The pandemic has exacerbated virtual working environments like no other event has done before. While many companies have shifted from a WFH model to hybrid work models, business travel is unlikely to hit pre-pandemic levels any time soon, if ever. This is likely to have a lasting impact on how global virtual teams are managed. A recent survey by Global Work Place Analytics found that culture, collaboration and connection are what people miss the most in remote work environments. The same survey estimates that 56% of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with remote work.
Challenges of global virtual teams
The concept of remote teams is certainly not a product of the pandemic. The first decade of this millennium saw the emergence of global virtual teams as workplace technology and collaboration tools began to evolve. The challenges your organisation faces in 2022 haven’t changed much. An Economist Intelligence Unit survey back in 2009 revealed that leading people from a distance is the second-biggest challenge for virtual team managers. Back then, one in three executives agreed that virtual teams are badly managed. Just one in 20 executives said that they never experienced any difficulty in managing a virtual team.
The single most common challenge, selected by 56% of executives polled, relates to the misunderstandings that emerge as a result of cultural and language differences from teams operating globally. Nevertheless, 65% of those polled believe that the advantages of working in such teams outweigh the disadvantages. Global virtual teams are here to stay and we share five simple tips that could help you manage your global teams more effectively
1. Manage Time and distance:
The most obvious challenge can often be the most tricky. You might think it’s easy to straddle a team across time zones until such time you actually get down to setting up a call with your global team. Do keep these time differences in mind during all communications, if possible, try to rotate calls; schedule in a way that is evenly spread and that it’s not always the same people suffering from awkward call times. If team members are scattered all over the globe, the convenient window of time for a call might be very narrow, you may find yourself sending a lot of emails. Remember that even if you email someone first thing in the morning, the recipient might have just finished his or her workday and will not even see the message until the next day.
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2. Build trust
Is it possible to trust someone you’ve never met? This has been particularly challenging during the pandemic when many new team members never got to meet their colleagues even in the same city. A virtual environment and a mix of cultures both add an additional layer to that challenge. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
- Speak the truth clearly and appropriately: online environments have a tendency to increase miscommunication in general. Often, cultural differences fuel these misunderstandings. This is why clear communication is crucial. When you express yourself honestly and tell the truth, you become more reliable in the eyes of others because you increase the predictability of your behaviour.
- Clarify and align intentions and expectations: when your intentions or expectations are implied, not clarified, you risk misinterpretations. If as a result of these misinterpretations the results are not what was expected, the level of trust in the team will decrease. When you clarify your intentions, expectations, and requests, you promote transparency in the team and increase trust. .
- Keep your word and honour commitments: one of the oldest and simplest ways to foster trust in a relationships between people and groups is to keep your word. Remember that a promise is a promise. When you make appointments, do it carefully, and, once set, honour them. Make it one of the things you are known for. If you are unable to fulfil a promise due to factors out of your control, let the people know that you will not be able to do it.
- Practice consistency between speech and action: what you do is what people trust you to do. Actions really do speak louder than words when building trust.
3. Overcome technology challenges
Even the best organisations and teams often encounter technological challenge. For instance, you might have a steady internet connection but someone else might be relying on a much slower or unreliable one. If you manage a global virtual team, you should start preparing for the first meeting way in advance. You should find out what kind of internet connections people have, and if they would be able to access a better one for the meetings if needed. You should make sure everyone is able to install and use the meeting software and maybe consider having a short call with everyone in advance to make sure everything works. And still, you should make sure everyone joins the meeting a bit before it is scheduled to officially begin in case of unexpected technical issues. You should also consider the option of having someone provide technical support if needed at the beginning of the meeting.
4. Be an effective leader
When you manage a global virtual team, you need to be visible all the time. You need to reach out to people between meetings and make sure things are going as planned, there aren’t any unexpected problems and that people know what’s expected of them. You will have to invest much more time to this than you would in a co-located setting.
The cultural element enhancing the importance of this is that you also have to know how to approach this. In some cultures, the manager is expected to follow up closely. However, in other cultures constant follow-ups may seem like a sign of distrust. Therefore, you should know who you’re dealing with and approach the situation accordingly.
5. Develop a deep understanding of global cultures
In many cultures managers are expected to focus on managing the people and make sure they have what they need in order to be effective. But in many other cultures a manager is expected to be an expert on the field he or she operates in.
Using the renowned Hofstede 6-D Model, we can show you how to manage international workforce and projects to become more successful across borders.
Culture, inherently plays a role in everyone’s behaviour. What people expect from you or other team members will depend on culture. How they interpret things, how they behave, what they signal with their behaviour and what they prefer will also depend on culture.
Reach out to us to find out about our programs and solutions that can help you build an effective organisational culture and manage global virtual teams.