The Best Thing About Virtual Teams

globeI was just reading an article offering tips to telecommuters. One suggestion was to stay on your boss’s and coworkers’ good sides. It’s easy to write something that someone takes the wrong way, the article said, and because you don’t see them you don’t know them very well.

It’s certainly easy to write something in haste that doesn’t come across the way it’s meant. I’ve learned the hard way to let an angry email sit overnight and to think twice about whether my written humor is clearly humorous.

But why would I not know my remote coworkers? That seems like a strange idea. I’ve shared lunch hours with remote coworkers via telephone and remote meeting. On breaks we talk and play games, brainstorm ideas  and trade vacation photos like coworkers anywhere do. We share cheerful hellos in the morning through instant messages like office workers greet one another at the coffee station. We yak and sketch back and forth on a remote meeting whiteboard while everyone’s getting settled for staff meeting just like office team mates chat as they assemble in a conference room. Perhaps it’s because remote teams are more conscious of the need to “bond” that the remote teams I’ve enjoyed have been as closer than many teams I’ve known in the office.

The best thing about a virtual team, though, is that they tend to be from all over. Sometimes a coworker is calling in from across campus or across town, but often it’s from across the country or the world. What a great opportunity it is to get a perspective on the latest news from half a world away, or to hear how someone’s family will celebrate a local holiday, or to hear about everyday things that point out how much a culture is different or how much we’re just the same. It’s a treat to work side by side – in a virtual sense – with interesting people I’d  never meet in the office.

It seems strange to think of telecommuters as isolated.  To me one of the special benefits of remote work is getting to know great people.