Human Resource policies have a critical impact on virtual team success. They need to support diverse, geographically dispersed teams by integrating and aligning them to recognize, include and reward the people who lead and work in virtual environments. Here are a few ideas to think about when preparing to shift your organizational culture to support virtual teams:
Secure Systems Support
When a virtual team is formed, you, as a virtual leader, and HR (along with IT) need to partner to consider the technology teams will need to be successful. Options must be assessed, justified, approved by HR, and made available to all virtual team members. Coordinate with Human Resources to ensure training on how and when to use these communication technologies is provided to every team member. One of the most important things you can do for your virtual teams is to ensure that they have the technical support they need for working remotely.
Never forget that IT should be supporting the business – not the other way around
HR policies should dictate that every team member has equal and immediate access to systems, technologies, training, and support. As the leader of geographically dispersed teams, you need to partner with HR and IT to make sure formal standards are set for technology, ensuring everyone has the same access to hardware and software applications, as well as secure connectivity. If there are tools and technologies that your teams need to be successful, but HR policy doesn’t support what you need, inquire into the business justification for the omission. Build your business case and/or identify alternatives. Do the research to find out how to propose amendments to HR policies and initiate meetings to discuss how to get your teams what they need.
Once you have established what you need and have developed the formal standards and budgets necessary, make sure you negotiate the full support of your Information Systems Group. It is essential that they are fully prepared and equipped to support your teams as they work across boundaries and borders.
It is critical to make sure that diverse team members do not feel as if they are losing opportunities because they work in a virtual environment. You can demonstrate your support by working with HR to ensure that policies are inclusive and GVT members are provided comparable career opportunities and assignments to traditional employees.
Partner with your HR Specialist to ensure that promotion and career development policies are applied equally to people who work in virtual settings to help reinforce the idea that working globally is a positive career option. People who work virtually occasionally have fears (often grounded in reality) that they will be passed over for new opportunities because they are not physically present in the headquarters location or home office. As a leader, you not only need to reassure your geographically dispersed teams that this is not the case but also to demonstrate that they actually do have equal career development opportunities to those who work on traditional teams – protect against the mentality that those who are not onsite are “out of sight, out of mind”.
Traditionally, rewards and recognition favor individual and functional contributions. Although this is often a valid way to facilitate recognition, it is not necessarily effective in virtual environments. Because GVTs operate primarily in cross-functional (sometimes cross-organizational) environments, accommodations need to be made in regard to how people are recognized and rewarded. As a leader driving results on virtual teams, make sure performance objectives are developed to focus on working successfully across boundaries and borders, as well as information sharing that will support and enable global teamwork.
In a traditional corporate environment, it is fairly simple to reward people for both effort and results. In virtual environments, performance measures (and supporting policies) need to be adapted to focus more on results – effort is more difficult to discern from afar. A reward system that is based more on results than effort is likely to be a significant transition in most instances, but it is necessary in order to adequately reward performance on virtual teams.
As a leader operating in geographically dispersed terrain, you can effectively use both formal and informal recognition by facilitating HR policies that promote “spot awards”, bonuses or other methods that reinforce the idea that working virtually is valued by the organization. Get approval to set up a webpage on the corporate intranet that posts best practices, customer wins, and other virtual team successes so that teams are publicly recognized and celebrated across the organization. When you have the opportunity to speak, present, or have discussions with management or other leaders, use examples from your virtual team successes – it will get back to them.
Don’t forget, people from different cultures value rewards very differently. While in some cultures individual reward is expected and appreciated, in many other cultures a more collectivist perspective is inherent. Team members from collectivist cultures perceive the individual as secondary to the larger group’s welfare and recognize that individual interest is best served by being a member of a successful, healthy, and comfortable group. Individual success is defined by group success. As you incorporate a reward structure into policies for the GVT, ensure you are recognizing the diversity in your teams.
At the end of the day, people policies have the power to drive the perception of the value of working on virtual teams. If your company has not taken the time or made the effort to develop the systems, policies and procedures to ensure virtual team success, the perceived (lack of) value of working on such a team becomes evident very quickly. However, when preparing to establish virtual teams, you as a leader, have the capacity to drive adequate systems support, career development opportunities, and reward and recognition through relevant Human Resource policies that demonstrate the value that the organization places on virtual teams.
Do your people policies help or hinder your virtual teams?
Please engage in the discussion and let us know how your HR policies support virtual teams. Always feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check back soon for the next installment of Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders, when we will discuss how training, education, and support affect virtual teams.