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How to Work Effectively in a Global Virtual Team

By Christine Brown-Quinn | Published: May 14, 2019

As upward trends in telecommuting, co-working spaces and freelancing continue to rise, virtual teams—especially international teams made up of many cultures and multiple languages—are poised to be some of the biggest drivers in the transformation of business models. This new environment provides an opportunity and a challenge for professionals; those who speak another language (or two) and have experience studying, living or working abroad may have a leg up on their competitors.

However, learning to work effectively on a global team of individuals requires a great deal of skill, finesse and desire to learn. Informal human connectivity so often gets lost in a global virtual setting. The key therefore is to incorporate strategies into our daily way of working which humanise our interactions. Having worked virtually in a global business for nearly a decade, I have developed a short list of useful practices to get the most out global virtual working:

Switch your perspective. Remember that global virtual teams are composed of people just like any other team. The more you and your team members can keep this in mind, the better your results will be. The best strategy is to think about the perspective of the OTHER team members. Think about how you would behave if your roles were reversed and you were wearing someone else’s shoes.

For example, one of my coaching clients who manages a team in India asked if the team could make a short video showing their commute to the Mumbai office as well as the office itself. Not only did this motivate the Indian team, but it also enabled the London team to better understand what local life was like for their colleagues in India. No wonder their start times in India were so varied when you considered the Mumbai traffic!

Graphic: 2015 PGi Global Telework Survey

Don’t forget about the relationships. This tends to be one of the first areas of the basic model of team effectiveness that gets forgotten about. While the goals, roles, processes must be clearly defined and communicated, without the underlying strong interpersonal relationships to support them, the chances of team success are low. Trust is of course the foundation of all relationships. In a virtual global environment we can build trust by demonstrating our reliability and consistency in all we do—how we behave on calls/videos, how quickly we follow up, the format and clarity of our communications, etc.    

We don’t have the luxury of in-person cues to build familiarity and trust, so the principles of reliability and consistency play an even greater role than in a co-located workplace.  Being reliable and consistent makes it easier for others to understand you. Others know what to expect. To enhance relationships further, make it part of your regular routine to set up a ‘virtual coffee’ or ‘virtual margarita’ with a colleague. Just like an in-person coffee, these virtual meet-ups have an informal tone. Not only is it a chance for you to get to know someone better, but it also helps you feel more connected, energised, and less isolated as a virtual worker.

Make it personal. We are all human. We are all people. Making your virtual encounters personal calls for creativity. Some teams create personal emojis. Other teams set aside time at the beginning of their weekly virtual meetings to ‘take 5’—each team member takes up to 5 minutes to share their personal or professional news. In this way the team finds out about weddings, births, or perhaps a charity run that someone has recently completed.  This is the kind of information that would be communicated naturally ‘around the coffee machine’ in a co-located work space.   

One approach I especially like is choosing a theme for photo sharing at the weekly team (virtual) meeting. Examples of themes include your favourite meal, the shoes you’re wearing or something special in your town. The photo sharing is at the beginning of the meeting and effectively serves as a ‘warm up’ exercise. It’s particularly effective because it’s visual, it's personal, it improves cultural understanding and it’s fun!  

Technology has brought the world together. It’s up to us to add that human touch so we can truly leverage our ability to work virtually across many different languages, geographies and cultures.

About the Author

Christine Brown-Quinn is an author, career expert and thought leader on women in business. Through her corporate webinars, one-on-one coaching and in-person workshops, Christine unveils what really matters in getting ahead in demanding corporate environments. As a former Managing Director in International Finance, Christine is well versed in what it takes to forge a thriving career in highly pressurised, alpha environments. Christine speaks Swedish, French and German and has worked abroad for majority of her career. Learn more at her website: https://www.christinebrown-quinn.com/

References

Cialdini, Robert, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, HarperBusiness; Revised ed. Edition, 1 Feb. 2007
Model of Team Effectiveness, Rubin, Plovnick & Fry, 1977

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