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Modern unified communications solutions have virtually eliminated geographical barriers that used to hinder collaboration in large, culturally varied teams sitting in different parts of the country, region or world. At the same time, they also provoke a whole new series of threats that were unknown in times when communication was based on face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations. How can your company tackle these challenges?
According to research, the following elements pose the most difficulties for geographically dissipated teams: managing conflicts (73%), making decisions (69%), expressing opinions (64%), delivering quality results (48%) and developing new ideas (47%); (source: The Challenges of Working in Virtual Teams, 2012). These issues may hinder efficient communication, which, in turn, may lead to lower productivity of the team.
Below are a few recommendations that will help you to streamline the work within a dissipated team.
Even the most internally integrated team needs clear rules of collaboration and communication. They should include all key elements that impact productivity (zero tolerance for delays, expected timeframe for request response, the way of preparing meetings and teleconferences) and communication quality (the rules for using video transmission, expected length of statements) as well as the preferred forms of communications, that are usually different for different team members. The rules should be written down, signed by all team members and reviewed from time to time.
One of the most important limitations that impact productivity at work is multitasking, that is the ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. In practice, working on a few tasks at the same time is impossible, and the need to constantly “switch” between them consumes a lot of time and energy (according to scientists, it is takes 10-15 minutes to redirect attention from one task to another). The issue becomes particularly inconvenient in the case of teamwork, when one distracted team member impacts the performance of the whole group.
It is not easy to tackle multitasking in a world where all new technologies support this type of activity. In the case of geographically dissipated virtual teams, observing the basic rules might be of help. The rules should introduce a sufficiently long (e.g. 24-hour) email response time and oblige employees to check their inboxes only at certain times of the day. They may also control employee availability at given times of the day, as well as introduce “quiet times” for tasks that require outstanding focus.
Nothing impairs perception more and, as a result, makes a video conference more exhausting than connection quality issues. That is why every company that is serious about remote work, videoconferencing and collaboration across many locations needs to pay attention to voice, image and data transmission quality for every participant of a meeting.
Cloud computing videoconferencing solutions seem to be the most cost-efficient here. They ensure access to the basic system functions, including meeting archiving with the use of a browser, and additionally – by using a dedicated link – guarantees appropriate connection quality and security.
Every meeting with more than three participants should have a dedicated moderator. It is particularly important for geographically dissipated and culturally varied teams. The moderator should prepare an agenda and conduct the meeting efficiently. It is reasonable to alternate this responsibility between all team members. This facilitates pursuing common objectives and encourages more involvement from people who are shy or for some reasons show less engagement in regular communication with the team.
Every team that has worked together for a sufficiently long time, works out a “case library”, that is a set of stories and issues that required extraordinary effort to solve. It is useful to structure such cases and then share them with other team members. This will allow to prevent similar situations from recurring in the future or accelerate the solving process.
Geographically dissipated and internally varied virtual teams have become a typical form of collaboration in modern companies. Effective communication between members of such groups requires applying flexible platforms that integrate various channels of communication. The implementation of such tools, performed usually together with an external technology partner, is one of the factors that condition the success of this model of collaboration.