Virtual collaboration has become a pillar of today’s workplace, often involving workforces that extend across international borders. The number of companies that use an entirely virtual business model grew from 26 in 2014 to 125 in 2016, the latest FlexJobs annual update reveals. Organizations with multinational operations are over twice as likely as U.S.-based operations to use virtual teams, SHRM reports.
But managing a transnational workforce can be challenging. Approximately half of companies that use virtual teams find team building and managing time differences can be obstacles, SHRM’s research shows. The majority of virtual teams struggle to meet their goals and satisfy their clients due to difficulties with virtual communication and collaboration technology, Harvard Business Review says.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to address these issues. Here are three strategies you can implement to help make your global business team run more smoothly in a virtual workplace environment.
Use Telepresence Tools to Promote Face-to-Face Interaction
Lack of face-to-face interaction is one of the biggest challenges for managing virtual teams. Interacting with managers and coworkers exclusively on a computer or smartphone can discourage worker engagement. Employees who work only remotely have the lowest engagement rates with their jobs, a Gallup poll found.
You can compensate for lack of physical presence by using virtual office tools to make your workers feel closer to your company. Unified communications solutions that include video chat and web conferencing capability allow your workers to see each other as well as share visual aids so that everyone is looking at the same thing. Schedule regular video meetings to make face-to-face interaction part of your workplace routine.
Take Steps to Bridge Time Differences
Another major obstacle for global virtual teams is dealing with time zone differences. When your managers and workers are operating on schedules eight or 12 or more hours apart, keeping projects on time and meeting deadlines can be a hurdle.
To get your workforce on the same page chronologically, let employees know your expectations before you hire them. Establish what work hours are, and use time tracking tools to log billable hours if needed. In some cases, team members in one or both locations may need to shift schedules. If your team can’t be on the same schedule, one way to handle this is to have periodic five-minute check-ins at a time when parties on both ends of the conversation can be present.
Build Trust With Virtual Team Building Exercises
Reduced face-to-face interaction makes building trust a challenge in a virtual work environment. The lack of physical presence makes it vital to take proactive steps to promote trust between workers, managers and coworkers.
Allowing team members opportunities to socialize remotely can help build trust. Holding periodic meetings to share personal updates, creating online discussion groups and sending group emails are a few ways to do this. Encouraging team members to play each other in online games is another strategy. Another idea is having virtual coffee meetings where each team member goes to their local coffee shop before logging in for a group video conversation.