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Category Archives: Virtual Team

Schedule the best virtual meeting by following these rules


VideoConferenceIn my last blog, I have talked about some ways through which you can schedule a perfect virtual meeting. Thus, I will continue my discussion in this blog, and provide you with some more tips to make your next virtual meeting perfect.

Allow extra time: If you are scheduling a virtual meeting for the first time, then please schedule some extra time for dealing with the technical challenges that you might face during the meeting startup. Use this extra time to work out glitches that often occur with new technology. Over time, when your team members are familiar with login or startup procedures, you can then reduce the meeting duration by the amount of time that you might have otherwise spent on connection issues. If you have a new member joining your team, then you should arrange a trial meeting to check connections and ensure that the new member is up to speed before a larger group meeting.

Provide more lead time: The lead time required for virtual meetings might be longer than for in-person meetings, since in addition to the virtual space, you need to ensure that all participants have the necessary information about the meeting before they join in. It is your responsibility, as an organizer of the meeting, to ensure that every team member understands the goals of the meeting and has sufficient time in order to prepare for it. After all, if critical decision makers or technical experts are not prepared in the meeting due to short notice given to them, then you will end up scheduling a second meeting for the same agenda.

Provide detailed information: If you are going to organize a virtual meeting with multiple people joining in from multiple locations and through multiple means of communication (phone, video, etc.), then you need to be more detailed in your meeting requests. Meeting agenda should at least specify this information: name and contact information of the person calling the meeting, meeting purpose, meeting start time and expected duration, names of invited attendees, meeting location including connection information, phone numbers, URLs, connection passwords or login IDs, or any other information attendees need in order to participate, and list of the topics to be discussed and time limits for each topic. If you do your homework in creating your meeting agenda beforehand, then you won’t have many issues during the meeting itself.

Invite limited people: Virtual meetings are often encountered with various challenges from time differences to technology difficulties, and hence, you shouldn’t try to complicate things by inviting people who are not needed in the meeting. Make sure that you have everyone in the meeting who needs to be there, but don’t over crowd the meeting with the people who are not needed there. By inviting limited people in the meeting, you will be able to keep everyone focused on the task at hand, and there will be less of a chance for any confusion due to people talking over each other on the phone or video conference.

This is the end of my two part blog about scheduling a perfect virtual meeting. I hope, these advises can help you in scheduling your ideal meetings. If you have any recommendations from your side, then please feel free to share it here through your comments. Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

 

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How to schedule a perfect virtual meeting?


VideoConferenceOther day, I was attending this virtual meeting, and within 5 minutes in the meeting, I realized that some of the key stakeholders wouldn’t be able to make this meeting due to their time zone difference. Within 10 minutes into the meeting, I also realized that other participants were not well prepared, and we might have to convene some other day to discuss these same action items.

Obviously, scheduling a perfect in-person meeting also requires some level of preparation, but to schedule a perfect virtual meeting is a challenge in itself. You don’t just need to make sure that the meeting agenda is well defined and thought out, but you also need to handle logistics challenges imposed by difference in time zones and technology limitations. Thus, in this blog, I will provide you with few tips through which you can schedule your perfect virtual meeting.

Be agenda ready: Whether your meeting is virtual or in person, you should always have a well-defined agenda for your meeting, which should be clearly stated in the meeting request itself. If, for whatever reason, you can’t explicitly mention your agenda in the meeting request, you should send out an email to all the participants with this information beforehand. This approach will not only help your participants to set some basic expectations about the output of this meeting, but it will also help you to make sure that your participants are prepared beforehand with the desired information, so that they can respond to your questions and come up to some kind of an agreement.

Keep time in mind: Whenever you are scheduling a virtual meeting, you need to always be aware of different time zones from which your attendees will attend this meeting. After all, you won’t be attending a meeting at 3am in the morning, unless it is very important, right? Same goes for your meeting attendees. They are not going to put an extra effort to attend your meeting at 3am in the morning, just because it is convenient for you. Thus, before scheduling the meeting search for your attendee’s time zones and schedule the meeting at appropriate time.

Share the pain: Sometimes, due to the vast time difference between two virtual teams, it is impossible to schedule these meetings within the regular working hours (8am to 5pm) of both the teams. And hence, it is very important to share the inconvenience across your team rather than always have the same person/team meeting before breakfast or late in the evening. If you have to schedule regular meetings across multiple time zones, then you should rotate the pain across the board by changing the team each week that has to stay late to attend the meeting.

I hope, this blog can help you in scheduling a perfect virtual meeting for your team. In my next blog, I will provide you with some more insight into how to schedule your virtual meetings better, but in the meanwhile if you have any recommendations from your side, then please feel free to share it here through your comments. Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

 

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What should you look for when hiring someone in your virtual team?


Virtual InterviewVirtual Teams are slightly different from your normal teams, and hence, they require slightly different skill-sets from your team members. Working in a virtual team is not for everyone, only certain types of individual can perform well in a totally remote team. They should be highly motivated, enthusiastic, and flexible. Thus, it becomes very important to hire someone who can work effectively with minimal supervision than hiring someone who is familiar with a particular toolset. And hence, I would like to provide you with some tips through which you can assess the personal qualities and the tools experience of a candidate during his/her interview.

Technology competence: If you are hiring someone who can work remotely, then you need to make sure that she is comfortable with technology. You can perform a simple test during the interview itself to gauge the competence of the candidate with technology. Just set up the interview using the technologies that you would use when working with the team, such as VoIP, web cams, email, instant messaging, and so on. It will quickly become apparent how comfortable the candidates are with working with the technology and how they handle it when things go wrong.

Self-accountability: Here is where the behavioral and scenario-based questions come into play. You should ask very specific questions which can help you understand how the candidate reacts to a big problem and how she holds herself accountable for the work that she does. You can ask questions such as… How do you organize your workspace? How do you plan your day? How do you keep up with the office when you are traveling for work? How do you manage distractions when working from home/office? What types of distractions are the most difficult for you to overcome? Etc. With these questions, you are trying to find out if the candidate can work on their own, or will they require hand holding to perform their basic tasks. After all, working in remote team is no joke.

Ability to work remotely: Once the candidate answers your questions, ask more detailed questions that examine the candidate’s motivations and behaviors. It is very important to find out how comfortable is the candidate with working remotely. Ask specific examples about the time when the candidate has worked remotely. Tell them to elaborate on their experience. For example: How was your experience working remotely? Was it positive or negative? What did you not like about that experience? What organization techniques have you implemented to identify your priorities? When working virtually, how do you establish a rapport with teammates you have never met? By asking these questions, you are trying to figure out if the candidate is comfortable working remotely, and how she will fit in your remote work culture.

Synergy with your team: As with any hiring decision, skills alone are not enough to ensure that a candidate will be successful on your team. The candidates must also possess personality and character traits that fit with the other team members. If you have a choice between someone who is knowledgeable but obviously difficult and someone who is less experienced but enthusiastic, consider choosing the less-experienced-but-enthusiastic person. You will likely have far fewer personnel issues, and may get someone who will build team synergy.

I hope, my blog can help you find the right candidate for your virtual team. If you know any other ways through which we can improve the hiring process for a virtual team member, then please feel free to share it here. Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

 

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Why should you NOT let your employees work from home?


Work from home

Marissa Mayer might be under scrutiny by many of her employees due to her recent decision of ending ‘work from home’ culture in Yahoo, Inc. Though I am not aware of those extreme circumstances under which she needed to take this drastic step, I can say this for sure….’work for home’ culture is not for every organization. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for workplace mobility, when required. But some of the organizations are just not made to support ‘work from home’ culture. Thus, in this blog I will  provide you few reasons for NOT having ‘work from home’ policy in your organization.

Depends on your business needs: Not every organization can afford to have the popular culture of telecommuting. Sometimes the business need, itself, won’t allow you to implement this culture in your company. Let’s say, you own an Apple Store. Are you going to be able to make your “Genius” employees work from home? Though these technicians can resolve people’s technical issues over the network, it is a strategic disadvantage for them to do so. Apple Store is widely known for its best customer support. And hence, the business need requires their employees to have some face time with their customers and develop that strong customer relationship to promote their brand.

It’s not for every company: Some people just can’t communicate well over the messenger, email or phone. There can be various reasons for this situation including lack of training, stagnant workforce, availability of appropriate tools, etc. Nonetheless, if your current workforce and your current company culture can’t support the initiative of working from home, then it might not be for your company. If some of your employees are not self-starters, and if they need someone to hold them accountable, and can’t be motivated themselves at home, then they need to work in the office. OR If you have some of those employees in your team for whom ‘work from home’ is the other name for a ‘vacation’, then this is definitely not for your company.

You lose the human touch: While communicating over a phone or a video conference provides your team the flexibility to join the meeting from anywhere, it comes with the dual edge sword. With the virtual nature of the communication for a ‘work from home’ team, it becomes challenging to schedule a meeting, since your team member have to wait for other people to come back to their IM client so that they can communicate. Also, written communication over e-mail or the verbal communication over the phone can create many inter-personal conflicts due to misunderstanding, which taking long time to resolve them. With written communication being so inefficient and passive, it might not be a good idea to go with the ‘work from home’ culture, if your employees are not ready for it yet.

Can create security concerns: I know, we have the latest technology today with the VPN connection and the secured channel communication. But as the technology advances and becomes complex, it becomes very difficult to address these security concerns remotely. No matter how strong is your office network, if your employees are working from home, your company can be exposed to various security loopholes. If you don’t have adequate IT support to address these security concerns for the people who work at home, then you might want to wait before implementing a ‘work from home’ policy in your company. Internet security is not the only problem. When your employees work from home they are exposed to various other security issues like their laptop getting stolen, having their password getting hacked due to lose WiFi network key, etc. Obviously, these issues will be less frequent if all of your employees work in the office, instead of their less secured home environment.

So, what do you think about my argument? Do you know any other situations in which you should not allow your employees to work from home?

Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

 
 

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How to manage your Chinese employees effectively?


Chinese employees working in a manufacturing plantMy first real exposure to China and Chinese employees was in the early 2009, when my company decided to open its research and development center in Beijing, China; and put me in charge of newly developing system automation team in China. Since then, I have worked with Chinese employees extensively, either it’s at my current job or at some of the smaller companies that I have consulted over the years. Though I am still in the process of learning more about the Chinese culture, one thing is clear, the leadership style of the Western Countries is not effective when you work with Chinese employees. Thus, in this blog post, I would provide you with some insight on how to effectively lead your Chinese employees.

Management style: In developed countries like the United States, we provide opportunities to our employees to resolve problems/issues by themselves. While this kind of strategy (delegate and disappear) is very effective in developed countries, it doesn’t work well with Chinese employees. Chinese people are very traditional, they respect authority and are introverts in some cases. So, they will depend on you to take critical decisions of the project that you have assigned to them. In order to work better with them, you might want to …….(1) Stop by their desk or video conference them at least 1-2 times a day, and ask for blocking issues with their projects ……….(2) Have frequent team meetings to go over critical issues …….(3) Make their introductions to all of the stakeholders of the project, so that they can feel comfortable going to them directly instead of coming to you for smaller issues ………(4) Develop personal relationships with them. Strong relationships can help you go a long way.

Obtaining Information: Similar to adjusting your management style, you might need to change the way you communicate. Let’s say, if you are trying to get some information from a Chinese manager, and if this is your first time communicating with him, then you might want to utilize your contacts at similar levels in the organization to get that information. In most of the cases, information may not flow downward through the hierarchy as easily as one might expect, when the culture of the company is less hierarchical. In order to get the correct information on the right time, you might want to cultivate your informal contacts within your Chinese branch. And yeah! Always make sure to rephrase your understanding of the issue/solution, once you get the desired information. This practice will ensure that you are on the same page with your Chinese counterparts. Sometimes, language barrier can create various problems.

Presenting Information: Chinese culture is very status-oriented. Let’s say, you are a manager in the US company, who manages the offshore team of 10-12 Chinese employees. Now, assume that you want to change your current process. I bet you……when you will present your new plan to these employees, you will get very minimal or no feedback. Due to their status-oriented culture, there may be less feedback from the audience during a presentation than one might expect in a more equality-focused culture. And hence, I would recommend you to give them the opportunity to provide their feedback later through an e-mail or an anonymous forum. In most of the cases, they feel very comfortable in providing their feedback to their superior in a private setting as compared to a public setting.

I hope, these tips can help you to become a better manger, when you are working with a Chinese team. What other changes would you make in your management style, while working with Chinese employees?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 

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How to sell your online MBA degree to future employers?


OnlineMBAHave you finished your MBA through an online program? Are you unable to experience any benefits from your degree? Well…..you are not alone. More than 50% of the employers still prefer an MBA candidate with the traditional classroom experience as compared to an online MBA student. Despite of this stereo types of an online MBA candidate, you can still succeed with your degree. You just need to know, how to sell it. With this blog, I am going to provide you with some pointers through which you can get the same benefit out of your online MBA program as compared to any other in-class MBA program.

Capitalize on cultural awareness:

If you are doing an online MBA from a Tier 1 or Tier 2 level school, then chances are…….you must be working in a diverse team with people from different countries. You should use this experience as your strength during your job search. Mention those specific projects on your resume to portray your knowledge of cross cultural understanding. With most of the major companies going global, this experience will definitely work in your advantage, if presented correctly.

I would also recommend you to provide some specific examples on your resume on how you had solved some of the cross cultural conflicts. These kinds of smaller examples can help you bring up this topic during your in-person interviews. And you can then elaborate on that in further details. It goes without saying…..try to connect your experience with the company’s current needs of working with cross cultural teams.

Be the leader of your virtual teams:

If you think of it, all the project teams in an online MBA program are nothing but a virtual team. In your program, you must have worked with different people from different time zones to finish certain projects. And hence, you should also capitalize on your experience in working with remote/virtual teams. Don’t just say…..”I have worked in a virtual team”. Try to be more specific on your resume. Provide examples on how you resolved issues due to time and language barriers during your project. It wouldn’t hurt, if you can talk about those experiences in your in-person interviews, and maybe summarize with lessons learned during your experience.

In today’s world, lot of companies operate in different locations. Thus, most of their meetings, projects and day-to-day activities are virtual. Thus, if you can prove that you have not only worked in that environment, but you have also learned how to improve those communications in that environment; then you would definitely standout from the crowd.

I hope these tips will help to sell your online MBA degree to your future employer. Do you have any other ideas through which you can show the importance of your online MBA degree to your future employer?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 

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Conduct result-oriented meetings with your Virtual Team


VideoConferenceI hate those video conferences, where people around the world meet in a virtual setting, and at the end of the meeting, the only thing that they can decide is the date for the next meeting. I am sure I am not the only one who has been through these kinds of meetings. Am I right?

In my current position, I manage a diverse team of people from 3 different locations. And I have developed few techniques to conduct effective meetings, which I would like to share with you here.

Know your audience beforehand: The first step is to clearly define the audience that will be attending this meeting. If you are conducting the meeting for the first time, and if you don’t know the background of anyone attending the meeting, then ask around. Try to contact each individual through phone or e-mail to get a better idea of their goals and expectations.

Identify the meeting need: Ideally the meeting originator need to develop an agenda. But I have seen that it doesn’t happen often. Thus, if you don’t know the agenda then your best bet is to as the meeting organizer about the problem that he/she is trying to resolve through this meeting. This will give you an opportunity to prepare yourself before the meeting. And your preparation can be helpful in prioritizing the learning objectives for the next set of meetings.

Create an action plan: Whether it’s running a government or running a company, team works better when there is a shared and visible accountability. I would always suggest you to create an action plan in the meeting, instead of creating it afterwards. By doing this, you are making sure that an action plan is in place before you leave and that action plan is visible to everyone in the team. Thus, there won’t be any situations of miscommunication of the information.

Create support materials: The next to last step of the effective meeting is to determine the materials you will need to supplement the meeting’s outcome so that the learning objectives are achieved. I would recommend following checklist for supporting materials:

  • Create the facilitator notes.
  • Create an action plan with task items, individual’s responsibilities, and deadlines.
  • List of people attending the meeting so that you can send these documents to them.

Continuously monitor progress: The final step is to continually monitor the progress of the meeting and the business need for the meeting. One should make changes based on the successes, or weaknesses, of the meeting. I would recommend creating a shared action plan document, which is visible to the entire team. If you have this set-up, you only need to discuss the status of each individual task during the meeting. And that’s all.

I hope these tips help you in better conducting/attending a virtual team meeting. If you know any other ways to make a virtual team meeting more interesting then feel free to share it with me. I am always looking for people’s feedback to improve my knowledge. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 

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