10 Signs Your Organization Is Ready for Virtual Teams

By Tara Powers

Virtual teams aren’t a good fit for all organizations. Your company may be willing, but not ready — or perhaps it’s the other way around. You may not have the technology to support virtual team adoption. Or your organization has the technology in place and employees are asking for it, but your co-located executive team is hesitant to agree to it.

The bottom line is that the decision to have virtual teams must be strategic, not tactical. It can’t be driven by just one department, like the facilities department interested in space saving, IT interested in cost savings, or HR interested in better employee recruitment and retention. It must be intentional and thoughtful, endorsed from the top.

Whatever the situation, understand all the factors involved to see if your organization is ready to support having virtual teams. When you have all the pieces in place, virtual teams can be one of the greatest assets to your company.

Having Champions on the Executive Team

Deploying virtual teams throughout an organization can’t be an ad hoc decision. It must have full executive support, and it must be supported with documented policies and practices so that each virtual team in each department in each location follows the same guidelines and receives the same level of support. If you’ve sold the benefits of virtual teams to your business leaders and they’re positive and enthusiastic about launching virtual teams, you’ve secured support from the most integral group of champions that will help to ensure your teams get what they need to be set up for success.

Even a few leaders not fully supporting the use of virtual teams in their organizations can derail the launch of other successful virtual teams. The lack of support or the disregard of your company policy on remote work, whether it’s discrete or overt, can grow like a cancer in an organization and call into question the effectiveness of virtual teams.

Having Empowered Leaders

If you already have leaders who excel at managing their co-located team and are poised for a new adventure and team members are excited about the possibility to work remotely, you have a good chance of building a highly functional, high-performing virtual team. Virtual teams need managers who are both enthusiastic supporters and have the skills to effectively manage virtual teams. Be sure to get them the resources and training they need to hit the ground running and definitely have them read this book to put together their virtual team leadership strategy.

Leveraging a Supportive Culture

If you work at a company where it’s not necessary for every decision to be run up the organizational hierarchy to get upper management’s blessing and you encourage collaborative decision-making and trust employees to get the job done, then you most likely have the right culture to make virtual teams work. Company cultures where leveraging technology and providing flexibility are the norm, where people are rewarded on the quality of their work rather than the amount of time spent, where a healthy balance between work and home life is encouraged, are ready for virtual teams.

Willing to Invest in Technology

Moving teams to a virtual environment without providing the appropriate technology tools to ensure their collaboration and connectivity is like hiring a contractor for a kitchen renovation, but forbidding her to use power tools. Virtual teams don’t thrive on conference calls alone. They need videoconferencing, shared calendars, collaboration tools, and project management tools to do their jobs. Virtual teams thrive in companies that enthusiastically support their virtual teams’ technology needs. If you’re ready to take the leap and make the investment, you’re a good candidate for virtual teams.

Addressing Issues Early

In a virtual team environment, communication and engagement are critical to success. The isolation of working remotely creates its own literal separation, so figurative separation and disengagement can’t be tolerated.

If you’re in an organization that is quick to notice communication breakdowns or disengagement on a team and address it quickly, you’ll be able to overcome two of the greatest challenges that virtual teams face.

Being Prepared for the Logistical Set Up

Understanding that you’ll need a comprehensive logistics plan to ensure your virtual team success is a first step in the right direction to move toward offering remote work options. The plan needs to include space planning and space scheduling if you have a hoteling option or space-sharing option, technology support for when hardware or software breaks down or needs updating, and HR support for benefits, payroll, and training. Other issues need to be included in the logistics plan, such as how to keep employees engaged with the larger organization and how to track expenses around travel, mobile phones, landlines, and office supplies.

Keeping the Team Focused

Companies often have to make decisions around shifting priorities when crises erupt. The all-hands-on-deck mentality is what can drive innovation and allow a company to resolve challenges efficiently. But that kind of urgent response is usually short term and designed to respond to a critical need. Companies that operate in fire-fighting mode all day everyday may not do well in a virtual environment. Conversely, if you work in an organization where leadership excels at keeping their team focused on top priorities by setting clear expectations, goals, and roles and is comfortable holding team members accountable, then the decision to deploy virtual teams will be strategic, thoughtful, and comprehensive.

Using an Onboarding Process

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The old adage is never truer than with onboarding a new employee. Consider that nearly 70 percent of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding. Those early days with a company are when employers need to win the hearts and minds of new employees. Onboarding is a critical process, both in a traditional office environment and on virtual teams. If your company and your leaders are prepared to provide a robust and comprehensive onboarding process to your virtual team members, then you are ready for virtual teams.

Training Virtual Team Leaders

Some of the top business schools in the country still teach a management philosophy that prioritizes heavy supervision, top-down, carrot-and-stick, competitive, out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality, so it’s not surprising that many traditional managers struggle with supervising virtual teams. Leaders of virtual teams need the requisite skills to lead a distributed workforce. These skills include being an excellent communicator, having a high degree of emotional intelligence, and being an expert collaborator. Virtual team leaders also need to establish clear roles and expectations — and then get out of the way.

They must trust their team and instill that culture of trust throughout the team. It’s important that the leader is intuitive, flexible, comfortable with hands-off management, and knowledgeable on the technology that connects the team. If your organization’s leadership training has a focus on developing these key qualities in leaders, then your organization is preparing management to lead effectively in a virtual world.

Having a Clear Idea of Roles and Responsibilities

Recent research has shown that collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood. Without this clarity, team members waste energy negotiating roles or protecting turf, rather than focusing on the task. This role clarity, in fact, has been shown as more important to collaboration than having a clearly defined approach for achieving goals. And because collaboration is so critical to virtual teams, it follows that role clarity is essential. If you’re clear on what roles and responsibilities each virtual team member will have and how work will flow through the team, then you’re ready to launch virtual teams in your organization.