The Four Pillars of Great Virtual Teams

Neal Ellis Collaboration • Teamwork • 3 minute read

If you work in energy, construction, consulting, or related industries, you likely interact with colleagues and partners from different departments, in different locations, and even different countries. 

Modern workplaces are becoming increasingly virtual, but what does that really mean for the quality of our work? What can we do to foster better collaboration in these conditions?

The Trends

Technology is continuing to provide all of us with new tools to work from home, while traveling, and across multiple office locations. In a recent HBR survey 79% of knowledge workers reported working "always or frequently in dispersed teams." But the piece explains that historically, people aren't always comfortable or confident working this way.

"most people consider virtual communication less productive than face-to-face interaction, and nearly half admit to feeling confused and overwhelmed by collaboration technology."

The Oil & Gas industry is in some ways ahead on these issues — what some professions might consider 'remote' is for us a vital core of our productivity; thousands of people working in the field, reporting to head office, connecting virtually with distributed colleagues, and coordinating across companies and contractors.

4 Pillars, 12 Parts

What really makes this kind of distributed or virtual work effective and successful, though? An interesting piece in the Harvard Business Review highlights four pillars that we think provide an excellent framework: team, leadership, touchpoints and technology.


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"So how do you create and lead an effective virtual team? There’s a lot of advice out there, but through our research and our experience helping organizations navigate collaboration challenges, we’ve concluded that there are four must-haves: the right team, the right leadership, the right touchpoints, and the right technology. By following simple high-return practices for each, managers can maximize the productivity of teams they must lead virtually."

We liked these ideas so much, we made a diagram - the four pillars of effective virtual teams, along with their 12 vital components:

The Future

One really positive takeaway is that more recent studies show growing success and quantifiable benefits from working virtually - in a survey of 80 global companies, well-run virtual teams were found to outperform those working in a single, shared office, while another survey documented 43% gains in virtual employee productivity. 

While success across distributed teams certainly isn't a given, the good news is that we're understanding more and more how to approach teamwork, leadership, communication, and technology (our area of expertise!) to deliver results. For professionals working in a modern, connected, and very distributed industries - like oil & gas, field services, environmental consulting, and others - these ingredients are surely key to strong teamwork and continued prosperity.

Read the article that inspired this piece at HBR.org.




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