Working Together, Apart - Part I

According to The “Wonderland” of Virtual Teams, a virtual team is defined as a group of people who collaborate closely even though they may or may not be separated by space, time and organizational barriers. As you can imagine, this can create some problems. Working virtually requires a great amount of self discipline, individual accountability, and flexibility.

As an intern at AGL - a completely remote organization - and a graduate student through an online program, I have participated in my fair share of online meetings. In fact, today I participated in a meeting where seven of us were interviewing one “client” (aka our professor) about her company. We prepared by writing several dozen questions and practicing all sorts of possible outcomes. We were ready — and spoiler alert: we did pretty well — however, there were several challenges that arose.

The challenges can seem insurmountable, especially if you’ve never been part of a virtual team. Below, I will continue giving you some anecdotes from this meeting, as well as empirically founded solutions to these challenges.

1. Developing Roles

Challenge: One of our group members always takes on the leadership role. He is a great leader and it took me a while to set aside my pride and allow him to lead. I didn’t even know he was more than three decades older than me until I looked him up on LinkedIn and found out he’s a senior executive in his organization. Of course he should lead us, that’s what he does!

Solution: The “Wonderland” of Virtual Teams advises that you have a face to face introductory team meeting. Not only does this allow you to agree on a set of goals and expectations, but it allows the team to get to know each other and build trust. It’s important that “during this initial meeting, each person should try to learn something personal about each member of the team so an exchange of small talk can occur when you begin an interaction.”

2. Scheduling

Challenge: Scheduling a meeting can be a beast — one of my team members today was in Bangladesh, two were on the east coast, two in the midwest, and the rest were on the west coast. Talk about some time differences.

Solution: This is one of those things that has a clear solution, but instead includes a change in perspective. According to Group Style Differences Between Virtual and Face to Face Teams, some virtual teams like the idea of different time zones, as it enables teams to be working around the clock without extending the hours worked.

I will continue this conversation next week with more anecdotal examples of common problems in remote work. They come up and it happens more often than you’d anticipate -- it can be frustrating if you are not properly trained as they are quite different from face to face challenges.


The "Wonderland" of Virtual Teams

Pamela Johnson Virginia Heimann and Karen O’Neill

Group Style Differences Between Virtual and F2F Teams

Leonard Branson, University of Illinois at Springfield Thomas S. Clausen, University of Illinois at Springfield Chung-Hsein Sung, University of Illinois at Springfie