Getting the Best from a Virtual Team

1 July 2014

Gaurav Gupta
Interglobe Technologies


The virtual team is not a new concept. It's actually a traditional concept, but the term is fairly new for some of us. A virtual team is one that is geographically dispersed; its members are sharing common goals and objectives while they are working from different locations. There are many pros and cons to virtual teams. I have had experience working with them for almost eight years, and so far these experiences have been good.

There are few important points, however, that we really need to take into consideration while working with or being a part of a virtual team.

Understand the culture of the geographic region where your team is located. If you neglect this, then cultural differences may come into the picture and affect the productivity of the team. If you have done your homework properly, then surely the project will run smoothly and the team members sitting in different locations will also enjoy the work and respect each other.

Team members in different locations need to be able to use a common language for verbal communication. There is the possibility that the communication skills of a few team members are not at a high level, and this arrangement gives them the chance to improve. In my experience, I have learned that they will not speak fluently in the beginning; however, over the course of time they will start participating and understanding the context, helped by other members' pitch and tone.

In addition to phone calls, there must be some other mode of communication the team can use for smaller matters. Methods include Microsoft Communicator, for example, or other messenger or chat portals. For small issues, the team shouldn't be dependent on phone calls only, and they can resolve most of these issues well through chat messenges. This will help maintain economies of scale.

It's important to consider allocation of work. During the initial work allocation, properly define the tasks and expectations to the team, because every member is not physically present at the same location. Hence it's really important to explain each task properly and thoroughly to avoid any miscommunication.

At least once every two weeks, arrange a conference call with the complete team. In addition to technical issues, they should be encouraged to discuss personal matters (as is comfortable), through various one-on-one and team-building sessions. Sometimes if a team member is facing an issue and wants to discuss it with the complete team, these sessions can be extremely helpful.

Colocation is also important for the virtual team. Colocation means the most active members should be placed at same location, at least for a temporary period. This enhances team bonding and gives the team an opportunity to discuss the most critical issues. It will enhance team productivity and boost each individual's ability to perform as an effective part of the team.


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Comments

Tim Baffa, CSM, 7/1/2014 4:04:16 PM
Having also served several ""virtual" teams not co-located and very geographically dispersed, I can say that my most significant challenge was coming up with ways to simulate as close as possible a team that is actually co-located.

If available, telepresence meetings are very beneficial for simulating live attendance. The best communication of course is face-to-face. There are other tools available that help simulate co-located attendance.

Also if possible, pair programming is very helpful for facilitating the bonding aspect of a co-located team.

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