approach was found to be well adapted to the virtual project environment context. A project manager leading a virtual team using a transformational approach would mainly set directions, and inspire and motivate the team to work towards a common objective. Furthermore, this approach helps to build more trust between team members and facilitate cross-cultural communication and collaboration.
Virtual teaming plays an ever increasing and important part of the day to day activities. However, achieving virtual team effectiveness remains a key challenge despite all the advances in technology.
Sound leadership skills are undeniably one of the key competencies required of a virtual project manager. An effective virtual leader is one who can lead across different business contexts, cultures and time zones.
A virtual leader of a high-performance team is capable of easily building trust among team members and is able to set clear short-term and long-term project goals while being able to inspire the team members to buy into the corporate vision and deliver on their commitments.