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How Can You Make Real Connections in Virtual Teams?

How do genuine human connections built through virtual communication relate to virtual teams? In our last blog post, we talked about how it’s possible to make genuine human connections through virtual communication. Now let’s explore how it operates in virtual workspaces.

Human connection is powerful. If leaders of virtual teams ignore this power, they miss out on an immense potential for fulfilling and rewarding work. By itself, this isn’t exactly news: if you Google “virtual teams”, you’ll get an endless list of articles that talk about the need to grow human connections for virtual teams to succeed. But, these articles often don’t address what this advice actually implies. After all: what does it really mean to connect with someone in a virtual team?

Going Beyond Band-Aid Solutions to Build Human Connections

Text box about employee engagement in virtual workplaces: Real connections don't begin in classes but with presence.Unfortunately, we’ve seen many leaders try to encourage human connections by slapping on activities, much like a coat of paint, and getting back to work. And, while certain activities like ice-breakers are one helpful way to start growing connections, just using ice-breakers skims the surface of the real issues we need to tackle.

In face-to-face work, genuine human connections develop alongside our work routines. In an office, as colleagues work, they connect. They start conversations around the water cooler. They eat together. They share news of their family and get to know each other as people. This built-in “space” for bonding isn’t just something “nice-to-have”; it’s a necessity for a healthy workplace.

But in the virtual world, this space for connection isn’t built-in in the same way. Instead, we need to intentionally create and nurture connections throughout the life-cycle of the team.

Now let’s discuss how to start creating these connections. Real connections don’t begin with classes, five-step programs, or one-liners. Instead, they begin with presence.

What Does It Mean to Be Present?

Think for a moment: can you tell when someone is really with you in a conversation—even if they’re virtual? It’s a good feeling, isn’t it?

It doesn’t matter if it’s virtual or face-to-face: when someone is really paying attention to us, we feel respected, and the quality of conversation goes up. In virtual communication, when someone is truly present, they pay attention to the speaker, without being distracted by the environment. They ask pertinent questions, and they communicate through words, tone of voice, and even silences, that they are invested in you and what you have to say.

Text box about employee engagement in virtual teams: In virtual communication, when someone is truly present...they are invested in you and what you have to say. On the other hand, we can also tell when someone isn’t really paying attention to us. When someone is tuned out, they check their phones, type on their keyboards, and reply with monosyllabic huh’s, yep’s, and how-about-that’s. It doesn’t feel good at all. If you show this non-presence to your virtual team, you show that you’re disengaged from them.

Are You Truly Present in Your Virtual Relationships?

Take a few minutes to think about the following:

  • How do you currently show up to virtual meetings with your team?
  • How do you want to show up to meetings?

If you weren’t sure about either answer, don’t worry. Most of us aren’t even aware of how we show up for our colleagues or employees, or how we can improve.

Steps to Become More Present in Your Virtual Workspace

From now on, we suggest you start to become aware of how you show up, and how you prepare yourself. Before your next virtual meeting or one-on-one conversation, think about how you can prepare yourself to show up:

  • Take 30 seconds to one minute to sit quietly, take some deep breaths and be aware of the present moment before running to the next task.
  • Put away your smartphone so you won’t be tempted to check or respond to messages as they arise.
  • Ask yourself: are you focusing and listening to what your team needs, or are you absorbed in the work you need to get done?

These exercises should help you start to show engagement and presence within your virtual team. When you show that you’re engaged with your team, they’ll begin to engage with you. And out of this presence, you can start forging strong, genuine connections.

 

By : Claire Sookman /April 20, 2015 /Blog, Building a Virtual Team, Building Empathy in a Virtual Environment /1 Comment Read More

Reliance on Technology in a Virtual Team

A few days ago, I was scheduled to present at a conference in San Diego. I was working in the lobby of a 5-star hotel, where the conference was being held. I was just finishing up some work when I got up, stretched, and had a one-minute conversation with a colleague just a few meters away from where I was sitting. When I returned to my seat, my laptop was gone.

Imagine if your office vanished one day: all your files, all your correspondences, all your projects and reports and presentations. Gone. No idea where it went, no idea who took it, no idea what could happen to all of the contents.

This—pretty much—happened to me.

There was a bellman to my right, and my colleagues to the left of where I was sitting. And, straight across from me was a man on his iPhone. He was so engrossed in his work that he didn’t even notice the theft.

My pulse was steadily beating harder and harder in my chest. I struggled to remain calm, and called security. They took me to look at the camera feeds for the lobby, and reran the footage from a few minutes ago.

On that screen, I saw a man with a thick beard, beaten clothes, and distinctive running shoes enter the lobby—he looked homeless. He had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders like a cape, obscuring his face. The security officers remarked that the homeless tended to congregate in this area.

The feed continued. The man picked up my laptop, and ran out the door. Him, his blanket, and his running shoes disappeared off the screen.

I needed to get my laptop back.

The security guards said they’d look for the guy. Meanwhile, I had my own ideas. I ran out the door myself, determined to find the man who stole my laptop.

San Diego is home to over 1.3 million people. And, among those millions, there are over 10 000 homeless people. I stopped at every corner, asking any homeless people if they’d seen a man with a blanket wrapped around him. They said they knew who I was talking about, but that they hadn’t seen him today.

My life was on that computer. It was my connection to my work, and to my family. My presentations, invoices, and courses were all on that laptop. My family photos, emails, and social media were all on that laptop. You know the drill.

Three hours later, the hotel security called my room. They found the man sitting on the ground about four blocks away, still holding my computer. He gave the computer back to them, and was taken into custody. My life returned to normal.

In virtual work, we’re reliant on our machines. The technology we use to work is more than just a tool: it’s our gateway to our professional lives. I’ve shared this story today to give us all a reminder of the importance technology places in our lives today, and to encourage us all to be safer with how we treat these devices.

By : Amir Ahmed /March 24, 2015 /Blog, Resiliency in a Virtual Environment /0 Comment Read More

Don’t Use Face-to-Face Management for Virtual Teams

In our last blog post, we talked about how virtual teams are more common that you think. Virtual teams aren’t just small groups separated by hundreds of miles. In fact, you can be of a virtual team if you are more than 90 feet apart from each other. You could be in a virtual team right now, and not even know it.

So far so good. But, there’s a problem here: what happens if your virtual team has challenges (as all teams do from time to time)? Would you try to solve the virtual challenges using traditional, face-to-face solutions?

If you do try to fix virtual team issues with traditional face-to-face solutions, it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. We’ve seen this before, and it wastes leaders and managers time and money, without even solving the problem. This happens because face-to-face teams are just not the same as virtual teams. To solve virtual problems, we need to use virtual team solutions.

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves: before we even talk about what problems a team might have, we have to talk about three major differences in virtual teams that typically cause issues.

Communication

In spoken conversation, a sentence means a lot more than its parts. The non-verbal cues—tone of voice, body language, context—affect the meaning of the message. In fact, in face-to-face conversations, studies show that a large part of communication is completely nonverbal. But, when we communicate virtually, we lack this nonverbal communication. This makes it much harder for us to communicate, in an environment where everyone needs to stay on the same page.

When we can’t communicate clearly, we open the door to inefficiency—“when was that meeting again?”—and to lack of trust—“what did they really mean when they wrote that email?”—which is why we need to emphasize clear communication in our virtual teams.

Trust

We build trust based on how reliable a person is (how often they match their words to their actions), and how similar they are to us. Developing trust is probably the most important element of virtual teaming, and it’s definitely the most written-about element in blogs and articles on virtual teams. But, what does trust really look like in a virtual environment? What does it mean to build truly meaningful, authentic, and trusting connections virtually, and why is this so important to talk about?

We will address these questions in future blogs, but for now lets look at some facts about trust; did you know that it takes four times longer to build trust in virtual environment than it does in a face-to-face environment? And when you add cultural diversity into the mix, this adds an extra 17 weeks for the team to perform as well as a face-to-face team. This is because, in a virtual environment, we need to re-learn how we communicate and interpret our non-visual communication.

If trust is breached in a virtual environment, it can form a toxic work culture. If a virtual team has diminished trust, they become disengaged and demoralized. This can lead to retention problems. Lack of trust can also derail projects; in a study by Reed and Knight in 2010, these researchers found that “hidden agendas”—a single team member working towards their own end, and not the team’s—were reported as more common in virtual than face-to-face teams. They suggested that strong trust prevented hidden agendas from becoming a problem.

Engagement

Engagement is a broad term that more or less means how committed a team member is to the team. Engaged team members work harder, think better, and enjoy their work more.

We all want engaged team members, but engagement in the virtual workplace requires new engagement strategies that are tailored for virtual work. Engagement in virtual teams is also tricky, because it’s much harder to know if a team is engaged or not: many companies measure virtual engagement with surveys that are designed for face-to-face teams. Unfortunately, traditional engagement surveys don’t work on virtual teams, because they study the wrong metrics. That means if you survey your virtual team based on face-to-face engagement surveys, not only will you not get the data you need, you might just highlight that the organization doesn’t understand or value virtual workers. Again, using face-to-face tests for engagement in a virtual environment will waste time, lose money, and cause stress for everyone involved, without even providing any useful, actionable information.

Communication, trust, and engagement all change in virtual environments. That doesn’t mean they go away: in fact, they become more important. If you manage a virtual team and notice issues coming up, it could be due to these differences, and how they’re being addressed.

By : Amir Ahmed /March 10, 2015 /Blog, your Virtual Team /0 Comment Read More

Virtual Work is Here to Stay

We recently read an opinion piece by David Amerland in Forbes.com’s Tech section. In the article, Amerland talks about Marissa Meyer’s decision to end virtual work at Yahoo, and lists what he sees as ways that virtual work can prevent agility and effectiveness in organizations.

We have a different take. While the article points out Yahoo and Google’s aversion to virtual work, it also ignores the success of companies like Basecamp, Mozilla, and Upworthy, among others, who are hugely successful and almost entirely virtual. Yes, we heard about Marissa Meyer as well, but we’ve drawn very different conclusions about what this means for virtual work.

With the right training, virtual teams can act and behave just as effectively as face-to-face teams, and even show improved efficiency, better profits, and a more fulfilled workforce. That’s why we’ve selected the main concerns of Amerland’s article, and addressed them from our standpoint.

How can I lead my virtual team?

This is a common concern that we’ve been addressing for years. First, let’s say that many leaders mistake “How do I lead my virtual team?” with “How do I control my virtual team?” If you want to control your virtual team, it means you don’t trust them. And if you don’t trust your employees, you’ve got far bigger problems to worry about.

Trust issues aside, Amerland suggests that newly-appointed virtual leaders have problems with routine tasks such as performance reviews. Now, let’s be clear: this difficulty absolutely exists. But, this doesn’t mean that leadership is impossible in virtual work, it means we have to keep the core of what good leadership is, but change the methods and tools we use to enact that leadership in a virtual environment.

How can my virtual team help my bottom line?

Amerland writes “Yes, remote workers may indeed be more carefree, happier and productive, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for their companies.”

We still haven’t figured out why the article links happy and productive employees to bad business. If anything, businesses should be doing more to create happy employees. Research shows that business are more profitable when they are run by happy and fulfilled employees—the kind you can find in properly-managed virtual teams. Even if you don’t want to talk about “soft” factors like engagement, virtual work still drives up profits; in fact, one source wrote that more virtual work could lead to an estimated 800 billion dollars saved in productivity gains across America, not even considering the saved time and energy spent not commuting.

How can I connect with my virtual team?

This last major concern of the article argues that virtual team members just don’t connect with each other like face-to-face teams do, and this hurts organizational cohesion. We’re not surprised that people still worry about making human connections in virtual teams. It’s a valid concern. In fact, at Virtual Team Builders, we try to help virtual teams change the way they work and improve their ability to make human connections virtually. Suffice it to say that virtual teams can be just as cohesive and organized as any brick-and-mortar office. In fact, in the next few weeks, we’ll be posting blogs that detail this exact topic, from how virtual teams can support the genuine human connections that make work rewarding, to how virtual teams can provide an unparalleled opportunity for us to come together to work on issues that we care about.

While virtual work definitely differs from traditional face-to-face work, it’s not going anywhere. The solution isn’t to step back from remote working, diffuse teams, and telecommuting. Instead, we need to step forward—providing training and support for virtual team members and leaders—to move into a future of more empowering, fulfilling virtual work.

 

By : Amir Ahmed /February 27, 2015 /Blog, your Virtual Team /0 Comment Read More

How to tell if you have a virtual team

Do you know if you have a virtual team?

It’s a ridiculous question, isn’t it? Of course you’d know if you had a virtual team.

But, would you really? It sounds strange, but we’ve seen leaders mistake their virtual teams for face-to-face ones, and we’ve seen this mistake cost organizations time and money. In this post, we’ll show how you can have a virtual team without realizing it.

Let’s start with some questions.

• Do you work more than 90 feet away from any one of your team members?
• Do you use communication technologies to accomplish specific goals?
• Do you have frequent web or tele-conferences?
• Are any individuals in your team “virtual”? As in, do they phone in, text, or email from a different location than the rest of your team?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you have a virtual team. This is important, because a virtual team is not the same as a face-to-face team.

Our image of a virtual team usually involves a small group of people dispersed across hundreds and hundreds of miles. While this is definitely one form of virtual team, it’s not the only model. What distinguishes a virtual team from a face-to-face one is how they communicate. And, if you primarily communicate with your team with technology, that makes you a virtual team. This means that you can have a virtual team that works in the same office but on different floors.

Imagine that you needed to connect with a colleague for a routine matter. You work in the same building, but on different floors. How would you do it? Would you pick up the phone, use email, messaging, or take the stairs? If it was a routine matter, you’d probably avoid the stairs and use one of the first three options. In other words, you’d use communication technology.

When you shift from face-to-face to technology-enabled communication, you shift from a face-to-face to a virtual team. And, thanks to a study by Tom Allen, we have an exact number for when that shift happens. Allen studied a team of engineers; he found that if they worked in the next office over, they had a 25% chance of communicating once a week. If they were 30 feet apart or more, they had a 10% chance of communicating at least once a week. But, if they were more than 90 feet apart, the frequency of their communication dropped. Past 90 feet, it didn’t matter whether they were in the next building, or in China, they began to act like a virtual team.

This study shows us that virtual teams are much more common than we think. Virtual teams exist in offices across the country. And with virtual teams comes a new set of problems that can’t be solved with face-to-face solutions. It is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole: a waste of time, money and resources.

You need the right tool for the right job; if you think use face-to-face solutions for a virtual team problem, you’re using a hammer when you really need a screwdriver.

In our next post, we’ll talk about the differences between virtual teams and face-to-face ones, and what you can do to start managing virtually.

Tell us about your experience with virtual teams in the comments.

By : Amir Ahmed /February 12, 2015 /Blog, Building a Virtual Team /1 Comment Read More

Are you ready to be the virtual leader or team member that you have the potential to be?

In our last post, we challenged you to assess how you show up, how you want to show up and how others think you show up to your virtual workspace. Because most of us all have blind spots to the attitude and awareness we bring to the table, it’s sometimes difficult to assess what our team members find challenging about the behaviours we show up with behind our screens or on the phone.

If you answered all the self-reflection questions fully and honestly, congratulations! If you didn’t get around to taking stock of how you show up, take a couple minutes and think about the following:

  • When I’m on a phone meeting and not face-to-face with others, am I actively participating in the conversation? Yes/No
  • Before responding to a team member who hasn’t been performing well, do I call and email him/her right away or do I step away from the situation to assess before responding? Take a moment here to think of a specific situation and spend a few moments reflecting before answering. Yes/No
  • I am easily distracted by my emails Yes/No Take some extra time here and reflect on how much time you spend checking personal emails and updates on social networks or other websites.
  • Do I respond with awareness in most situations? Yes/No Write down some virtual interactions (email, telephone, video conference) you’ve had in the last couple weeks and think about your level of awareness in each situation.
  • Do I generally react with my first thought, opinion or judgment? Yes/No
  • Do I take time each day for myself to do one healthy and stress relieving activity – meditation, yoga, and/or physical exercise? Yes/No

Would one of your team members agree or disagree with your answers? Copy and paste these questions into an email and ask someone on your team you trust if you have not done so already.

Perception vs. reality

We’d all like to think we’re giving our team members and projects we’re working on 100 per cent attention 100 per cent of the time, but that is neither realistic, nor attainable. Emotions, to-do lists, personal obligations, energy levels, etc. are constantly battling for our attention. However, by bringing a few mindful moments of awareness to each situation we can communicate in a less reactive and more influential way.

Think of it this way, when you’re driving a car there is always a blind spot. You know the blind spot is there, but what about those times you’re not consciously bringing your awareness to it. You check your mirror but you don’t shoulder check and wham, you might hit another car and crash.

The same thing happens in the virtual workplace. You’re half listening, thinking about what you need to get done later, checking your smartphone and only giving half of your focus to your project. Sooner or later, you’re team members start to pull back, maybe they quit responding to your requests in a timely manner, or maybe conflict and animosity start surfacing.

While you may think you’re doing everything right, you’re subconsciously letting others on your team down and conflict arises because you haven’t paid attention to the whole picture.

If you don’t know, how can you change?

Now that you have some basic levels of awareness on how you’re currently showing up, it’s time to paint an entire picture of the situation, not only your perception. Try sending your virtual team members a confidential survey to garner honest feedback with the following types of questions:

  • What behaviours am I exhibiting? For example:

o   Does it seem like I’m genuinely interested in what people on the call have to say?

o   Do I respond in a timely manner to emails and phone calls?

o   Do you feel that I’m listening when I respond to your phone calls?

o   How does my behaviour at work impact you and the team?

  • What would you like me to start doing that I have not been doing?
  • What would you like me to be stop doing that has been getting in the way of your productivity?
  • What would you like me to continue doing that has been helpful in your career growth?

Once you’ve collected this information from your team, what will you do with it?

Look again at the questions and determine the one that makes you most uncomfortable. Nine times out of 10 the one that gives you the most discomfort when you read it is the area you need to change the most. Now you will need to take action.Unless you take that first step and then the following ones, nothing will happen to help you reach your desired outcomes, no matter how clearly they’re defined.

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or send us an email at info@virtualteambuilders.com.

 

 

By : Claire Sookman /October 08, 2014 /Blog, Resiliency in a Virtual Environment /0 Comment Read More

The Key to An Engaged Workforce: Show Up Mindfully

When you telecommute to your virtual office each day which may be steps away from your kitchen where your first cup of coffee is waiting for you, you’ve likely already checked emails, fulfilled some personal obligations and thought about work deadlines before you’ve officially started your “work day.”

By the time we’re at our desks or dialing into a conference call, our minds are flooded with tasks we didn’t finish yesterday or what we have to do in the coming days or weeks. This often translates to never being full present or aware with the task in front of us or in conversations with our colleagues and employees.

How many times have you been on a conference call and have been checking your email at the same time or working on another task? For most of us, multitasking is the new norm, but neuroscience research shows that we’re the most productive when we are focused on one task. Multitasking is nothing more than our brains switching from one task to another.

The result – we’re showing up to the workplace more unfocused, less productive and more unaware of the cues of others than ever before.

laptop-architect-woman.jpg

 

 

Prepare yourself to show up, prepare your team

When you’re working virtually, you can’t see someone’s reaction  to you unless you are using webcam or video conferencing technology. Without these tools, we have to listen for the tone of voice, the pauses and even the silence.

This means that the first step to let your team know they have your undivided attention is to listen. By listening – not checking your smartphone or looking at your computer – when you’re not face-to-face with your employees will not only allow you to read the subtle clues, but will also allow you to look at situations in a new way versus running on autopilot.

Before your next meeting or one-on-one conversation, think about how you can prepare yourself to show up:

  • Take 30 seconds to one minute to sit quietly, take some deep breaths and be aware of the present moment before running to the next task.
  • Put away your smartphone so you won’t be tempted to check or respond to messages as they arise.
  • Ask yourself, are you focusing and listening to what your team needs or are you absorbed in the work you need to get done?

The power of awareness

Subconsciously we often show up to work in a non-mindful way. We don’t consciously think about how we show up or the impact our unconscious behavior has on other people or the project we are working on.

Take a few minutes to thinking about the following:

  • How you currently show up?
  • How you want to show up?

If you weren’t sure about either answer, don’t worry. Begin by asking yourself these questions?

Ask yourself the following:

  • When I sit down at my desk do I feel tired and overwhelmed or present and calm?
  • Before responding to an employee who’s hasn’t been performing well, do I call and email him/her right away or do I step away from the situation to assess before responding?
  • When I’m on a phone meeting and not face-to-face with others, do I usually check my phone or have my eye on my computer screen?
  • Do I respond with awareness of a situation or am I simply reacting with my first thought, opinion or judgment?
  • Do I take time each day for myself to do one healthy and stress relieving activity – meditation, yoga, exercise?

After answering the questions to yourself ask a colleague you trust the same set of questions about how they think you show up and what is the impact on your team. 

     Next, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your self-reflection align with your colleague’s perception of you? Is there a gap between your view and your colleague’s view?
  • Does your colleague see areas of improvement? If yes, what will you do with that information?

While mindfulness may be the catch phrase of the moment, it’s impossible to ignore the evidence of how focusing your attention on the now or simply showing up and being present in the virtual workplace will allow leaders to look at situations in a new way, which will trickle down to their employees resulting in a happier and more engaged workplace.

Once you’ve answered the questions and discussed with a colleague you trust, check back for our next article where we’ll discuss the steps you can take to start to change your behavior and begin leading a present and engaged virtual workplace. It all starts with you!

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.100/s12671-012-0144-z

 

By : Claire Sookman /September 29, 2014 /Performance Increase in Homeworkers /0 Comment Read More
  • ABOUT US

    Virtual Team Builders is a training and consulting company that caters to corporations and teams who depend on effective virtual collaboration to succeed. Our training is targeted towards the unique challenges faced by teams operating in a virtual environment; challenges that are present whether members work 90 feet apart or 3000 miles apart.