Sunday, February 10, 2013

Working Effectively in a Virtual Workforce

Does your job require you to work with virtual team-members? Most professional careers now do. How well you perform depends on your ability to collaborate effectively with colleagues who aren’t in the same building or even the same state or country. You can’t afford to focus on working effectively with only those team members that you see face to face.

In the webinar, Working with Virtual and Global Teams, I interviewed Marie Pettinos on what it takes to thrive as a team-member in a global, virtual, and highly diverse workforce. Currently Senior Director of Strategic Business Management at Siemens Healthcare, Pettinos grew up splitting her time between New York and Ireland. She has since worked in Japan, England, and India.

Her role now requires her to lead globally distributed teams that she coaches to break out of their geographic silos and build trust, alignment, and accountability in their virtual workplace relationships. Here are what she considers to be the critical skills for being effective as a team-member in a virtual workforce.

Start from a position of trust
“In the past, I have had team-members take an exception to working with virtual peers”, said Pettinos. “They would ask, “How do we know they’re really working? How do I know that they’re putting as much time into this as I am?”

“The most critical skill is to start from a position of trust,” she advised. “You have to trust that all team members are aligned and working with you on the same objective. Assume that they are there and that they are working. Whether they’re sitting at their desk or sitting on their bed or wherever they’re doing it, they’re actually working.”

Engage remote employees
Whether you are leading a meeting, leading a group or participating as a team member, you need to engage remote employees. “It often happens that there are teams partially collected in a remote location,” observed Pettinos. “Engage those remote people, first and foremost. Make sure they know that they’re part of the team.”

Effective facilitation of virtual meetings requires being very inclusive. “Start by asking for participation from the people on the phone”, she suggested. “Be very aware, if you’re leading the discussion, to direct your conversation towards the microphone. You’ve probably seen examples where people turn away to look at a whiteboard or screen and without realizing that people on the phone can’t hear them.”

Don’t forget to compensate for your own cultural biases. “Pause and wait for input. In certain cultures within the United States and elsewhere, we’re very quick to talk over somebody to make sure we get our point heard,” Pettinos pointed out. “In some cultures, to be respectful of people’s space and time, they’ll let you finish the sentence before they jump in. Allow people to contribute.”

And don’t always presume that the meeting should be held at your convenience. Pettinos recommends being highly sensitive to time zones. “Be flexible. Compromise, and make sure you’re really inclusive of everybody.”

Treat everybody like they are in the room
Finally, your objective as a team-member is to create an atmosphere where everyone can contribute and collaborate fully. “To put everyone on a level playing field, act like everybody is in the room, and that everybody is a key player,” Pettinos added. “Once you do that, you can set the stage for effective collaboration.”

Marie Pettinos was guest speaker in the webinar Working with Virtual and Global Teams, part of the Emerging Women Leaders webinar series. 

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