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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Working in virtual teams

Working in virtual teams: using Facebook and Skype to impress recruiters

The trend for working from home or in virtual teams is making new demands on employees, and to be in the running for jobs, they now need a technological and social skill set. So if you have those skills, make sure you mention them in a job interview. 
Labour market psychologist Udo Konradt from Kiel University estimates that in 2012, almost one in three of all employees recruited worldwide is working in a virtual team. This arrangement is already the norm in many companies, with team members based in different locations: the project manager may be in Detroit, the sales expert in Düsseldorf, and the IT manager in Bangalore, with the support staff in Kuala Lumpur.
The physical distance between team members makes a whole new set of demands on individual employees. To hold their own on the international labour market, employees now require not only social and cross-cultural skills but also a range of IT skills. Many have already developed these skills, either as part of their degree course or through social networking, yet most don’t think of highlighting them in job interviews.

Key skills for virtual team working

However, good IT skills alone are far from guaranteeing success in today’s working environment. Working in a virtual team also calls for a range of soft skills, such as flexibility, reliability, and discipline at work. Team members do much of their work without direct supervision from a manager who is physically present, and this means not only greater responsibility but also greater autonomy. Individual team members have to organise themselves, their tasks and their time. This assumes high levels of trust between individual team members and their managers but also represents one of the biggest challenges in organising the way such teams work on a day to day basis.
In a shared office, employees often find out things through a casual conversation with a colleague, whereas in a virtual team, colleagues may be based anywhere across the world, so communication has to be consciously managed and proactive. Ensuring information is shared can be very time-intensive. International teams also need cross-cultural skills: language barriers and other obstacles to clear communication, with time differences have to be overcome.

Videoconferencing – routine for virtual teams

Virtual teams have no scope for direct contact on a day to day basis, so communications technology and software solutions are vital. Traditional emails and phone calls are likely to remain the most important methods of communication between team members for the foreseeable future, but with so many employees now working from home or as part of international virtual teams, a host of other technological tools are now being used alongside them.
Online videoconferences are replacing face to face meetings: any number of participants can log in at the same time and talk to each other via internet telephony or watch the same presentation. Project management tools are also available to help teams manage themselves, while team members can set up virtual communities, take part in live chat sessions, and log the outcome of discussions by using ‘wikis‘. Employees can take part in a ‘webinar’ from their own office or desk rather than incurring travel costs and losing working time to attend a physical training event. Companies are also increasingly encouraging staff to register for social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Xing, while employees can use smartphones and apps to access relevant information on demand.

Social and cross-cultural skills

It’s likely that in a few years’ time, employees’ IT, social and cross-cultural skills will be seen as just as important as their Microsoft Office skills are today. In fact, such skills already feature in many job specifications. Companies are also going to be placing increasing emphasis on employees’ willingness to engage in lifelong learning.
Younger people score particularly well here, and their technological skills and openness to new forms of communication sometimes compensates for their lack of work experience. Yet they often forget to mention these skills in job applications or interviews precisely because they have picked up quite incidentally, through online seminars at university, for example, or through using Facebook and Skype to keep in touch with friends across the world part and don’t see them as anything out of the ordinary. It’s important, then, to foreground your skills in these areas in any job interview. It could give you the edge over the other applicants – and, ultimately, determine who gets the job.

Discussion in our Community

How about you? Do you think that in a job interview the technical or social skills can be more important than the professional qualification? Join the ‘Spotlight on Jobs & Careers’ group to talk with us and other alumni about working in virtual teams!

Working in virtual teams

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