Internationally known, New York City based virtual teams expert and author of ‘A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams,’ Yael Zofi, recently traveled to Israel to investigate the cross-cultural business climate and see how virtual teams were being run in the Middle East.
Q3. Interviewer: “How was your experience of being a virtual team member for an extended amount of time?”
“… (continued) Towards the middle of the trip, the scheduling became a major issue. I learned how really important it is to have a really strong, clear communication schedule. At my office in New York, my schedule is a bit messy but I can quickly send my assistant a text. When I was remote, because I was dealing with multiple schedules, what started to happen was at times a complete disconnect. I had such a mix of am/pm and business and personal calendar items and on top of that, I had people texting, emailing and calling me – people wanting to visit with myself and my family, changing schedules and night time calls. I could not control the schedule.
The Israeli cross-cultural mentality is more relaxed about ‘let’s get together’ and ‘we’ll see you’ … but in the States, we have scheduling. It is less ad-hoc, less spur of the moment. So, in Israel I had to just start to handwrite everything the old fashioned way. There was one meeting that I forgot about and the person sent a text to say where he was located. The meeting wasn’t on any calendar. He said he was sitting and waiting. Luckily it was only 3 blocks away, so he never knew. This illustrated a cultural difference that of separation between work and life and work and business.”
Q4. Interviewer: “ How did you manage to separate your constant demands of doing business and finding personal time?”
“I tried to maintain some boundaries. This was very difficult and probably not effective. My work station was the kitchen table. Someone always needed something. The lack of boundaries made it more challenging to work virtually.
Next time I would pre-contact and rekindle some relationships earlier, send personal notes in advance, and schedule more in-person visits. Most of the lunches were successful and I enjoyed who I met, people made great recommendations, but it was too late to plan special appearances, presentations and site visits. It occurred to me that I should have organized a larger gathering and get to see several people at once. (Then be able to focus on scheduling the work priorities as a follow-up).
Q5. Interviewer: “What became a troubling issue for you? One that caused you to lose focus?”
“Being a virtual team member, I was looking forward to communications from my team in the US office. So hearing from my teammates was a nice welcome, especially when it was 5 or 6 pm in Israel when the emails would start coming in and I knew that my team were starting their day on the East Coast. That made me smile.
But at times, even seeing emails was not enough to prevent me from feeling disconnected.
We all need feedback. When I felt disconnected and frustrated, knowing I’m not going to get the work done due to other demands, it would have been nice to get something personal from the team. Looking back, it might’ve been helpful to take pictures and share events. Even if I couldn’t be there, I knew things were happening and wanted to participate from a distance. I needed more structure.
We conducted an initial Skype call, but we did not stick to the plan. The initial call for our weekly team meeting was great and we should’ve stuck to it and made sure to keep a regular scheduled communication.
It’s interesting how dependant we are on technology to stay in touch. A neighbor was telling me that some people when they travel to Israel, bring several phones and devices just to avoid any potential hiccups in communication. Next time, we could work more effectively. The limited time I had, I just wanted to focus on the most important things at the time.”
Q6. Interviewer: “What would you do differently next time as a virtual team member?”
“Personally, to be a better virtual team member in the future, I would need to create a workspace with more privacy, a shared drive with regular updates, and a determined focus on what needs to be done at that moment. I personally need more human connection- even if only by phone, remembering Out of sight does not mean out of mind…”
Q7. Interviewer: “How did your experience shape the direction you would like to move forward in your global leadership and virtual team consulting work?”
YZ: “My experience in Israel this time made me realize there is a lot we at AIM Strategies® can contribute, with our expertise in cross cultural communications and virtual teams management. I’m even more excited about the possibilities of working more directly with Israeli business management at the strategy and business level, global companies that are located in Israel and around the world.”