Process is usually not a top-priority when a small team is co-located. Teams often get by with little to no process and no documented workflows. If co-located teams take-on virtual team members, and do not make the necessary effort to build process infrastructure, they will experience frustrations and loss of performance. Therefore, one of the most important planning initiatives for organizations preparing to work with virtual teams is designing robust processes and documenting them.
I suggest making a best effort to design the processes up-front collaboratively among your team members, internal and remote. Working together, your team will feel more ownership of the process, and it’s a good team building exercise. Refinements can be made later as needed.
Far beyond resolving loss of performance, robust processes can enable virtual teams to actually outperform collocated teams. In a 2009 article titled How to Manage Virtual Teams, published by MIT Sloan Management Review, the authors write:
“Virtual teams that had processes that increased the levels of mutual support, member effort, work coordination, balance of member contributions and task-related communications consistently outperformed other teams with lower levels. Moreover, dispersed teams that had high levels of task-related processes were notably able to outperform co-located teams with similar levels of those same processes despite the physical separation of their members.”
It’s an interesting perspective on the importance of processes, and lays emphasis on the quality of the task-related processes. Therefore, a focused and collaborative undertaking of process design is a critical factor for the success of a dispersed team.