Outsourcing and running a company that operates on several different continents is a situation that is becoming more and more common every year. When working in a so-called “virtual office” in which the employees are communicating via the Internet while sitting in offices that are located thousands of miles away from one another, the concept of team building might seem a little farfetched.
The fact that there is so much distance between them, they are operating in completely different time zones, they rarely talk to each other face to face, often speak different languages, and the fact that they are from different cultural backgrounds could make team building a little more difficult than what was expected…
However, it is certainly not impossible.
Here are four key steps for successful team building in a virtual office.
The way to build respect in a virtual office is to allow all of the employees to get to know each other – not only personally, but in terms of what each member of the team does. The office leaders should take the time to introduce all team members to one another and let everyone know what each member of the team does, what makes them special, and why they are vital to the team.
When an employee sees that the team leaders are fully aware of what he or she does and that they understand the strengths of each team member, this recognition feels very rewarding and empowering. Better still, if the team leader feels the need to let everyone else know why each employee is part of the team and takes the time to introduce everyone in a very thorough and respectful way, it brings the group together. A little flattery can never hurt. If every employee knows that he or she is appreciated and all the employees know what everyone else does and is responsible for, they immediately feel like more of a team than when they were just introduced to one another via an email or Skype conversations.
Trust is something that needs to be earned. This has never been truer than in the business environment. If you say that you are going to get a project done before the deadline, then keep true to that promise. If you treat your colleagues’ requests with “I’ll get to it when I get to it,” type replies, no one will ever trust you to get the job done in crunch time.
If you have a good track record and you show yourself as someone who gets things done on schedule, then you become a trusted worker. Make sure that everyone in the virtual office is aware of this and enforce deadlines and time frames very strictly. It is important to set the same standards for all of the employees, regardless of what country they might be located in.
Communication is the best way to build friendships, and building friendly relationships is a big part of team building. Encourage your team members to add each other on Facebook, follow each other on Twitter or communicate regularly on Skype. Since it’s impossible to organize sporting events or picnics for a virtual office, get creative. Set up Facebook groups where your employees can talk about non-business-related things after hours, set up Skype groups in which employees can casually chat, or send each other funny pictures while working. Having an all business, no fun attitude has never been a part of team building, and it is an even worse idea when you are running a virtual office in which you have no way of getting everyone together for after-work activities.
You need to make some compromises on the Internet communication rules when working with virtual offices, because that is the only way in which your team members are communicating. Give them some slack on off-topic Internet activity and casual chatting in order to enable them to get to know each other and become comfortable with one another.
This is probably the most important thing of all. If one of your colleagues does not speak your language as well as you would like them to and you are having a hard time understanding them, don’t get angry at them or insult them. Have patience and have understanding for the fact that this is not their native language. Working in a virtual office means that you need to put in a lot more effort as far as inter-personal relations are concerned.
Understanding that you are working with people who come from a different culture and place than you is essential for team building in such a situation. Remember that if you are showing understanding for someone else, that person will likely reciprocate the effort.
It is a well-known fact that many people work this way in order to decrease their overhead and save money, but team building within the setting of an international, virtual office can also improve output and increase productivity in a setting in which procrastination and wasted work hours are a lot harder to control and avoid than in regular office situations.
About the Author: David Lazar is a blogger at CometDocs.com. With a background in journalism, he enjoys writing about and following a variety of topics, including careers, creative writing and new media.