Coming on the heels of our 2014 Trends in Global Virtual Teams survey, RW3 has now made public the full results in a comprehensive report. Nearly 3,000 global business managers responded this year, and the results were illuminating. The key findings further underscored the unique challenges virtual teams face on a daily basis in addition to the fact that few people receive training to work effectively on virtual teams. Global work is virtual work, and while technology makes virtual teaming possible, we forget how much effort must go into being effective.
Compared to ten years ago, the global workforce is much savvier, which is a good thing, especially given that today’s workplace demands virtual work skills more than ever before. It’s interesting to consider that many teams may never meet in any setting other than a virtual one. With this in mind, RW3 developed a Virtual Teams Tool to help improve communication skills and develop effective collaboration tactics.
To improve the efficacy of the Virtual Teams Tool and to provide the best training to our clients, we’ve been conducting biennial surveys on virtual teams since 2010, which measure the most recent challenges and best practices for working on virtual teams.
We invited 65,857 CultureWizard end-users, clients, and other business contacts to take part, and we received 2,984 responses. In addition to examining a baseline of previous topics, our new questions focus on the impact of specific cultural dimensions, age, gender and effective leadership.
Other Topics Explored in the 2014 Survey:
• Scope, intensity, and impact on productivity of virtual team participation
• Impact of culture, gender, and age on virtual teams
• Leadership and training issues for virtual teams
• Challenges of working on virtual teams and comparisons with co-located teams
• Characteristics of good virtual teammates
• Online meeting and collaboration platforms
• Open-ended questions about challenges, behavior, gender, collaboration, advantages, and improvement
Some Key Findings:
81% of respondents thought that having the benefit of a global perspective mitigated the challenges of virtual teams.
The immutable challenges of time zones (83%) and understanding different accents (72%) remain consequential.
Compared to co-located teams, the most severe virtual challenges were colleagues who did not participate (80%), followed by the pace of decision-making (76%), the process of decision making (75%), and differing role expectations held by team members (71%).
Compared to face-to-face teams, respondents indicated that virtual teams were more challenging for making decisions (55%), managing conflict (54%), and expressing opinions (53%).
Almost everyone (92%) felt that the greatest impact on productivity between virtual and face-to-face teams was in reading non-verbal cues. That was followed by the challenges of building relationships (78%) and understanding the full context of messages shared (74%).
41% of respondents reported that more than half of their productivity depends on virtual work; 53% indicated that virtual teamwork contributed a significant amount to their productivity.
41% of respondents reported that over half of their teams included colleagues from another culture.
The most important cultural challenge came from direct vs. indirect communication styles (69%). This was followed closely by group orientation vs. individualism (56%) and then by transactional vs. interpersonal relationships (49%).
Only 21% of respondents had specific training to prepare them for work on virtual teams.
The most important characteristics of good virtual teammates were willingness to share information (20%), being collaborative (18%), being proactively engaged (17%), and being organized (15%).
74% of respondents rarely used webcam technologies, which is a best practice for global virtual-team performance.
Conclusion and Best Practices:
Based on this survey, past surveys, and our ongoing consulting to help clients develop effective virtual teams, we have developed a set of best practices.
1. Agenda: Be sure to create an agenda, send in advance and distribute summary notes for each meeting.
2. Backups: Encourage participants to download the agenda, PowerPoint slides and any other relevant meeting materials so that everyone has them should technology fail.
3. Time-zone rotation: Vary and rotate the time of virtual meetings to accommodate different participants in different time zones. This is a fair way to spread the difficulty and inconvenience of attending at abnormal hours.
4. Technology platforms: Use webcams whenever possible, even if only to introduce everyone.
5. Respectful interaction: Establish structure and develop guidelines for the team. For example, these rules should define the scheduling of meeting times, the decision-making process, expectations of participation and debate, and methods for expressing disagreement.
6. Trust: Make sure your team is aware of the importance of trust, and ask them to discuss areas where trust is enhanced or diminished.
7. Relationships: Take time to develop relationships. Find time to share personal information such as hobbies, weekend activities and vacations to find commonalities and areas in which you share interests.
8. Participation: Ensure everyone participates by soliciting opinions and polling. For those who are reluctant to contribute, consider using pre-meetings and taking specific subjects offline, as appropriate.
9. Language difficulties: Create an environment where people can ask for clarification to overcome accent and language challenges. When these challenges are significant, be sure to circulate summary meeting notes.
10. Offline discussions: In spite of any rules, feel free to set aside particularly challenging situations and negative feedback for a separate, private discussion where it can be addressed more appropriately.