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Can Online Learning Help Build a Virtual Team? Part Two

Virtual Team

The number of virtual teams of employees – those who work from their home or another non-traditional location, and those who work closely with team members in other locations – has increased substantially over the last two decades, with a 2016 study by RW3 CultureWizard finding that 85% of respondents worked on virtual teams and felt it was critical to their success.

Factors like project management software, video chat, high-speed internet access and VPN phone lines have made it easy to collaborate and communicate with team members and carry out complex tasks.

In part one of this special two-part article published in The HR Gazette, we considered going virtual and remote learning. In the second part we look at these two initiatives lead to the development of a productive remote workforce.

Virtual Team

Can the two lead to the creation of a virtual team?

It would seem that the right online learning and skill-building could help create a dream virtual team, as members of staff continue to expand their knowledge and further learn to connect with others and work productively online, but there are pitfalls to look out for; mainly related to the very basis of how to effectively manage a remote workforce.

Significant numbers of virtual teams are unable to achieve their goals, falling flat in key areas. Best practices for avoiding failure are closely related to human resource management and development.

They include:

Focus on team size. Though it may seem better to have a larger team, it’s important to focus on quality recruits over quantity. Larger teams run the risk of social loafing, or contributing less when part of a group as opposed to working solo. It can be tempting to create a larger virtual team from a full online classroom of online learners all studying the same material, but it’s better to have expert guidance in creating a team  of specialists.

Recruiting for the right skills. Virtual team members require not only certain capabilities but qualities that can be hard to distinguish through standard remote interviews. They need to be flexible and resilient, good communicators, capable of independent work with minimal supervision, and have high levels of emotional intelligence. Cultural awareness (or lack of) is an additional individual characteristic that can make or break a diverse virtual team.

Defining roles. From recognizing leadership qualities to strong operational team members, virtual teams require careful planning from the start. Often teams must be appropriately broken down into smaller multi-skilled task forces to carry out the work, and this can be difficult if not managed correctly. There are also different tiers of team members that must be defined for each project.  

Building trust. This is another area where qualified human resource management can step in an assist. Virtual teams require a high level of confidence in one another, and by simply relying on online learning and team-building, you could be missing out on the all-important human factor in building a working environment based on trust.

Proper onboarding procedures. Far too many virtual team members are simply welcomed with a quick conference call or email introduction. However, better practices include providing clear answers to common questions from newcomers, assigning a mentor, and having an in-person meeting to welcome new team members, when possible. This can be better arranged through a recruitment professional.

Virtual teams, traditional sourcing of employees

The creation of a successful virtual team is dependent on the strength of its team members and qualified leadership. Online learning can help develop skills among team members and further their education, but it falls short in key areas of personal growth and staff advancement.

Virtual teams still require the practiced hand of experience human resource managers to not only recruit the right team but coach members of staff, recognize strengths and deficiencies in employees, provide training recommendations and foster healthy working relationships.

About the Author

Declan Moloney works for recruitment consultancy Nova.ky in the Cayman Islands. Since graduating with a BA in English and Creative Writing, Declan has gained eight years’ experience in recruitment marketing, working at leading graduate job boards, advertising, and recruitment agencies in the UK. During this time, he has delivered numerous multi-channel campaigns specializing in digital media and websites.

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