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3 Things to Keep in Mind When Working Remotely As a Team

3 Things to Keep in Mind When Working Remotely As a Team

How many so-called online teams are just a bunch of individuals, each of them working individually on his own tasks? In your opinion, which are the three most important things, when successfully working together online?

I come up with the following three things:

  • Rhythm
  • Agreement
  • Transparency

Agree on a common rhythm

Each one of us has his own working style. When being on his own, all of us structure their days in a different manner. As long as nobody depends on the work of a team, it doesn’t really matter when she completes it and with what quality.

Now add dependencies to the equation. I know, we should try to minimize them, but realistically this does not always work out. As soon as somebody depends on the thing another person produces, he is constrained to adapt to this person’s way of working and her personal schedule.

Rhythm helps to align people. Meetings are usually a pain. When they are spontaneous we need to keep them tracked. People have to administer lots of individual dates. Introducing a common work rhythm helps to focus on the work and the results we want to produce and not on coordinating collaboration again and again.


Define clear agreements between individuals

Agreeing on a common work rhythm is only a part of a whole bunch of things to agree on, when starting to collaborate together. Working remotely exacerbates the importance to do so.

A common ground must be found at least on the following topics:


  • What is the common work goal for a defined time period (you can call it a sprint, an iteration or something else)?
  • How do we measure successful delivery of a given set of work results?
  • How do we involve the customer, so we get his valuable input for our team? Who talks to him (and who is he/she)?
  • When do we meet and how?
  • Which tools do we use to collaborate and for what exact purpose?


Be transparent in your collaboration effort

Transparency, in a good sense, helps to have a common understanding on where we stand with our effort to produce something meaningful.

Some of the things we want to be transparent about (in no particular order):


  • What current risks need mitigation?
  • What can the customer realistically expect our team to deliver over a certain time period?
  • Do I need help?
  • Do I face unexpected impediments (distractions, family affairs, side work) holding me back?
  • Do I see technical and other liabilities that were overlooked?



Not addressing these concerns will hinder a well-coordinated remote working effort. Why not sitting (virtually) together with your team before problems arise and try to address at least a part of these problems head on.


What are points you deem useful?

What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you have any objections? Want to discuss them further? Then leave a comment.



Image by PollyDot from Pixabay


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Working Successfully in Virtual Teams

Working Successfully in Virtual Teams

Non-team-players are better at virtual work. Do you agree with this statement? Are virtual workers rather introverts, avoiding contact with other people? If this is true,
Can virtual teams ever be successful? Let us explore different aspects on what it means to work successfully in a virtual team.

A Definition of Virtual Teams
First we need to define the term “virtual team”: the members of a virtual team are separated by time and/or distance. They work on a common goal and communicate using digital platforms.

Due to this definition there are merely some special circumstances of rather technical nature, that distinguish a virtual team from ordinary team: temporal and spatial separation and the means of communication. Members of such a work group still have to act as a team that pursues a common goal.

However, these technical circumstances impose rather extreme challenges on team work.

A Definition of Ordinary Teams
To dig deeper, let us define an ordinary team as to be the pure contrary of a virtual team, but still being a team. Hence, the members of an ordinary teams work colocated and at the same time. They work on a common goal and communicate directly.

Open-plan Workspaces Are Overrated

This definition might be the root cause for creating open-plan offices or group offices. Do you know those, did you work in one? If yes, be honest: didn’t you buy headphones with noise cancelling? If you didn’t, perhaps your desk-neighbour did so? This might indicate that tearing down some walls, can create a new set of walls.

Walsh in his 2018 Paper “Designing Work: Collaboration Versus Concentration in Open Plan Workspaces studies shows, that up to 60% of open plan workers are dissatisfied with sound privacy and feel regularly disturbed by others while trying to focus. Walsh continues and observes, that cubicles, i.e. half-height walls that divide single desks to give some privacy, do not solve the problem: people begin to communicate by e-mail with their colleagues in the same room. Which technically results in working in a virtual team while sitting in the same open plan office.

Many new approaches in office design are still being developed. Walsh’s paper provides a useful overview. The ideal solution on how to colocate people in order to collaborate efficiently and effectively is still to be found.

However, as we see, colocation does not prevent teams from working in a virtual way.

Working on a virtual team most often is equated with working alone at home. However, this must not be true: the definition of a virtual team – namely working separated by time and space – does not require the team members to be sitting in a lonely room. Many people like to be surrounded by other people, even with headphones on, but having the opportunity for some direct human communication during their individual breaks. Even who never sees his teammates easily can organize a workspace together with others – be it in a group office or in some public co-working space.

Which Work For Virtual Teams?

Let us add another aspect to our considerations: the type of work performed by virtual teams.

No doubt, agriculture and industrial production cannot be done virtually. Even tasks which require to exchange physical semi-finished goods are not best suited for virtual work. Virtual teams usually perform knowledge work. Though the outcome of knowledge work may in the end lead to some physical output, like a house or a new vehicle.

To do knowledge work effectively, we have to focus and concentrate on our tasks. This is an aspect which favors virtual teams, because each of us can create a space for himself, where she can focus on the task at hand. Everybody can choose his personal work rhythm. For some people this is early in the morning, others prefer working evenings or nights.
What about Cyberslacking?

Working whenever and wherever you want? Is that not a heavenly setting? Really?
Or does it favour what we call “cyberslacking”, i.e. doing private stuff during working hours.
This phenomenon is not unique to virtual teams. Cyberslacking is also being observed in ordinary teams. And it gives a bad feeling to team leaders and managers.

Do people really dedicate all their time and attention to the task, they are paid for to work on? It is easier in colocated teams to walk around and check whether the computer screens show work-related stuff.

But even if the latter is the case, how can a controlling leader be sure, that the brain of the person is concentrated on her work? She cannot. Virtual work actually makes it even harder for such a manager. Are the team members really working or do they surf the internet or care their little children at home?

Even teammates may nurture bad feelings, when they suspect that a teammate is doing nothing, leaving the entire work’s weight entirely on their own shoulders?

The Importance of Trust

How must one behave in order to avoid this suspicious situations which may destroy chances to success? It is all about trust!

What builds trust between teammates? Ask your friends, family or colleagues and you will be surprised about the wide variety of answers. They range from: ‘In order to trust a teammate I need to know a person personally’ to ‘In order to trust a teammate the person must deliver good work on time’.

Many scientists are studying this topic for years.

In 1999 Sirkka et al did an exploratory study “Communiction and Trust in Global Virtual Teams and found: “The results suggest that global virtual teams may experience a form of “swift” trust, but such trust appears to be very fragile and temporal.”

Choi et al published in 2019 in their paper: “The mechanism of trust affecting collaboration in virtual teams and the moderating roles of culture of autonomy and task complexity“. They collected data from 483 respondents in South Korea to test their hypotheses. They report: “The results find that coordination and cooperation enhance knowledge sharing and that trust is critical in determining all aspects of collaboration. We find that ability, integrity, and goal congruence as well as system performance and system design are significant in forming trust. The results also indicate that virtual teams with strong autonomy have greater trust and collaboration than those with weak autonomy. Virtual teams carrying out complex tasks exhibit higher trust and collaboration than those working on simple tasks.”

These are only two examples of a wide range of research being done. Both show, that no globally valid recipes for successful virtual team work exist.


There are many ingredients to successful teamwork be it virtual or not. However mutual trust is omnipresent in successful teams.

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Trade-Offs in Virtual Teams

Trade-Offs in Virtual Teams

Raise your hand, if you never worked in a virtual team! Well, this article has been written when the world did not even know, what Covid means. However, read on:

Which one is your category?

  1. Decided hand raising – you never worked in a virtual team.
  2. Hesitating? Is my team a virtual team?
  3. No hand raising – you already worked in a virtual team.


Let us first define the term “virtual team”: the members of a virtual team are separated by time or distance. They work on a common goal and communicate using digital platforms.

As Bataresh and Usher State in their Paper, that a report in 2011 from analysts from Gartner inc, projected that by 2015, about 75% of knowledge-based project work will be completed by distributed virtual teams.

There are many more reports and surveys of the kind, i.e. in Harvard Business Review, Ferrazzi  stated in 2014, that in a survey 79% of 1700 knowledge workers reported working always and frequently in dispersed teams.

Some time passed since these statements were made and I am sure, that the numbers are still valid or have even increased.

If you already worked in a virtual team, then you are most probably a “knowledge worker”, hence your main working tool is your knowledge, and your most frequently used touchable tool is your computer which is connected to the internet.

As “social animals” human beings are most effective when working in groups and teams. In the stone age men and women assembled their forces and hunted mammoths in groups. And they collected berries in groups protecting themselves against the forces of the saber-toothed tigers. Communication in these groups has first been non-verbal. Language evolved later and is a result of living and surviving in groups. Thanks to this social habits mankind survived and arrived to the present day.

Long gone mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. Today’s challenges differ in unlimited ways. But social habits still are deeply encoded in human DNA. The fact, that so many groups of people work together without benefiting from non-verbal communication is quite new.

Even though deeply encoded in human DNA, teamwork is prone to frictions and conflicts: Rivalry, self-fulfillment and egoism are equally deeply encoded in the human DNA.

Hence – organizing teams to work effectively together is not easy a task – may be, it has never been a task for one person to fulfill, but rather an emergent pattern in groups of people with a common goal.

When facing the decision whether to work in or to rely on a collocated team or rather a distributed and hence virtual team, people need to ponder the following trade-offs:


  • Personal liberty and self-fulfillment versus no personal contacts
  • Team cohesion versus technical hurdles
  • Frictions through cultural differences versus power through diversity
  • Overall control versus highly motivated and specialized people
  • Less travel expenses versus higher expenses for acceptable communication technology

All these elements are interrelated and might be seen as cause-and-effect pairs rather than trade-offs as visualized here:

The next articles in this series will enter more in detail into these trade-offs and show how these are enforced in virtual teams.



Fact is: Working on virtual teams is not for everybody and leading a virtual team is a big challenge.