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March 17, 2020

Tips for Virtual Teams

Organizations and teams are becoming more dispersed than ever, especially during uncertain and changing times. In this new world of work, technology-mediated communication is the name of the game and has lots of implications on how people collaborate.

If your team is going remote, here are six tips to help virtual teams stay productive and cohesive:

Be Intentional About the Ideal Work-At-Home Environment
Everybody works differently and will thrive in a different sort of environment. Encourage team members to be intentional about designing the setting that’ll foster the greatest amount of focus and flow for their particular temperament and style, and reduce procrastination.

Elements to consider include:

  • A boundaried home-office space or working on the couch
  • “Work attire” or PJs
  • Structured work time or flexible hours
  • No breaks or frequent breaks
  • Background noise/music or silence
  • Proximity to distractions: Lots of devices and browser tabs or fewer
  • One task at a time or multi-tasking

Get Really Clear About Goals, Roles, and Expectations
Clarity becomes extra important for virtual teams. Given the reduced amount of social presence, there’s more opportunity for miscommunication and misalignment. To avoid this, get really clear about goals, participant roles, and the team’s operating principles. Who’s doing what? How will we check-in and stay accountable? What communication tools are we using and not using? How often will we meet? What are everyone’s expectations of response-time? What boundaries do we want to protect between work and our personal lives?

Work Harder Than Normal to Build Trust
Just like there’s a higher chance of miscommunication in the virtual environment, there’s also an increased risk that trust won’t be built or will get eroded. What hurts trust the most? Broken promises and unmet expectations. In the world of remote teams, everyone has to work even harder to be responsive, follow-through on commitments, and attend group meetings. If not, these missteps can carry more negative weight than typical.

Reach Out Proactively
In my opinion, one of the biggest slippery slopes of working virtually is the tendency to “hide” behind our technology – to do what we perceive as easier or more comfortable, like sending a text or email instead of picking up the phone or arranging a video chat with a colleague. All these little steps into passivity can decrease team cohesion over time. Be someone who leans into connection and proactively initiates communication when needed.

Use the Video Camera
I get it – it’s not always fun to see ourselves on camera. For some reason, it actually feels more vulnerable than being in person, and it can easily activate our inner critic. That said, I’ve noticed over time that when people in virtual meetings use their video feed, it creates more connection and engagement. Turning the video feed off seems to lessen the interaction, openness, and psychological safety in the group.

Make Time for Open Discussion
When teams are in the mode of having regular virtual meetings, their interactions can easily devolve into status updates or transactional exchanges. What’s lost? The time for personal connecting, generating new ideas, creativity, and problem-solving. Consider saving some structured time in group discussions for these crucial activities.

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