I have seen various virtual teams that fails to accomplish their mission due to lack of communication. Virtual teams have many challenges like culture differences, language barriers, lack of personal touch, etc. But the ‘time difference’ is one of the most important challenge that a virtual team faces. As a part of my existing job, I manage various individuals from 3 completely different locations. And I have faced similar situations while managing these individuals. Through my experience, I have developed few practical solutions to resolve these challenges, and I would like to share those tips through this blog.
Define rigid working hours: I am neither a micromanager nor I believe in monitoring my people. But sometimes it is very crucial for a team to follow a strict schedule. Asynchronous communication channels like SMS and e-mails will only resolve few issues. But if you are working in a fast paced environment like me (Agile or Scrum approach), then it becomes very difficult to communicate through these asynchronous channels of communications. This approach makes it possible for me to meet with each and every individual at least 2 times a week (through video conference). From past few months, my team in China comes early every 2 days during the week and my team in USA stays late for those 2 days. This arrangement makes it easier to work with these people and it also helped me to increase my team morale.
Establish rules for e-mail communications: In the past, I have been in various situations when I will get an e-mail from my China team at around midnight in my time zone, and I won’t have any opportunity to reply to them until the day after. Thus, if you are working in a virtual team then you should be establishing few rules for your e-mail communications. For example: Tell your remote team in China to notify you regarding any urgent issues/concerns before midnight your time. Obviously, they will not be able to identify all the issues every time before you go to sleep, they might encounter few problems after you go to sleep. In that case, make sure that you always task them with some kind of other work, which is independent from that particular task. This will give them something to work on, before you can actually resolve their problem. This approach had helped me tremendously to increase the productivity of my team.
Make information go public: In most of the cases, people depend on each other for the information. Most of the professionals will take an educated decision in a given situation, if they were provided with the appropriate information. I made most of my information public in such a way that my team can have access to that information all the time. For example: during every meeting, I take meeting notes and prepare a list of action items. I started putting that information to our SharePoint site. This helped my team to have a baseline information and having the right information in their possession. This approach has reduced long chain of e-mails to get the same information that they would have got otherwise.
I hope, these tips will help you to reduce various time and communication related challenges with your virtual teams. Please feel free to comment on my blog, if you have any other suggestions for improving efficiency of your virtual teams. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi