Lessons from Batman: Virtual Teams 1

Batman can teach us many things: persistence, preparedness, and a mean jump kick. It came as a bit of a surprise when I realized he also exhibited some necessary elements of participating in a virtual (remote) team! Batman may fight crime alone but he definitely does not work completely singlehanded.

I have been working with a virtual (remote) team at Epiphany for more than 7 years; managing for more than 4. Over that time I have fluctuated between believing that a virtual environment was an unconquerable obstacle to the greatest idea since batarangs. I have settled into the belief that, like most systems, there are strong points and weak areas that need to be considered.

1. Reachable

Batman does not have a public phone number; but there is a well-known failsafe way to reach him – The Bat Signal. While the system sprung up organically, Batman always responds to the Bat-Signal; ensuring that he can be reached anytime (or at least on cloudy nights).
Working remotely can be a very isolating endeavor, for many people it is ‘Out of sight, out of mind’. Remember you aren’t locked in ‘Arkham Asylum’! You should feel comfortable reaching out to colleges, and also be available and reachable yourself. Regardless if the topic is work related or simply personal, the team should know you are around and can be signaled into action. You may not be able to respond immediately; but strive to respond when you can.

2. Consistent Schedule

Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel. Batman knows that some consistent meetings can drastically help to ensure teams grow; this counts double for virtual teams. You can bet Batman doesn’t skip his workout, along a similar vein you should not skip team meetings.
I have found that a daily team meeting is critical to ensure a cohesive team in a virtual environment. This ensures there is a set time for the team to get together and discuss issues and current project statuses. It also helps ensure that there is some outside contact for each person, it is all too easy to realize that an entire workday was spent working alone. While those workdays can be productive, if there are an increasing number it can wear down even the most resilient of people.

3. Handling Time Zones

When the sun goes down, Batman heads out. This works great for the masked crusader, since he is looking to strike fear into criminals. As a remote team, we also need to ‘Fear the night’.
One of the best aspects of a virtual team is the removal of a major constraint: geography. The switch to virtual allows team members to be added from around the world, but there is still one remaining concern; Time Zones. While there needs to be a standard time zone used to communicate meetings and deadlines; it is very important that meetings are scheduled with the attendee’s time zones considered. Be careful the same group is not stuck consistently waking at two in the morning for a meeting across the world. Share the burden across the team.

4. Find the Right Fit

Batman rarely adds to his team, not because there are a small number of masked crime fighters, but because he has to find someone who will be a good fit. It took years and not a small amount of concern before he added Robin to the team!
Finding a good fit, both culturally and professionally, is a challenging aspect without the added concern of being a virtual team. Working remotely is definitely not for everyone. Generally it is advised to request the new team member work part time for a couple months to ensure that they will fit into the company well and can handle the remote aspect of the position.

5. Communicate Constantly

Whether the Dark Knight is meeting with the commissioner, calling Alfred, checking in with the Justice League, training Robin, or answering the all-important Bat-Phone one thing is certain; he is constantly communicating.
Virtual teams should ensure they are constantly communicating as well. That can mean an open chat program, sending emails, phone calls, or conference calls. We make strong use of screen sharing applications like Go-To Meeting, which allows us to view the desktop of a selected attendee. Regardless of the means, communication and collaboration should remain in the foreground concerns for a virtual workplace.

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