Virtual teams are widely regarded as high in interaction, high in content, low in emotion. In fact, these are some of reasons they are often credited as being so effective. Seventy percent of CIO’s rate their virtual teams as very important. Yet, only 53 percent of CIO’s claim they are maintaining good relationships within their teams. (Cornell University study, 2010) And, sadly, only 18 percent of their dispersed team members feel their bosses cared about their feelings. Surprise, the truth often hurts. (R. Pastore, 2008)
The role of emotions at work is one of the most popular topics for doctoral research in business management. (Forbes, 2012) There is no doctorate needed to know that happy employees equal productive employees. Odds are that if you are reading this, you are “the boss,” the team leader, the manager, the CIO. So here is a reality check: are you happy almost constantly at work? No? Ok, but top leaders and CIO’s still must help ensure better relationships and greater happiness in their virtual teams.
Are virtual teams really so different emotionally?
When asked, a CIO with eighty-three dispersed teams said of emotions and relationships in the workplace, “I never really thought of it as important.” Amazing. Remember, 82 percent of virtual team members did not think their bosses cared about happiness and emotions. And 86 percent of these dissatisfied virtual employees said they plan to look for a new position. (DaVinci, 2012) Not important?
A high performing distance manager at MetLife states that 80 percent of his job is relationship management and 20 percent is task management. This percentage is quite normal and routine to managers and leaders in other areas and in other companies. Why is this trait so amazing in a virtual team manager that it is noteworthy enough to be included in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report?
Be skillful enough to recognize this divergence. “Companies aren’t all that worried about the feelings of their staff. Yes, they’ve seen the dire predictions of exodus maximus when (if) the economy turns around. But they figure they’ll burn that bridge when they come to it.” (Devaney and Stein, AllBusiness, 2014) Let that not be you.
Develop and follow consistent steps toward better working relationships among your teams and employees. Relationship development and emotional management are daily activities not reserved for the Human Resource department.
Virtual employees are not emotionally different. Virtual teams are not different. Take time to care.
Showing that you care at a distance:
The statistics on retention alone should already be enough to motivate any C-level executive, vice president, manager or supervisor. Do you care about your employees and your teams? Do you show that on a daily basis? If not, why not?
That being said, here are three core behaviors of many successful organizations and some small steps that may help VT leaders, managers and their CIO’s develop them.
1) Show you know
You hopefully already know the strengths of your teams and their members. Do they know you know? Did you say “Here’s the contact info for your next client.”? Or, did you say “You did great designing that website last week. We have a new client who seems pretty picky, and since your work is so detail-oriented, I think you’re the best for this job.”
Get to know your employees’ and teams personally. Make it a goal to do one to two minute “innerviews” with each of them over time. That means some one on one time, folks. “But, that’s not possible. I don’t have enough time” you say? ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini is renowned for knowing each of his employees’ names. He has hundreds. How many do you have? How many employees’ do you take the time to authentically connect with? If you don’t you may have to ask yourself do you have time to replace and retrain?
2) Show you care
Knowing isn’t enough. And it is here where most leaders can fail. You have to care. Caring cannot be created, faked, or falsified. So. What do you do? There are no “action steps” to caring. You have to use what’s right for you, or it will feel contrived. However, here is one example of what taking the time to care looks like in action and feels like to a team member.
You talk, email, IM or text with your team members often. When doing so, keep your contacts list open. Use the notes section for its designed purpose: your team member’s information. Say that Supervisor Steve talks about his family occasionally. As you chat with him the next few times, ask and learn more about them. Take some notes, like their names: his wife Jane and his boys Bobby and Danny. Oh, by the way, Bobby’s the one who plays trombone and is going off to college on a music scholarship in the fall.
Nine months later, you are talking to Steve again. So, how is Bobby doing, anyway? Did you remember to check? Did you care enough to actually ask? How amazed will Steve be when you do ask? This is just one small, tiny example. Picture more of these types of moments, where you truly connect, as you make them part of your normal workweek. Take small actions that create those moments. Don’t allow your virtual team employees to be a faceless strangers.
Caring is where compassion and action intersect. Find that spot.
3) Leave a clear and positive impression
What kind of impression does Steve have of you nine months later? In every contact you have, there should be a clear impression in the team members’ minds that you support them individually and as a group. Again, creating positive impressions in the workplace is the topic of many books and in no way can it be conveyed completely here. You have to find your own path. But, here is one small thought to ponder.
If someone walks up to you and tells you what they want and need and then stops, turns and walks away, what is your impression of them? Not very positive, is it? No chance for communication. No chance to ask questions, assuming you’d even want to.
You know where this is going. What do your emails look like? Your IM’s? Your texts? One blog article recently mentioned how little things don’t just mean a lot. Little things mean everything. It listed a common IM scenario.
Steve Smith: Did you have any comments on the report I sent you last week?
Steve Smith: Did you have any comments on the report I sent you last week?
You: No. 🙂
From the first IM, Steve could easily assume that you are indifferent to his work and do not care. The smiley, however, communicates satisfaction. If you’re Steve, which IM would you rather get? J Which one shows a lack of compassion in action? L
You can’t fake it
Making a team productive and happy is essential. Those in charge of virtual teams, from team leaders, to middle managers, to CIO’s all face the same challenges as any leader in any business. Virtual teams are not different emotionally. People are people. They want what they do to mean something. They want to be happy about it. And it’s your job to provide that.
Google “employee happiness.” What you’ll see is link after link of what are, most often, actually employee motivation topics. Motivation could be anything from a verbal tongue lashing to a trip to Vegas. None of which involve caring. That’s too bad, because that is precisely what employees say they want, and are not getting. Take steps to correct this; baby steps if needed, but begin immediately and keep moving forward.
Get to know your team personally, show compassion and interest in them, and make sure you are clear in communications and impressions, to maintain what you’ve worked to achieve. Little things mean everything. Over time, take more small steps, more small actions.
Remember, caring is where compassion and action intersect.
Tell us how you build that true connection with your team. We want to know.