Recently, the Leading Virtually team had its first live meeting since we began blogging roughly 8 months ago. The entire team convened for the first time, and I had the honor of meeting Betsy, who I have been working with for months! Surinder was my professor at Binghamton University but we had not seen each other for about 5 months before this meeting took place. This face to face meeting has given me a new perspective on the advantages a virtual team can gain from a face to face meeting, even after working virtually for a period of time. These advantages fall mainly in the realm of team building:
- Strengthening of bonds among team members
- Creation of a similiar experience to build comfort among virtual team members
- Reinforcement of the importance of one’s work-related roles and their implications on “real” people and other team members
Meeting in the real world obviously has many benefits for a virtual team; however, what exactly are the advantages of these face to face meetings? After our face to face meeting, I noticed a strengthening of the bond amongst all the team members. Betsy became more than just a voice via Skype or a person who I collaborate with via email – she became a real person, a friend. I felt more of a connection with her than I had just through the work we have done together virtually. In other words, seeing Betsy immediately strengthened by bond with her. Seeing Surinder also strengthened the bond I had with him as we were able to talk about things as friends in person rather than virtually. As hard as it is for me to explain, the real life meeting gave our team an advantage in that we became closer as people, which will make it easier to work together in the future.
The meeting also created a special experience for us that we now all share in common. We had experienced many virtual meetings and work sessions, but this meeting was different and therefore kind of a stand-out event. At the end of the meeting, I gave Betsy a hug as she left, something I had hesitated to do when I first arrived at the meeting because I was unsure if it was appropriate. After the meeting, I felt more comfortable with her and this simple form of social communication – a hug – became a symbol of that new found comfort within our team. An important aspect of our meeting is that we discussed things other than just our site; we also spoke about our personal lives. Thinking back, this face to face meeting has served as an “ice breaker” for future meetings we will conduct virtually by making us more comfortable with one another.
Another advantage our face to face meeting has was that it reinforced the importance of each of our relative roles within the team. My deadlines now no longer affect a voice on Skype or a person writing email – they now affect my friends and colleagues. I feel that my tasks are much more important to complete because if I do not I will be letting down people I know. The implications of this is important for virtual teams. By creating bonds and raising the comfort level amongst team members through a face to face meeting, productivity in a virtual team may actually increase. Virtual team members will feel that their work has real life implications on real people that they know and connect with.
In the past, we have found that most teams that work virtually initially meet face to face first before migrating to a virtual team platform. This serves a similiar purpose as it has for our team – to build trust and relationships among the various team members before beginning to work virtually. Although our team went against standard practice and met in person after a significant period of time working virtually, we received the same benefits as teams that meet at the beginning of their formation. I may even venture to say that our virtual meetings helped make the three of us more comfortable and laid back when we met for our face to face meeting and there was some benefit of “breaking the ice” virtually before meeting face to face.
I highly recommend that distributed teams, virtual teams, telecommuters, etc. make time out to have a face to face meeting with the team they are going to be working with early on in the project. Sometimes this is simply not feasible; however, the members of the team should strive to meet face to face at least once during the project’s lifecycle as the benefits for team formation and relationship building are great. Betsy has discussed another advantage of our face to face meeting – the transfer of trust – which you can read about in her post here.
If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy these other articles that discuss aspects of face to face and virtual teams:
Transfer of Trust in Virtual Team Collaboration
Leading in Face-to-Face Versus Virtual Teams
Recruiting for Virtual Collaboration and Virtual Teams