Not all employees are suited to work on virtual teams. Some prefer a traditional
office situation because it provides camaraderie and a work routine that may not
require much independent action.Virtual teams, by their very nature, require
independent action, such as proactive discussion initiated by team members.
The success of a virtual team also depends on the ability of individual members to
be self-starters. Employees working in remote locations must be able to set goals and
accomplish tasks even though the boss isn't peering over their shoulders. "People who
don't like to open up to other people and who need artificial deadlines are not going
to do well on virtual teams," Campbell says.
Miller says virtual teams work well at BakBone Software because considerable
attention has been devoted to communication and information sharing with his 13 team
members, all of whom have programming backgrounds in C or C++. In addition to
communicating via the shared database of customer support information, he favors
regular conference-call meetings.
Such communications need to be carefully managed to take into account the cultural
differences among team members, Miller says. For the moment, team conference calls are
limited to the native English speaking employees.
"It's more difficult to do conference calls with the Japanese because, even if they
speak flawless English, they think their English isn't all that good. As a result,
they tend to be a little more quiet," Miller says. For now, conference calls with the
Japanese team members are handled separately.
Rodriguez says being a virtual team member at BakBone taught him how to carefully
ask his Japanese co-workers questions. The reason for his care is that questions to his
Japanese counterparts may elicit different answers than from his English-speaking
colleagues. His state-side teamies will usually say what they mean. In Japan, a yes-or-
no question almost always results in a "yes" answer -- even if it shouldn't.
Such savvy communications skills are the key to making the virtual team work across
cultural boundaries, says Craig Gardiner, BakBone's U.K. support manager in Poole.
Gardiner works with Rodriguez on Miller's geographically dispersed team. "The rule of
thumb is to be precise in what you want and how you ask for it. Due to the time zone
differences, if you don't ask for the right information at the right time, you could be
a day behind in getting something done," Gardiner says.