GPM First
Chapter 5 of Working at a Distance (978-1-4724-2523-2) by Cassandra J. Smith

Business Applications of the Virtual Team Global Business Model

Chapter 5

Introducing Practical Business Applications Using the Virtual Team Global Business Model

This chapter discusses how practical use of the Virtual Team Global Business Model (see Figure 5.1) is effective for business professionals who are managing remote workers. The practical uses include engaging with virtual teams, managing cultural differences, applying process standards (as previewed in Chapter 1), and managing virtual teams across multiple locations. It can be applied to both companies and higher education establishments (discussed in Chapter 6) that are using virtual teams to complete projects, whether the participants are working at a distance in the organization’s office or in their home offices.

Chronos Consulting, a company focused on significantly improving its clients’ performance in a range of areas, conducted a survey on the projected usage of virtual teams. It contacted 1,764 companies in the US and Canada by telephone, and 83 surveys were completed by their employees: 57 percent of the companies reported that they planned to use virtual teams more in the future, and 72 percent mentioned cost reduction as the primary reason for doing so. 1 [6]

 
Figure 5.1 Virtual Team Global Business Model™

graphics/fig5_1.jpg

Working at a distance can be cost-effective for businesses. The VTML provides practical tools for managing multiple business sites and enables management to be active in virtual teams. If virtual teams are left to their own devices, issues can ensue that are uncontrollable. With more companies using virtual teams, the VTML aims to develop more practical methods for communicating at a distance and a system to help enhance effective collaboration, with management taking a strong role. We will now address the questions of what high-quality collaboration looks like in terms of process standards, and how this relates to the VTML.

High-Quality Collaboration and Process Standards

Process standards are guidelines and specifications that apply to businesses, and in this instance, virtual team collaboration. Process standards can help to close virtual team performance gaps because employees and management understand what is expected of them when collaborating remotely. In high-quality collaboration, VTMs are active and understand the challenges of working at a distance, but realize that commitment to the project can overcome these. This strong commitment results from the perception that management cares, so VTMs understand that the project is a priority, that they are not alone when working at a distance, and that their management are invested in the process—all this establishes mutual trust. Substandard collaboration results when VTMs are left to figure out processes for themselves as they proceed with the project, which can lead to lackadaisical attitudes toward working remotely.

Process standards can also consist of skills that need to be developed in order for high-quality collaboration to take place. For example, the Virtual Team Skills Assessment Forms can establish whether some VTMs do not enjoy working in teams or prefer to work autonomously, in which case a process standard might consist of educating members about what it means to work collaboratively and how respectful dialogue and diverse opinions can be positive in virtual teams. Even VTMs who may not normally enjoy working in teams can be coached to collaborate effectively if clear process standards with a focus on high-quality collaboration are in place.

The VTML and Process Standards

In the Virtual Team Global Business Model, management are the driving force behind developing process standards. Clear communication begins at the top of the employment chain, and flows down to all levels. Management are responsible for defining process standards for the entire project. This is logical, since management can see the whole picture at the beginning of the project. The team leader or project manager is then responsible for defining process standards for the virtual team guide, who in turn is responsible for conveying them to the virtual team members. If management feel that defining the process standards for the entire project will benefit from insight from subject matter experts, their assistance should be enlisted. The point of quality process standards is to ensure that all bases are covered to ensure the integrity of the project, to protect the company’s reputation for delivering high-quality goods and services, and to establish systems to solicit feedback from VTMs to improve the performance of virtual teams.

Management Defining Process Standards

Management are responsible for setting process standards for the entire project, as they define the goals, objectives, and tasks for the project to be accomplished by their virtual teams. From management’s point of view, process standards range from the integrity of the design to communication efforts. As stated above, high-quality process standards include three important elements: the integrity of the project, the company’s reputation for delivering high-quality goods and services, and systems for gathering feedback from all those involved.

The integrity of the project

Process standards that boost the integrity of the project demonstrate management’s active involvement. Management must be honest and sincere about the intent of the project so that employees can in turn be honest and care about the design and each element they contribute. Management should compose focused goals, objectives, and tasks that are not complicated in nature and that highlight the value of the project to the company. Most employees understand that their jobs are more secure when they adhere to policies, but polices and process standards should be based on integrity and values.

The company’s reputation for high-quality goods and services

If a company has loyal customers and a reputation for delivering high-quality goods and services, it will be easier for it to attract new customers. Word of mouth, the internet, and customer satisfaction are catalysts that help to secure this reputation. However, if VTMs are unaware of process standards while they are working and creating their deliverables for projects, the company’s reputation will be in jeopardy. For example, a cumbersome ordering process that intimidates customers visiting a website could result from a worker not understanding the process standards for development. If management never conveyed process standards regarding integrity of design or thought that those process standards had been conveyed despite a lack of clear documentation, customers will avoid visiting the site because of ordering problems. Process standards relating to the quality of goods and services must be a prime consideration when management utilize virtual teams to complete projects.

Feedback from employees

As stated above, there needs to be documentary evidence from each employee, whether working at a distance or face-to-face, to confirm that they understand the required process standards. Speaking with team leaders or project managers to verify that process standards have been conveyed, getting employees to sign paperwork setting out the process standards, and providing them with opportunities to ask questions if they are unsure about process standards are ways to ensure they have been communicated properly. Encouraging employees to discuss their concerns with management at any point in the production process is a value-added service for management and employees working at a distance. Often managers are busy and do not allocate sufficient time to dealing with their remote workers, projects, and participating in Q&A sessions. This is a huge mistake on management’s part. If virtual team projects are to be successful, process standards must be clearly defined and adhered to, and employees need reassurance that management cares about the project.

How Can Process Standards be Set Up to Meet these Three Criteria?

Continuing our description of the O-Span Youth e-commerce project, here are some examples of process standards that could be defined by management for each department working on distance projects.

Information technology Virtual teams:

  • Refer to the IT testing plan for database evaluation.
  • Formal statements of IT specifications must be submitted.
  • Adhere to the integrity of the design at stated in O-Span Youth’s policies and procedures.
  • Use Quality Assurance tools for testing.
  • Submit project/employee evaluations at the end of the project.
  • If in doubt about any process standard or expectation in this category, contact your supervisor.

Marketing Virtual Teams:

  • Present marketing material with credibility (see O-Span Youth’s marketing Ethics and policies forms).
  • Adhere to the marketing principles established by O-Span Youth’s policies and procedures.
  • Approval of marketing materials must be granted by your supervisor.
  • Submit project/employee evaluations at the end of the project.
  • If in doubt about any process standard or expectation in this category, contact your supervisor.

 
Business E-partnerships Virtual Teams:

  • You must explain the non-competition clause and secure the appropriate signatures from the e-partners.
  • Distributors of O-Span Youth’s products globally must follow contractual guidelines.
  • Submit project/employee evaluations at end of the project.
  • If in doubt about any process standard or expectation in this category, contact your supervisor.

 
Customer Service Virtual Teams:

  • Accuracy in customers’ orders must be the top priority.
  • Response time to customers must not exceed O-Span Youth’s 24 hours policy.
  • Customers’ issues must be resolved respectfully and by being accommodating, within reason.
  • Submit project/employee evaluations at end of the project.
  • If in doubt about any process standard or expectation in this category, contact your supervisor.

Management will benefit from appointing individuals to ensure that the process standards are being met and that data is collected as specified by some of these standards. If the team leader or project manager is not fully cognizant with some of the areas, it is a good idea for management to allocate other employees in leadership positions to take on the roles, or alternatively use the company’s quality control or inventory control department to manage all its process standards. Each team or department working at a distance must have process standards that include evaluations, as in the example above to garner employee feedback (evaluations will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 6). Project and employee evaluations must be part of each process standard, as must the direction to contact the supervisor if there is any doubt about process standards.

Team Leaders or Project Managers Defining Process standards

Team leaders or project managers are responsible for working with the virtual team guide(s) and virtual team members to ensure that deliverable targets are being met and that they are of sufficient quality to submit to management. Team leaders or project managers are the bridge between top-level management and employees working on virtual projects. They will try to resolve any conflicts and locate resources or subject matter experts, and also assist the VTGs in supporting the VTMs. Conveying process standards from the team leader or project manager to the VTG aids in the development process, and ranges from ensuring accountability to setting check-points.

Returning to the O-Span Youth e-commerce project, here are some examples of process standards for the VTG that could be defined by the team leader or project manager:

  • Ensure that Virtual Team Progress Forms are provided for each employee.
  • Confirm that conflict management strategies are in place.
  • Provide regular meetings, webinars, and Q&A sessions for the VTMs.
  • Keep the e-room updated with the latest Standard Operating procedures.

 

Team leaders or project managers will ensure that deliverables are of the required quality before they are presented to upper management. This depends on their VTGs and VTMs, so process standards to support communication among the VTGs and VTMs are vital. Team leaders or project managers bear the ultimate responsibility for accomplishing the stated objectives and ensuring that deliverable targets are met. If their VTGs or VTMs are having issues and the distance project is suffering as a result, team leaders or project managers are responsible for resolving the problems; the process standards set by management mean they bear the bulk of the responsibility for any shortfalls or project complications.

Virtual Team Guides Defining Process Standards

In the VTML, virtual team guides are responsible for working directly with the virtual team members, serving as the go-to individual for help and project concerns. VTGs have to devise VTM process standards that allow them to manage their virtual teams effectively to meet their own process standards. The VTG’s process standards for VTMs may be general or specific depending on the needs of the virtual teams, and may range from communication guidelines to helping to create a sense of security rather than isolation for team members working remotely.

Returning again to the O-Span Youth project, here are some examples of process standards that could be defined by the VTG:

  • Follow O-Span’s work Quality Design for Project Development.
  • Be open to providing and receiving respectful feedback.
  • Be consistent in your responses to coworkers.
  • Refer to the Conflict Management Protocol defined by the VTG.
  • Refer to the Communication E-flow Document for guidance.
  • Adhere to the Proxy Protocol if you will be unavailable on a work day.
  • Ask for help at any stage of development if you need it, particularly if the issues may affect deliverables due dates.

The VTG serves as a facilitator, and facilitation regarding process standards includes issuing updates and setting communication check-points throughout the project development process. Holding regular meetings and constantly ensuring that employees have the latest versions of files and information can make significant differences to the outcome of a project. VTGs must be active, not only by holding meetings and issuing updates, but helping to complete deliverables if team members are slacking or simply need assistance. The VTG has a huge task that should driven by a focus on the outcome of deliverables. The role can be so demanding that it is advisable to appoint more than one VTG when managing multiple sites.

Multiple Virtual Team Management

Administering virtual teams across multiple locations is no easy feat for management, requiring intensive communication with other managers and employees to oversee the process. The VTML presents a structure and timelines for management to follow to enhance involvement with their virtual teams in different locations during the various phases of the project. Often in virtual teams project, managers tend not to be as involved. Management is defined as overseeing, organizing, leading, guiding, administering, and demonstrating. For remote projects, this means avoiding technology-driven viewpoints, and adopting people-driven approaches to the use of technology.

Managers may be too preoccupied with day-to-day operations to prioritize their virtual teams. They may not check in regularly with their teams, and may fail to participate for various reasons. Managers may not understand how to fulfill their role effectively when working at a distance. They may assume that their remote workers understand how to work in virtual teams when this isn’t the case. They may not appreciate the value of remote workers. Managing multiple site locations demands organization and leadership. The VTML is a guide that management can apply to develop viable remote work methods across multiple site locations.

The VTML and Multiple Site Management

Management

The first step in the VTML is for management to define the goals, objectives, and tasks. A team of managers in different locations can be involved in this process. The CEO or manager overseeing this step can bring all the managers together in a synchronous or face-to-face meeting to clarify the importance of the remote project. Establishing rapport and an approach for the virtual team project will help to connect everyone in upper management who will ultimately lead this project at the different sites.

Communication Phase 1

Managing multiple sites calls for several communication phases. Since the managers as a group will already be familiar with the goals, objectives, and tasks because they were responsible for defining them, the Communication Phase 1 meeting should include the team leaders or project managers who will be involved, and explain the parameters for the project to them. The managers should express their commitment to coaching and monitoring the virtual teams and adopting an active role. They will ensure that all employees are trained to use the software required, which entails allocating a budget for this. A skills assessment should be conducted for all employees working remotely, whether home-based or in the company’s offices. All of this should not just be lipservice. These are vital steps in managing multiple sites.

For global teams, management must ensure that they provide the proper software and pay attention to cultural needs. It is extremely important for management to be culturally sensitive. Communication Phase 1 should include all the leaders in all the locations where the virtual teams will be located. There are a variety of issues that often afflict managing virtual teams across dispersed locations, and the VTML can help to ameliorate many of them.

Cultural Concerns

Cultural concerns are a major issue that can reflect the differences rather than the camaraderie among team members. They can include the ways members communicate, such as being open versus reticent, skill sets, such as being stronger in technology than another group, and ways of resolving conflict, such as being trustful, confrontational, or remaining silent. Some members may alienate those from other cultures to the point where the other VTMs feel that they are being too assertive and demanding on the project. This can impact management significantly, causing serious issues to arise if not addressed. Adults generally do not respond well to demands, especially demands from peers. Active management will not allow this to happen, and cultural groups working at a distance will not feel marginalized if management has addressed cultural issues from the start of the project. If branches of the business are located throughout the world, a wise manager will ensure that management teams and VTMs from these areas are included in the virtual team project.

Using the Virtual Team Skills Assessment to establish the daily cultural activities of each group involved may prove helpful. Attitudes to these activities should be inclusive wherever possible, but establishing a conflict management system and check-points to allow concerns to be aired can help in managing cultural differences. The main point is that it is not appropriate to seek to change a foreign culture: that would be foolish, and could be disastrous. A more prudent approach is to present different ideas and perspectives that may lead individuals to decide whether an approach, idea, or resolution will work.

Time zones

Time zones can be problematic when managing and participating in geographically dispersed virtual teams. Some members may be logging off for the day while others are logging on. Technology must be provided that accommodates the various virtual teams, such as instant chat programs allowing for quick responses between members in different time zones. Another consideration about working across time zones is that management should take them into account when forming the teams. Demanding designs or deliverables may progress more efficiently if they are allocated to members collaborating within the same or closely related time zones. Diversity can still be represented within the teams, but management must be realistic and have a clear idea of which employees in different locations will be able to complete the project successfully.

Team leaders or project managers

In multiple site management, the team leaders or project managers converting tasks into deliverables may also be geographically dispersed. This is another area where it is important to take time zones into account, because many of these activities can be undertaken autonomously before collaborating with other team leaders or project managers. For example, a leader in a site in Latin America could convert tasks to deliverables that his or her team will complete for the iT department, whereas a leader in a site in north America could convert tasks to deliverables for his or her marketing department. The groups involved can discuss the deliverables collaboratively and help one another as needed. Managing multiple sites requires connectedness, whereby each site is fully aware of what other sites are working on.

Communication Phase 2

When interacting with multiple sites, the same applies to Communication Phase 2. This synchronous meeting may be large, because it needs to include team leaders or project managers, VTGs, and VTMs from all the different sites involved. The review of deliverables should be the main focus during this meeting. To make the meeting more manageable, Communication Phase 2 could be broken down into a series of meeting to introduce the deliverables to the various teams. Following the initial meeting or meetings, team leaders or project managers can choose to hold several further meetings involving VTMs, incorporating Q&A sessions and ensuring more effective management of the teams from the start.

VTGs

VTGs working across multiple sites can meet with other VTGs in a similar way to management. This is pertinent to the way the deliverables will flow and how interrelated they are to one another. VTGs have to stay in contact and communicate frequently with the other VTGs so that all the teams are kept up to date on deliverable progress, issues, contingencies, and updates. The VTGs need to keep the team leaders or project managers informed about the status of deliverables. Most importantly, the VTGs are responsible for the daily operations of the virtual teams. They need to motivate, resolve conflicts, and help with deliverables, ensuring that they continue to progress.

Remote check-ins are an excellent way for VTGs to provide feedback to VTMs across multiple site locations. Holding several synchronous meeting can reaffirm that the project is important, is proceeding satisfactorily, and that concerns will be addressed. Remote check-ins should not only consist of VTGs speaking and conducting reviews; the active participation of VTMs should be a priority, and every effort should be made to reassure them that their needs are being recognized.

VTMs

Out of all the groups involved, virtual team members may experience more difficulties than any other when working across multiple locations for reasons touched upon earlier, such as problems ensuring that everyone is participating, contact with some of their coworkers leading to misunderstandings, different understandings of expectations, issues with accepting responsibility for deliverables, avoiding the duplication of deliverables, and garnering feedback. VTMs should check in with their counterparts three or more times a day as they work to complete deliverables across multiple sites. Some issues that occur during distance work can be alleviated by a strong management presence as described by the VTML.

Communication Phase 3

The final phase of the project and the VTML before project submission consists of management meeting with all the groups to review the deliverables. When multiple sits are involved, Communication Phase 3 may consist of several meetings and testing stages to ensure that project and process standards have been met. Management can meet with other managers and leaders to assess the project, then eventually close out the deliverables, if accepted, then close out the entire project as finally completed, at which point the ultimate goal is achieved: project submission.

Managing Virtual Teams with Technology

Managing virtual teams requires consistency, whether the teams include workers located in a company office or in another country. Management must be active and allocate time for virtual teamwork as they would any other task that makes their company unique and outstanding. The VTML encourages management to be present and to help build synergy within virtual teams. Virtual team members move along in harmony when management manages virtual teams effectively.

People-driven, Not Technology-driven

As noted earlier, the VTML is people-driven, not technology-driven. The wide range of Web-based technologies and portable computing devices such as iPads, laptops, cellular phones and other facilities that enable communication that are available nowadays make it much easier for VTMs to work together. However, these technologies must not supplant the human element of contacting VTMs voice-to-voice when necessary.

Another key point regarding managing virtual teams is that technical training is important—as explained in the “Skills Assessment” section in Chapter 3. If employees don’t have up-to-date software knowledge, communicating and working on deliverables can be challenging. Needless to say, all employees should be trained to use the company’s software to interact with others in their teams, but other tools such as Skype that allow for face time should also be part of the training. It is vital to provide adequate communication tools to enable VTMs to contact and work collaboratively with each other, but it is also a good idea to require VTMs to adhere to certain online office hours when they are available to other VTMs. A regular slot for a video chat or instant messaging chat once a week allows for interpersonal connections that supplement the other check-in points and communication phases included in the VTML.

Chapter 5: Review

Working across multiple geographically dispersed site locations can be taxing, not least for management, who have to be present in all the virtual teams involved. Establishing well thought out systems to achieve this can make the difference between a high-quality and a substandard virtual team project. Process standards are guidelines and specifications governing the business and the integrity of the projects. High-quality collaboration ensures that members are active because they understand the expectations from the start of the project.

Management define process standards for the project as a whole, then team leaders or project managers define process standards for the VTGs, and the VTGs then define process standards for VTMs. Process standards help to clarify VTMs’ responsibilities and provide opportunities for them to give feedback about their challenges when working at a distance on specific deliverables. Process standards include forms, protocols, and communication strategies for all remote workers, solidifying expectations when working at a distance.

Multiple location management involves managers communicating with and being active in all their virtual teams. Being aware of cultural issues, time zones, and ways to connect remote workers using technology helps to ensure that communication among all participants is consistent and none fall by the wayside. Effective multiple location management enables employees and employers to share content and ideas, establish relationships, and work cohesively at a distance.

The Top Eight Benefits of Virtual/Mobile Workforces Across Industries in North America

  1. Productivity improvement—Virtual/mobile workers can save time by working from home or other convenient locations, becoming more productive while taking reduced sick time.

  2. Lower labor costs—Because salaries vary by geography, employers using virtual workforces can hire workers in less costly labor markets, saving money.

  3. Reduced expenses—The cost of hiring virtual employees is much lower than dedicated office space. In addition, eliminating rent, taxes, and utility expenses can result in significant savings.

  4. Reduced travel expenses—Improved virtual meeting technology and tools (audio/video/web conferencing, Skype, and so on) have facilitated the use of virtual conferences, which has reduced travel expenses considerably for companies.

  5. Wider talent pool—Employers with virtual workforces are not limited to employees in their local area, enabling them to hire highly qualified workers from around the world.

  6. Happier employees—Virtual employees are typically more amenable to working more often, which can help accommodate workload fluctuations. Having employees work virtually on projects with increased global risk can create a better work/life balance.

  7. Reduced employee turnover—Employees who are more content are likely to stay with a company for a longer period of time. Because labor costs make up a large portion of the operating budget for many organizations, reducing turnover can lower operational expenses.

  8. Hiring employees with flexible circumstances and/or disabilities—Employees with disabilities, unique situations, or work-oriented limitations due to special circumstances (maternity/paternity/eldercare leave) can be utilized as virtual workers. This can be of mutual benefit for companies, which can get access to a valuable pool of workers that would otherwise be difficult or perhaps impossible to reach.

Source: Chronos Consulting (2011), The State of Virtual Team Utilization in the 21st century, www.chronosconsulting.org/dl/Virtual-Teams-utilizationresearch-Survey-Sep-1-2011.pdf (accessed december 17, 2013).

Submit your own content for publication

Submit content