# 8 - Working Virtually
by Randi Brenowitz
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# 8 – Working Virtually
Working Virtually: Managing People for Successful Virtual Teams
and Organizations (Stylus Publishing, 2001), Trina Hoefling
explores how to realign your organization in order to fully support
virtual work, and what technology is needed to create a collaborative
virtual environment. Although there are many books about virtual
work, Hoefling's is unique in that it concentrates on the team
aspects of this work arrangement. She looks at many of the factors
facing traditional teams and explores how they are the same or
different for virtual teams.
best chapter is Chapter 3 Expanding Emotional Bandwidth:
Building Trust in the Virtual Team. The inability to build
trust in virtual environments is one of the most stated concerns
to virtual teaming. The establishment of trust is one of the areas
of virtual work that is primarily people-dependent and cannot
be sped up by better technology. Hoefling believes, however, that
technology can support communication and connection, which are
two major drivers of trust. The greater the group's commitment
to the purpose of the team and to the virtual environment,
the more likely team members will see virtual trust as possible.
It is important, therefore, to get buy-in to the goal of the team
and familiarity with the tools and technology that will
be used for virtual teaming.
is easier to avoid conflict in virtual teams, as it is easy to
let the physical distance create interpersonal distance too. However,
the more quickly, honestly, and respectfully conflict is handled,
the greater is the likelihood of trust being built or restored
(Bishop & Scot, SHRM Foundation Research, 1997). It is also
easier for virtual team leaders to avoid recognizing conflict
on their teams. After citing Bishop & Scot's research, Hoefling
suggests that team leaders pay attention to conflict situations
even more closely than on co-located teams and work to resolve
it as soon as possible.
reminds us that a virtual team is like any community in that its
culture is a product of shared stories, norms, rituals, and experiences.
Leaders of virtual teams must provide ample opportunity for teams
to create a shared history together. Co-located teams naturally
fall into rhythms together coffee breaks, regularly scheduled
meetings, saying good morning and good night, and lunches with
other team members. The predictability of these rhythms can add
to the trust on the team. Virtual teams also need these rhythms.
Internal chat rooms, pre-meeting check-ins, and regular patterns
of synchronous, asynchronous, and face-to-face meetings will help
create them. Taking the time for informal conversations is possible
and necessary even in the highest-tech environment and it will
help build trust on the team.
with co-located teams, fulfilling commitments and keeping agreements
over time are all key to building and maintaining trust. Goals,
milestones, tasks, and agreements must be clear in order to increase
the probability of their being met when team members are not located
together and each is working "alone." In Hoefling's
"alchemy of virtual trust," communication, performance,
and integrity combine to create trust.
chapters explore the feedback, meetings, decision-making, and
communication infrastructure needs of virtual teams including
an overview of the tools and technologies that can facilitate
them. If you've already been working virtually for some time,
they will serve as a good reminder. If you're new at this, these
chapters give important guidelines for virtual team members and
also has a readiness survey for both individuals and organizations.
I was disappointed with those as they come from the assumption
that we have a choice of whether or not to work virtually. Given
the market drivers she describes in her introduction, I don't
think there is much choice. Most of us work virtually at least
part of the time already and the trend seems to be increasing.
companies must go outside brick-and-mortar corporate walls to
recruit and retain the best talent and profitable partnerships.
A global marketplace demands global companies. Customers demand
products and service support that is adaptive, flexible, and integrated.
Independent and project-specific contractors are a fundamental
part of the workforce. Cross-organizational strategic alliances
are commonplace. Real estate costs prohibit boundless expansion.
More and more people are unwilling or unable to relocate and in
our post 9/11 world, travel has become less appealing. These factors
combine together to encourage organizations and teams to explore
virtual work. Working Virtually can help achieve success
in that exploration.
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Group Strategic Services, Inc. offers a unique blend of traditional
and on-line tools based on the concepts discussed in Winning
in Fast Time to create strategic action with virtual or co-located
teams. Contact them at 949-250-9060 or www.geogroup.net.
See issue # 7 Winning in Fast Time.
runs a series of workshops and free virtual mini-camps related
to virtual teams. I will be featured at the mini-camp on April
4 that will focus on Virtual Meeting Etiquette.
Cross-Functional/Cross-Cultural Collaborative Assets: Distance,
Time Zone, and Culture," a downloadable article by Susan
Schwartz available at www.riverbirchgroup.com/virtualassets.html.
has assembled a comprehensive list of links and articles on virtual
teams and virtual team management.
Space as an Essential Element of an Effective Online Work Environment,"
a downloadable article by Valerie Bock available at www.collaborationarchitects.com/docs/Social_Spaces.pdf.
and Trust in Global Virtual Teams" a downloadable study by
Jarvenpaa & Leidner at www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol3/issue4/jarvenpaa.html#Abstract
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