Reconnecting with Your Virtual Team
You have been crazy busy this last year adapting to the many changes thrown at you. Despite working more, you feel less connected to your people. And if you feel less connected, chances are, so do they. On a temporary basis, this may have been tolerable. But now with some form of work-from-home as the new norm now, you fear disengagement, lower productivity, and possibly even attrition. You feel it is time to now focus in earnest on strengthening the connection with and among your dispersed team members. But how?
Lost in Translation
If you find yourself with a virtual team, gone are the days of face-to-face one-on-one’s, working in close proximity to each other, crossing paths in the hallway, office drop-ins, impromptu conversations around meetings, face-to-face meetings, and the potlucks, birthday donuts, retirement cakes and golf outings. Indeed, it was within these mediums that relationships were forged, and much was accomplished. These informal and often unscheduled interactions allowed for check-ins, updates, lobbying, requests for help, scheduling, and awareness creation. The quick exchanges facilitated greetings, agreement, support, understanding, input, mentoring, affirmations, observations, feedback, celebrations, answered questions, venting, and more. Face-to-face meetings enabled observations such as attention, interest, (dis)agreement, desire to speak, etc.
These formerly in-person interactions have since been replaced by video, phone, and email. As a result of these substitutes, unfortunately, the quality of communication is compromised. Lost are:
- Non-verbal signals such as eye contact, facial expressions, posture, proximity, position in a room, hands on hips, etc.
- Subtle vocalizations that convey exasperation, excitement, boredom, disagreement/disapproval/disappointment, etc.
- Physical touches as in handshakes, hugs, fist bumps, high-fives, pats on the back that relay without words that ‘you are valued,’ and ‘we did it together.’
Unfortunately, these compromises increase the risk of false assumptions, erroneous interpretations, and misunderstandings. For example, we may conclude they agree, get it, are in the know, and/or have it covered when they don’t. Similarly, we may assume they are on-board, engaged, healthy, and/or happy when they are not. With fewer interactions and compromised quality of communication, it is no wonder our sense of connection has declined!
Remedies and Rewards
So, what are we to do? Attempt to replicate what is lost? Many technology companies are rising to the challenge with individual and group chat functionality and participant signaling on video calls. Unfortunately, that only goes so far.
Following are 10 Tips to Improve Connection with Virtual Teams (according to leaders surveyed):
- Prioritize periodic one-on-one interactions (progress updates, feedback, mentoring, personal check-ins), scheduled and virtual. It doesn’t count if you cancel it or reschedule 10x!
- Prioritize team interactions (Celebrations, recognition, learning about each other, socializing), scheduled and virtual. If this isn’t your thing, delegate, but make sure it happens.
- Confirm understanding, alignment and buy-in for work assignments. Don’t assume! Verify.
- Follow up after meetings to confirm understanding, buy-in, share observations, offer feedback, etc. This may seem inefficient but in the long-run, you stand to gain much.
- Establish and model norms around the use of technology for communications (i.e., who can chat whom, response time, use of video, etc.) Eliminate the guesswork and set expectations.
- Use video to enhance communication and improve engagement. No hiding in the dark with your camara off. Set the standard and model for others.
- Practice active listening by truly eliminating distractions and checking for understanding. Turn off those email and phone notifications and ask what they heard.
- Cultivate a culture that fosters connections and avoids assumptions. Modeling and coaching go a along way once expectations are explicit.
- Consider these interactions as vitally important to the performance of the team and the results of the organization, the secrets to success.
- Encourage others to do the same. Multiply your efforts.
Interestingly enough, most of these leadership practices are relevant regardless of proximity of team members. The key differences with a virtual team are the obvious technology enablement, and additionally that interactions must be more intentional, planned, and possibly facilitated where they might otherwise be unstructured and ad-hoc. The reward for your efforts is that you will be in the know and feel more connected to your team; problems will be addressed before they blossom into crises or attrition; opportunities will be surfaced; and employees will feel more valued, have more clarity, and ultimately realize more success. Who doesn’t want that!
Whether you are leading a virtual team or not, consider where you might have opportunity to improve connection with and among your team members. Then decide the one thing you will do this week to move in that direction. Not so simple? Reach out to your coach to support you in resolving any unique challenges you may have. Small things can make a big difference.
Passionate about growing amazing leaders who create great places to work and lead fulfilling lives, Angela enables transformational change in individuals, teams, and businesses. As a Certified Professional Coach, she is skilled at combining sound coaching skills with proven leadership methodologies to cultivate growth and ultimately, results.