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Quick Tips

Establish communication ground rules for working across time and distance.
  • Ask team members to consider ground rules for listening and speaking, participation, mutual openness, and respect.
  • Agree on expected response times when replying to messages and calls.
  • Determine the best methods for sharing information via technology.
  • Establish protocol for relaying urgent requests, particularly when working in different time zones.
Involve each person in virtual meetings.
  • Prompt people to participate more often than you would if everyone was physically in the room.
  • Ask for ideas, opinions, or suggestions from people who usually are more quiet or reserved.
  • If someone is dominating the discussion or interrupting, suggest people take turns sharing.
  • Encourage people to contribute by giving them time to share verbally or to send in messages using web conferencing tools.
Compensate for missing nonverbal cues.
  • Check for understanding often by asking for a verbal response, as silence can be misinterpreted in many ways (agreement, disagreement, confusion, disinterest).
  • Listen and respond with empathy by capturing the facts and the feelings behind what someone is saying, particularly when the other person's tone can be misread.
  • Ask clarifying questions to gauge people's reactions when you are unable to read facial expressions or body language.
Look for ways to build trust among dispersed team members.
  • Encourage team members to connect on a personal level through social networking tools.
  • Plan "social" activities that will allow team members to get to know each other.
  • Create opportunities for informal interactions to build rapport, such as discussing hobbies and interests at the beginning of meetings.
  • Share feedback with team members and encourage them to do so with one another.
  • Check assumptions often.
  • Conduct discussions face-to-face, if at all possible, when tone of voice, eye contact, and body language will contribute significantly to the meaning of your message, particularly when discussing a difficult topic.
Learn about individuals' differences and tap into their strengths.
  • Avoid making assumptions about how individuals prefer to communicate, work, or make decisions; instead, ask them.
  • Adapt and adjust to each individual to bring out the best in each person; for example, to achieve balanced results, pair up an analytic team member with one who makes decisions quickly.
  • Facilitate team web/video conferences so people can discover who has talents or interests in a particular area.
  • Use the Share and Empathy Key Principles to help people open up with their opinions and viewpoints.
Visibly track the team's progress toward objectives.
  • Post a project chart or team charter on your intranet or website as a reminder of goals.
  • Make online reports available that show data such as daily production, weekly activity, weekly customer calls, or monthly sales.
  • Circulate feedback from people outside the team, such as customers, suppliers, and internal partners.

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Letting the group get off track during virtual meetings.
If you don't focus people on the meeting's purpose, you'll:
  • Waste the time and effort of people who have made special location or time zone arrangements.
  • Lose the attention of remote participants, who might take their own breaks or begin to multitask offline.
  • Alienate people who might already feel somewhat disconnected by being in a virtual setting.
Neglecting to agree on post-discussion actions and check for understanding.
If you miss this important step, meeting participants might:
  • Disconnect before they take on responsibility for post-meeting assignments and next steps.
  • Fail to gain a clear, common understanding of who will do what and by when.
  • Not know which online tools or virtual communication methods to use to report their progress.
Failing to factor in personal and cultural differences.
If you minimize or ignore the differences within your team, you might:
  • Reduce opportunities to tap into people's strengths.
  • Encourage your virtual team members to work around or avoid personal or cultural issues instead of finding ways to address them.
  • Cause miscommunication, and possibly distrust, as people try to work with someone they don't understand well.
Missing opportunities to link larger objectives to virtual team goals.
If off-site team members can't see how they support the organization's strategies, they could:
  • Lose focus and, thus, lose the motivation and commitment needed to achieve the right results.
  • Might turn their attention to other activities they deem to be more important or urgent.
  • Won't feel their work is recognized or even valued by the organization.

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Articles and Books


Ashley-Timms, D. (2013, July). "The Team Rules Have Changed." Training Journal, 50–54.

The author discusses teams in the workplace, arguing that the current business conditions are less stable than in periods when team spirit and efficiency were identified as values for teams. He presents recommendations for managing high-performance teams. Other topics include employee loyalty, productive outcome deliverers, corporate cultures that value coaching, skill building, and virtual teams.

Dennis, D., Meola, D., & Hall, M.J. (2013, February). "Effective Leadership in a Virtual Workforce." T+D, 46–51.

The writers discuss leadership in the context of virtual workforces and offer advice for successfully managing and leading remote employees. Suggestions include working to ensure strong communication; team building through in-person meetings, videoconferencing, and social media; and establishing clear, consistent, and relevant protocols regarding goals, deadlines, communication expectations, and other factors. The suggestion to focus on results gained by employees rather than on processes is also presented.

Johns, T., & Gratton, L. (2013, January/February). "The Third Wave of Virtual Work." Harvard Business Review, 66–73.

This article provides an overview of new ways of providing community and shared space to cure a side effect of virtualization—worker isolation—and to drive increased collaboration. Also addressed are the five fundamental aspects of knowledge work that require fresh thinking: the value of the relationship with a larger enterprise, the settings in which work is done, the organization of work flows and how individual contributors add value, the technologies used to support higher achievement, and the degree to which employment arrangements are tailored to individuals.

Mandzuk, C. (2014, January). "Challenges of Leading a Virtual Team: More Than Meets the Eye." T+D, 20.

The article focuses on a report from the nonprofit association American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) entitled Virtual Leadership: Going the Distance to Manage Your Team, which is based on surveys from 505 learning professionals in managerial positions. The report found nearly all leaders say that their organization provides at least some of their employees the opportunity to work virtually. Moreover, 76 percent agree that managers must receive training to become effective leaders.

Pennington, R.G. (2012, February). "Trust Is an Action Verb: While You May Think You Are a Trustworthy Manager, Your Actions May Communicate Otherwise to Your Employees." HR Magazine, 90–91.

The article discusses the importance of employees' trusting their managers. The writer provides several pieces of advice for managers for building trust, including following through, being consistent, and improving. He also emphasizes communicating expectations and values. The importance of managers' standing up for their teams also is emphasized.

Rabotin, M.B. (2014, April). "The Intricate Web Connecting Virtual Teams." T+D, 32–35.

There are a few challenges involved in creating virtual teams in an organization. The writer defines the composition of a virtual team—a group of individuals working across organizational boundaries linked through information and telecommunication technology. Then, she highlights the difficulties involved in managing geographically dispersed teams. The importance of hosting workshops centered on building personal values also is emphasized.


Kurtzberg, T.R. (2014). Virtual Teams: Mastering Communication and Collaboration in the Digital Age. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

Drawing on decades of scientific research in the fields of psychology, organizational behavior, and sociology, this book explains how to master the art and science of communicating virtually. Readers will fully understand what makes teams "click"—what inspires trust, how to get a team "off on the right foot," and what steps to take to make good collaborative decisions—as well as other key topics for virtual teamwork, such as best practices for working in the cross-cultural environment. The book serves as an ideal guide for anyone who participates in or manages a virtual team.

Nelson, B. (2012). 1501 Ways to Reward Employees. New York: Workman.

Adapted to meet the needs of an evolving workplace—especially to deal creatively with virtual employees, international colleagues, and the rule-bending expectations of millennials—these 1,501 low- and no-cost rewards and strategies have been drawn from thousands of companies across the globe.

Reina, D.S., & Reina, M.L. (2010). Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace: Seven Steps to Renew Confidence, Commitment, and Energy. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Broken trust is the natural outcome of people interacting with one another. Everyone has experienced gossiping, missed deadlines, someone taking credit for others' work, and "little white lies" that have spread. People may have been emotionally hurt, realized that they inadvertently let others down, or be wondering how to help others who are reeling from broken trust. This book offers a seven-step process to heal pain and rebuild trust. This compassionate, practical approach will help people reframe their experience, take responsibility, forgive, let go, and move on. Through healing, a person will want to return to work, give the organization their best thinking, highest intention, and creativity, and be willing to take risks.

Scannell, M., Abrams, M., & Mulvihill, M. (2012). The Big Book of Virtual Teambuilding Games: Quick, Effective Activities to Build Communication, Trust and Collaboration from Anywhere! (Big Book series). New York: McGraw-Hill.

The truth is evident: Technology has permanently altered the way we communicate. This book is packed with games and activities for developing productive virtual teams across all digital platforms, including email, mobile devices, web-based conferencing tools, and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype.

Smith, C.J. (2014). Working at a Distance: A Global Business Model for Virtual Team Collaboration. Berlington, VT: Gower.

Organizations are implementing virtual teams using web technologies as a cost-effective measure for training and project development. This book provides a detailed, comprehensible virtual team business model. The author argues that guidance for members of such teams is generally lacking. Then they must figure out their places on the team themselves and face a host of other issues. A virtual team business model can help. The model referenced in this book is based on experience and maximizes the benefit to be gained from individual members' skills, personality styles, and strengths. It will enable teams to set up viable working plans and work cohesively at a distance.

Whipple, R.T. (2006). Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Hilton, NY: Productivity Publications.

Ideas in this book will help its followers every time they send or receive an electronic message, whether at work or at home. Readers will learn to read between the lines in all forms of incoming electronic communications and ensure their outgoing messages convey their true intentions and are politically appropriate. This book also teaches people how to avoid the escalating and embarrassing "email grenade" battles that are prevalent online. The author provides many tips for managing people's electronic inbox to avoid overload and "e- burnout." Understanding E-body Language will forever change how people view email, while making their online communications easier and more effective.

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