Unlocking Operational Excellence in Virtual Teams

While in-person teams can also suffer from miscommunication, remote teams are often confronted with this problem due to the channels used to transfer messages. Recipients of text messages, emails, and other written communications can often find it difficult to gauge the sender’s tone, since these messages don’t include emotional and nonverbal cues. As a result, the receiver might perceive the message differently than the sender intended.

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Published: Monday, January 8, 2024 – 12:02

When an emergency occurs in an in-person office, everyone tends to be on location during roughly the same hours. With remote teams, however, some might be enjoying their off hours or sleeping. These differing timelines actually pose an advantage, however, as someone is usually available to respond to clients, regardless of the time.

Employees are less likely to resign if they are happy and secure in their roles. That’s why companies should routinely use value assessments and other metrics to evaluate applicants’ capabilities and suitability for open positions.

If someone does leave, their workload tends to fall on those who remain, which can cause stress and resentment. If the issue persists long enough, it can even cause the remaining employees to burn out. According to a recent Gallup poll, employees who feel burned out are nearly three times more likely to look for a new job.

To prevent such situations from emerging in the first place, establish routine operating procedures that are as proactive as possible. If one of your team members senses a potential problem, they should be encouraged to speak up before it actually becomes an issue. As Fractional CMO Andy Anderson explains, “The main benefit of developing a habit of proactive problem-solving is that it allows you to address issues before they become bigger, more difficult-to-manage problems. This means that you’ll be able to spend less time dealing with crises and more time focusing on how to improve your team’s performance and productivity.”

To contact an employee outside of normal business hours, the situation should constitute a true emergency of considerable importance that requires their immediate attention. Just thinking of an idea you’d like to share with them would not rise to this level. If there is a true emergency, however, sending a text message is usually an effective approach, since most people keep their smartphones with them for just such occasions.

Developing positive relationships leads to success

That’s why it’s wise to have employees routinely document their progress on tasks, logging their work during key moments of a given process. For instance, they might be asked to upload an outline of a certain document, followed by a rough draft, before submitting the final file for review. This enables remaining employees to pick up where the departing worker left off, rather than starting over from the beginning. Having systems like this in place can give employees confidence that they will never be tasked with reinventing the proverbial wheel.

Responding to urgent problems effectively

Messaging platforms and videoconferencing solutions help team members keep in touch no matter where they might be located, but miscommunication can happen despite people’s best efforts to be clear. For instance, in one survey, 36% of workers reported feeling their managers’ messages came across as “too aggressive.”

Management

Unlocking Operational Excellence in Virtual Teams

Happy workers remain engaged and perform at a high level

Beyond that, however, leaders and team members should be cognizant of how they treat their co-workers. Team members want to feel like they belong and their contributions are appreciated. As a recent study found, “meaningful work, feeling appreciated by co-workers, and enjoyment of daily tasks significantly predict happiness at work… and… reduces turnover intention.”

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If it isn’t possible to be proactive, then team members should use appropriate channels to reach the relevant team members and explain the urgency of the issue. For instance, expecting employees to monitor and respond to their work email accounts during off hours is often counterproductive. As an article in Forbes explains, “Studies reveal that employees experience increased anxiety, decreased quality of sleep, and lower relationship satisfaction because after-hours emails promote the constant feeling that a message from work could arrive at any moment, regardless of the time of day or day of the week.”

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In my experience, the best way to enhance efficiency in virtual operations involves building healthy relationships among team members. Strong, resilient connections that are based on mutual trust not only create a positive work environment but also unlock your team’s excellence.

Eliminating miscommunication

Another challenge many workplaces face is responding to urgent problems in a timely fashion. Customers have become increasingly impatient over the years, and a recent survey found that 46% of consumers expect responses from companies in only four hours, while 12% expect a response in 15 minutes or less.

Another common problem remote teams face is employee attrition. According to a recent survey from the Workplace Institute, 75% of employees “don’t feel heard on important workplace topics,” and 40% reported feeling that their feedback didn’t “(lead) to actionable change.”

With remote work on the rise, more companies are facing the operational challenges that come with remote teams. According to one U.K. study, for instance, 67% of respondents aged 18–34 expressed difficulty building relationships with colleagues since they began working remotely.

Communicating clearly, giving appreciation, rewarding proactivity, encouraging documentation, and using appropriate channels all boost mutual trust and respect. For this reason, they are indispensable tools for improving the efficiency of virtual teams.

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That’s why it’s always important to be as clear and direct as possible when delivering information by text or email. Try to use unambiguous language that can’t be misinterpreted. Define important terms explicitly. Spell things out in detail, rather than insinuating them or leaving them to the imagination. Get as concrete as you can instead of speaking in generalities. Giving examples of what you are talking about is another great way to eliminate misunderstandings.

Indeed, clarity may be the most important thing in improving the efficiency of remote teams. This goes not only for specific messages, but also for overall goals. According to one survey from McKinsey, improving internal communication among remote teams was shown to improve company productivity by as much as 25%. When everyone knows the current situation, where they wish to go, and how to get there, they can all move together.

Combating employee attrition

If your business views such warnings as inconvenient and unnecessary, this may require a change in your company culture. When team members aren’t working the same hours, deadlines can easily be missed if a problem is identified and addressed too late. On the other hand, taking a proactive approach bolsters your team. As Anderson says, “Having a knack for spotting potential issues ahead of time will help you build trust with your team by demonstrating that you are always looking out for their best interests.”

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