Managing 24/7 Pressure in Global Virtual Teams

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Clare McNamara and Monica Garcia-Romero

In our recent workshop at the WIN Conference in Prague (800 leaders and entrepreneurs from 70 countries) we explored how to embrace the power of Leading and working in Global Virtual Teams. Our title ‘From Herding Cats to Flying with Geese’ reflected the pressure we can feel to constantly respond to and manage colleagues spread across the globe. We often perceive that, like cats who are almost impossible to train, we have little control over what is happening and when the next crisis will occur. We want to be like geese flying in formation who seem to be in tune with the leader, no matter what their position in the formation.

One of our key challenges was: Feeling Obligated to Work 24/7 and we posed the following question:

If we knew it were possible for our teams to thrive in the virtual environment without any face to face contact, what might we need to do more of or differently and what specifically would that look like and feel like?

It became obvious that while as leaders we can feel exhausted by the pressure to feel available morning, noon and night, so do our team members. There was a consensus that the better we manage ourselves, the easier it will be for everyone. Of course there is much that is beyond our control, but there is a great deal we can do to make it easier for people, including ourselves, to work sensibly and productively rather than begrudgingly and ineffectively.

Here’s what emerged:

Have conversations with your team about time boundaries and their implications. Just as described in How to Build Relationships in Global Virtual Teams, there is a planning element involved. Take time to properly discover what works and what does not work for people in different time zones and cultures, and be mindful of working hours and days in different locations. Explore common values around work-life balance and agree what is important.

Communicate what has been agreed on boundaries and working hours and bring to life regional differences in a shared calendar. Be visual and creative about how you help everyone to see challenges from the perspective of others.

Be reasonable about deadlines and take into account what information your colleagues may be waiting for due to time differences. For example, in a global project team, someone in Asia may need a deliverable from another colleague from the US, before they can initiate the next task when they come to the office in the morning. When the work has involved sacrifice, acknowledge and appreciate it. You are more likely to get buy-in the next time deadlines are tight.

Role model the behaviours you want. Everyone is different and just because you can survive on 5 hours sleep and like to clear your emails, a team member waking up to several messages from you may not be effective working in the same way. Pay attention to the unspoken pressure to follow your lead. Stay inside of agreed working hours whenever possible. Technology should serve as an enabler, not as a hindrance. A relentless 24/7 work culture will inevitably lead to reduced engagement, lower productivity and poor retention.

Rotate time zones and share the pain in team meetings. You may have a very short window to meet the whole team at once. Make sure one person is not always waking up early for meetings and that another is not going home too late.

Seek feedback from the team regularly. Are we sticking to what we agreed? What are we finding challenging about deadlines? How is it impacting our energy levels? Could our meetings be shorter? What are the opportunities for us to work smarter?

Follow this blog for insights into the two other big questions we explored: How to Build Relationships in Global Virtual Teams and Difficulty Seeing the Big Picture 

© Global Team Coaches 2013

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