Today, there are more virtual teams than ever before – and the numbers are increasing rapidly. Because as companies expand geographically, as telecommuting becomes more common, and as technology makes the world feel smaller, virtual teams can span the globe. In fact, a recent survey of 1,700 knowledge workers found that 79 percent reported working always or frequently in dispersed teams.
Armed with laptops, Wi-Fi, and mobile phones and devices, most professionals can do their jobs from anywhere.
But what, exactly, is a virtual team?
According to ManagementHelp.org, a virtual team is defined as a group of individuals who work across time, space, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology. They have complementary skills and are committed to a common purpose, have interdependent performance goals, and share an approach to work for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.
And their appeal is clear. Employees can manage their work and personal lives with flexibility, and companies can use the best and lowest-cost global talent and significantly reduce costs.
Virtual Teams By-The-Numbers
Nearly 50 percent of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework. Additionally, 80 to 90 percent of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part-time. These statistics – and the fact that they continually increase year over year – illustrate that there is a growing number of remote workers, and more importantly, it's a trend that doesn't appear to be slowing down.
And every successful virtual team begins with hiring – or developing – people suited to virtual teamwork, putting them into groups of the right size, and dividing the labor appropriately. And according to the Harvard Business Review, there are three key ingredients for building the right virtual team.
The Right Virtual Team
Successful virtual team players should all have a few things in common: good communication skills, high emotional intelligence, an ability to work independently, and the resilience to recover from mistakes and missteps.
PRO TIP: When building a team, consider conducting behavioral interviews and personality tests like the Myers-Briggs to screen for all necessary qualities.
Often, the most effective virtual teams are small ones with fewer than 10 people. And research supports this: Of the virtual teams the firm studied, the worst performers had 13 members or more – and a phenomenon known as ‘social loafing’ is to blame. In fact, research shows that team members reduce effort when they feel less responsible for output. So in order to optimize your team’s performance, don’t assemble too many players.
An approach similar to the X-team strategy advocated by MIT professor Deborah Ancona defines three tiers of team members: core, operational, and outer. The core consists of executives responsible for strategy, the operational team leads and makes decisions about day-to-day work, and the outer network consists of temporary or part-time members brought in for their specialized expertise.
Today’s virtual teams of physically dispersed employees are quickly becoming a necessity of doing business as companies boost productivity with geographically dispersed teams with a much broader skill set than those with traditional, co-located teams.
Happy employees. Reduced costs. Increased productivity. Welcome to the next stage of business – virtually.
If you’re ready to take the next virtual step for you business, BELAY can help. Contact us today for the right people ready to serve you now.
Already working with a virtual team?
Here are 6 things you need for Building the Ultimate Remote Team.