All teams work better with clear operating principles, but virtual teams suffer far more without them. The following processes can save time, reduce frustration and boost productivity of virtual teams.
- Ensure everyone participates fully in every team meeting they attend. Ban multitasking, except for “multitasking on task,” such as adding ideas to the virtual conference area or jotting down questions on a shared whiteboard.
- Design meetings to maximise active participation. Create agendas so people can talk about important topics, exchange ideas or offer suggestions. Change activities frequently to keep people engaged.
- Incorporate all participants equally into the conversation. Ask remote participants first when going around the table. Participants who are present onsite should listen and focus on the discussion. There should be no “offside” conversations between physically present participants, no putting the speakerphone on mute, no food or drinks near speakers.
- Start meetings on time, even if several people are running late. Be realistic about what can reasonably be accomplished within the allotted time. It might mean holding more frequent or longer meetings, having fewer invitees, re-scoping objectives, having more pre-work. End on time, even if all objectives have not been achieved.
- Provide the information needed to digest and reflect on in advance, so everyone understands and agrees what criteria will be used to make decisions. Allocate sufficient time for making important decisions, which may mean multiple or extended discussions.
- Communicate important decisions and expected impact to all affected team members at the same time. Communications are orchestrated carefully, which means giving team members a heads-up about the expected day/time of the team call. Anticipate questions and concerns by those most affected, and come prepared with credible responses.
- Keep emails brief. Use links for additional information, rather than attachments.
- Store team documents in a shared portal area that everyone can easily access. Make document owners responsible for keeping the portal up to date with latest versions of documents. Team members are responsible for accessing documents on their own via the team portal and for setting alerts when newer information is available.
- Make it easy and fast for team members to respond to emails. Use subject lines that are brief and descriptive. Identify when a request is urgent by denoting a “U” in the subject line. For example, an “urgent” request might require a reply within no more than four hours, and sometimes sooner. Use bullets or numbers instead of long paragraphs, and embed links for additional information. Confine emails to one major topic, to make filing and accessing each email easier later on. When responding to an email request, revise the subject line so the recipients can read the “short story” without needing to open the email. Define the use of “to” and “cc” email lists. What activities are required in response?
- Use shared calendars to schedule meetings. Agree in advance whose participation is required, optional or only desirable, and indicate as such in meeting requests. Mark off blocks of time needed to get work done. Note holidays and appointments in calendars. Ask invitees respond to a meeting request rather than forcing the meeting organizer to send another round of invitations.
When you work with people you rarely see face-to-face, it’s likely that all ground rules and operating norms will need to be worked out together. Start by having some agreements and test them, though in reality it’s often only after a team has worked together for a while that the need for certain ground rules becomes clearer. We deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of HR. If you need help managing virtual teams, Building Your Dream Team or any other HR issues, give us a call on 01908 262628.
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