Managing Virtual Teams was a growing trend before the COVID-19 crisis but the transition to working from home has been recently accelerated (We observed a jump from 7% to 33% of employees in France who have switched to working from home in March 2020 only and this has increased since). Nearly half, or 46%, of organizations polled, use virtual teams, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Hence, for many organizations today, remote work is becoming the new normal for how employees carry out their roles.

Seeing the glass half full, what we are experiencing might be a great learning opportunity for many people and organizations. Indeed, this model offers advantages to both the company and the employee. The company has access to a wider pool of talents across diverse geographies and workers can work with almost any organization without the inconvenience and high cost of moving from their city or country of residence. However, like everything else in life, having remote teams presents unique challenges, which must be resolved if the organization and staff are to derive maximum benefits from the arrangement.

Unlike traditional work setups, a lot of things co-located workers take for granted are absent for remote workers. There are no impromptu discussions in the corridor when you bump into a colleague you have been wanting to see. There is no water-cooler gossip and it is hard to build the kind of rapport that comes from knowing and possibly being involved in other worker’s private lives. Basically, opportunities for socializing which are common with traditional workplaces and helpful for building cohesive groups are missing. This is why it is important for organizations to be intentional about finding ways to re-create that traditional work climate for their remote teams. Managing virtual teams is a growing leadership skill.

Since remote staffs do not physically see and interact with others on a day-to-day basis, they can become quickly disconnected from the culture and realities of an organization. Therefore, it is critical to find ways to give them a feeling of being inside the company, even when they are thousands of miles away. The goal is to simulate a face-to-face environment through technology, in order to foster good relationships with other team members build cohesion and bridge communication gaps.

  • Use More Video and Phone, Less Email: Email is the less effective than phone and video. It is highly impersonal and open to miscommunication and misunderstanding.
  • Encourage Small-Talk At The Start of Meetings: Use the first 5 to 10 minutes of your meetings times – preferable video conferencing – to chitchat and catch up on people’s private lives. This is even more important in the current context we are all in.
  • Check-in regularly : understand their needs, observe the weak signals to be able to intervene fast.
  • Use Icebreakers Regularly: These can be jokes, trivia questions or even an online game.
  • Encourage Spontaneity and Virtual Meetups: Encourage spontaneous non-work conversations and create virtual events for celebrating a success and sharing personal events.
  • Create Dedicated Threads: Such as a “water cooler” thread on your collaboration platform, where people can post trivia.
  • Create Special Channels: Maybe a Slack Channel or WhatsApp group where team members can post funny pictures; of themselves, their pets, discuss football or post their latest accomplishment in the kitchen.
  • Encourage Interactions Beyond The Workplace: Create opportunities for team members to extend their relationship beyond work and work hours. Do any of them share the same passion? Why don’t you start a book club or organize a collective “much needed” guided relaxation?
  • Post Regular Video Updates: Video updates of what the team is accomplishing will, as well as of mundane information about team members, such as birthdays, are also effective.
  • Use Donut Calls: Donut is a Slack extension that automatically pairs people once every week for a one-on-one 15 to 30 minutes non-work related call.

Your team would also benefit from knowing each other’s professional styles while working in a team. This can greatly help you improve cohesion, trust and mutual understanding. And yes, we can definitely help you improve on managing virtual teams.

Finally, as you pursue these ideas, bear in mind that succeeding with them requires patience. The primary goal here is to build better relationships with people; that will take time and effort. As in all human relationships, the most important factors are trust and concern for others. If you succeed in conveying to people that you are genuinely interested in them as individuals, getting these ideas to work will become much easier.

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