I happened across a local magazine article entitled "How Newcomers are Making This a New City." Since relocating to Charlotte in 2004, I have wholeheartedly enjoyed the charm, warmth and simplicity that is characteristic of the New South. Nonetheless, I often hear transplants complain about the "slow pace" of southern life.

For what it's worth, it seems pretty ridiculous (to me at least) to move somewhere and want the new place to be like the old place that you came from. But, I digress. The point is: Newcomers are indeed changing the 'scape of what Charlotte used to be.

The article made me think about the dynamic of adding new members to virtual teams. Whether your remote work team is a few service providers who have only you (the client) in common, a group of geographically dispersed help desk or call center representatives or a few carefully selected it professionals endeavoring to implement a new technology project, growth can certainly shake things up.

Building and managing a successful remote team takes a certain combination of skill and plain ol' luck in the first place. Once you have managed to get the right people "on the bus" and the wrong people "off the bus", the last thing you want is a stalled engine.

But, the fundamental nature of T-E-A-M (particularly in a virtual environment) means embracing both individual and collective input, styles and work habits. So, how do you encourage feedback and foster creativity in newer team members while at the same time, preserve your team's carefully crafted culture? Three key factors have helped our remote team embrace new ideas, but reinforce trusted, long-standing practices THAT WORK as we welcome new team members. Allow Time to Bond.

It is critical that newcomers embrace the team's people, values and processes. Heck, that's what a culture is! In a virtual environment where members work independently, shared goals alone are never enough to create a sense of community. We learn to be "for" (or "against") each other through communication and shared experiences.

First, lead by example. Be authentic in your interaction. Don't be afraid to allow others to see who you are in business and personal settings. Then work to create opportunities within your remote team for sharing in less formal settings. You might set up a shared interface such as a bulletin board or forum or encourage team members to take "virtual coffee breaks," for instance.

Clearly Define Roles / Objectives Why does your remote team exist? It could be to accomplish a particular project or for the overall success of your department or business. Just know that the answer to this basic question can help you define and clarify group roles and objectives that meet the team's overall purpose.

Remember also, to engage the entire team in setting expectations about behavior and performance. Don't have a formal team? Invite your vendors to a teleconference to establish "rules" for working together.

Once you have defined roles and objectives, be meticulous about communicating expectations. Assume nothing. How to best manage your remote team Spell everything out in black & white, but know that sending an e-mail is not enough! Our new team members participate in a 3-hour training and orientation on their first day. They are quizzed at the end and then exposed to regular reinforcement of company values, practices and goals in regular team calls. Encourage 360° Communication.

Virtual relationships lack certain non-verbal communication opportunities that we often take for granted in a traditional office. As a result, we have to expand our communication by a factor of 3, 4 or even 5, in a remote work environment.

If team members feel empowered to share their understanding of the team culture, they are more likely to speak up when an idea or action threatens that common theme. Teach each person on your virtual team to be a strong communicator with you, team members, clients and vendors. Then teach your clients and vendors that communication goes both ways.

Remote work teams have fast become the rule more than the exception amongst companies and organizations around the world. Navigating changes in team structure can bring unfamiliar challenges. Ultimately, virtual teams need the same things all teams need: People who respect and value one another, clearly defined roles and open, multi-level communication.