The New Virtual Teams – Collaborative Tools in the Global Era

Employees are spread all over the world and have different languages, cultures, and habits. New tools make it possible to transform these challenges into competitive advantages and take advantage of virtual teams.

Ricardo, 30 years old, computer engineer: has a contract with an American multinational online game development company and has never known any other work reality than the virtual one. He is the only Portuguese on the team, and the computer is his only workplace, in Lisbon or in the Czech Republic, the city where he decided to live for a while. Maria, 42 years old, started to manage all her employees remotely, and what she lost in face-to-face work, she gained in task efficiency.

 Job positions have changed, and therefore it is necessary to implement new tools that lead employees, from a distance, to achieve the expected results. The company entrusted Maria to share this process with their employees in Portugal.

Globalization is today an authentic octopus in the job market being impossible to escape the impact of the global era on the new way of working. The exception of teleworking in times of a pandemic has become the rule. Covid-19 has accelerated the development of virtual teams, that is for sure, but even already before March 2020, the World Economic Forum reported relevant statistics. In the United States, 7 % of employees already had the option to work from home before the pandemic. And in 2017, 21 % of Germans and 18 % of Swedes were already working away from the office a few days a month.

The virus has accelerated the trend of virtual teams and imposed flexibility in the workplace. There is no way to continue leading teams in the 'business as usual' mode when 47 % of employees declared their intention to leave their jobs if they did not offer a hybrid model in the post-pandemic period. 

Farewell to face-to-face is a challenge but opens doors to extraordinary opportunities.

Main Challenges of Virtual Teams

Social Distance

The big difference between Virtual teams and teams that share the same space is physical distance and, consequently, the emotional connection between the elements of the same team. We all know how complex it is to align strategies with people of different nationalities, cultures, and personalities in the same office.

The demand increases when contacts do not always happen in real-time, and the interactive experiences are more infrequent. After all, global teams live separated by latitudes, and sometimes finding a time zone for everyone is like finding a needle in a haystack.

In Washington, 9.30 a.m. can be an excellent time for a meeting, but the Tokyo employee will be required to be operational by 10.30 p.m. local time. On the other hand, geographical and cultural distance can also deteriorate communication and provide the ideal environment for misunderstandings, that in a team pay dearly in productivity and are frequent when working globally. 

An American employee, for example, sees direct eye contact as an indicator of trust. However, other employees with different cultures will perceive the posture as rude. 

The result is that employees need to work and be productive, competitive and efficient in this Babel scenario.

Challenges for smart leaders of virtual teams

Tsedal Neeley is a professor at the Harvard Business School in the United States of America. The researcher understands that the first great challenge of a global leading team is to seek to eliminate the distance that separates the elements.

Tsedal identifies that distance also accentuates the Structure factor and catches the attention of smart leaders: numbers matter.

If a multinational creates a global work team with 5 elements in Switzerland, 3 in Germany and 1 in Spain, the Spanish employee may feel not only that he is led 'by Switzerland' but also that he is 'alone'.

It is necessary to maintain the trust and connection of global teams in a digital environment, reinforces the author of the book Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere.

And that's what collaborative tools exist for. The technology that separates us also brings us closer. It depends on the way it is used and the degree of connections it will allow to generate.

It is vital to guarantee an extraordinary “Employee Experience“, especially in Virtual Teams, as it is increasingly a competitive factor between markets and companies, in attracting talent in this global world.

Collaborative tools to succeed anywhere in the world

There is no one-size-fits-all tool. Collaborative solutions vary according to objectives, tasks, the nature of teams, and creativity, of course.

Before choosing the best fit, the question from Harvard professor Tsedal Neeley remains: should communication preferably be instantaneous?

It depends. “Instant technologies are useful when leaders feel the need to persuade others to adopt their point of view.

But if they just want to share information, then non-immediate methods like email are simpler, more efficient and less disruptive to people's lives.

Leaders also need to take into account the interpersonal dynamics of teams”, argues Tsedal Neeley, in the Harvard Business Review, in the article on global teams that work.

There is collaborative life beyond email

In the pre-Covid era, many companies relied on email as their first communication solution with their geographically dispersed employees. But the constant volume of incoming notifications by the minute and the list of unread messages quickly went from the hundreds to the thousands.

It remains an option, but email has a problem. Several. It is uni-directional, and since it is asynchronous, it makes brainstorming and aligning decisions difficult.

In remote teams, organizations need to foster communication from a perspective of relationship and connection.

And in the challenge of the new way of working, there is a more attractive world of possibilities for:

  • optimize virtual communication skills;
  • motivate colleagues dispersed around the world, more effectively;
  • use the geographic map as a competitive advantage.

HRM Employee Portal: the best HR software has arrived

The tool is a product of the present with advantages for the future.

Simple, intuitive and in self-service mode, the Employee Portal reduces the effort with administrative and repetitive work of Human Resources, while protecting personal data in HR.

  • The Employee Portal simplifies employee onboarding processes: it allows, for example, employees to autonomously register the necessary documentation and fill in the forms with their personal data;
  • Reduces administrative effort: the employees themselves perform tasks such as viewing or updating personal data, vacations or absences;
  • Automatically manages vacations/absences;
  • The employee has access to all information about the monthly variables that influence the monthly salary process;
  • It allows the management and performance evaluation of employees: it is possible to define the objectives and competences for each type of function and monitor their progress.

In short, the Employee Portal was created to free up time for the HR team, focusing on innovation and highlighting what each one must do to contribute to the company's success, while being designed to protect personal data in HR.

Spike: Email in the Global Age

For those who don't do without email, Spike is an easy-to-use email application that stands out for its organization and real-time communication. It seeks to increase the productivity of the team, organizing emails in a similar way to a chat, making conversations and finding the information we are looking for easier.

Thanks to group chat and other integrated features, such as file sharing and task management, Spike was born to help teams relate 'in a more human way'.

It is an email, but as easy as a chat.

According to the brand, it is already used by 150 000 teams globally.

Trello: A new way to work in a virtual team

For some reason, it is adopted by 1 million teams in the world.

Most people highlight the simplicity and ease with which, in minutes, they learn to use the app. It works like a whiteboard with yellow stickers, which correspond to tasks and projects that can be organized into columns and moved easily, depending on the workflow.

Specific employees can be identified for project follow-up.

It has the advantage of being useful to teams of 3 or 3 000 employees.

Trello allows the team to manage deadlines, provide and receive feedback, and sign tasks.

Slack: communication via chat

Slack is a chat communication tool that lets you communicate with colleagues or entire teams in real-time. It is one of the most popular collaboration tools all over the world.

It stands out for its friendly, intuitive interface and for the fact that it can be used easily on a computer or mobile phone.

Slack supports Google Drive, Dropbox and Box, making it easy for the team to drag and share documents.

'The key to productivity (in Slack) is in the organized spaces, called channels: a different one for every aspect of your work.

Camo : Video Calls – Quality Matters

Once again, simplicity at the service of productivity. Just download the Camo application to your mobile phone, Mac or PC, to start making video calls with HD images, for team employees. 

Relying on the computer's webcam results in poor quality images that disrupt team conference calls. 

The technology of this app now allows you to use your phone as a camera and supports Skype, Zoom, and Google Meet. 

The app, distinguished with the Queen's Award for Enterprise, has more than 10 million users.

MeetinVR: better than in real life?

To produce virtual work meetings even more productive than those taking place in the office.

To optimize teamwork and collaboration, this tool stands out for its intuitive interaction.

It takes meetings to a higher level by allowing the employee to generate their avatar and place their image in a 3D space, replicating the meeting room in a virtual environment.

The MeetinVR solution makes them 'feel closer, promotes team cohesion and engagement'.

It can be used in workshops, brainstorming sessions, meetings and even during coffee breaks. In any of these spaces, the different layouts promise to stimulate their visitor's creativity.

Miro: Resources for remote work

Among the users are companies such as Deloitte and Cisco. The idea of this collaborative tool is 'to offer everything it takes to do a better job' as a team, at a distance.

Through whiteboards, Canva, Messenger, video conferences, and templates for plans and strategies, Miro helps create a collaborative space for teams that care about achieving goals.

It has 30 million users and a free trial version.

Communication: the secret of collaboration

Companies operating on a global level can be one step ahead.

Global virtual teams do not have geographic limitations in recruiting and can integrate the best specialists in the market at a global level, thus relying on local knowledge of the markets that are positioned in the first line.

The benefits of an international team to which members bring different work experiences, perspectives and challenges are competitive advantages.

And there is no shortage of studies showing that remote or virtual collaboration can also promote employee productivity.

It is essential to ensure cooperation, strengthen the team as an entity and remember that they share a common purpose.

Technology is on the side of collaboration, and the greater the globalization, the greater and more sophisticated will become the collaborative tools to resolve conflicts, create connections, cohesion.

Still, we can never be 100% dependent on technology.

Only by combining technology innovation with communication skills will it be possible to ensure that global virtual teams move towards greater productivity and efficiency.

by Ricardo Barros – Chief Customer Success Officer @Uniksystem

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