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How can self-awareness grow more effective leaders?

In our last blog post, we talked about authenticity: far from being a feel-good fad, authenticity has been found to be incredibly important to leaders, and especially to leaders of virtual teams.

Suffice it to say that authenticity breeds trust, and trust is the driving force for engagement, productivity, and results in virtual teams. Authenticity is also surprisingly hard to achieve. To be authentic is a process of learning to be self-aware.

We believe that authenticity is a major facet of the human side of virtual teams. Authenticity refers to being true to who we are.

  • How often in our daily lives do we exhibit our genuine selves by being honest with ourselves and others about what we feel and desire?
  • How often do we pursue the things in life that truly make us happy?

Authenticity breeds trust, and trust is the driving force for employee engagement, productivity, and results in virtual teams.Our authentic selves must be expressed through our actions; in other words, we must live genuinely. Living genuinely allows us to be fully present in our jobs, families, and every activity in which we are engaged in, including our virtual teams.

We can’t be fully aware of our authentic selves without being fully present. So let’s take a moment to reflect on our level of self awareness.

Evaluating your level of self-awareness

We have a series of things to consider to guide you through this process.

  • Do you respond with awareness in my virtual meetings? At your next virtual meeting, become the observer and notice how you respond to your colleagues or team members.
  • When someone offers a dissenting opinion, do you take a moment to reflect and respond in a way that values others’ viewpoints?
  • Do you listen for the intent of what is being said, not just the words that our colleagues use? Do you multitask during your meetings?
  • Do you listen for the tone of voice, the pace of their words, and notice whether your colleagues or team members are stressed?
  • Do you judge what someone is saying or do you seek to understand?

What else do you notice about yourself in and out of virtual meetings?

What do you notice about your team members?

  • Do you notice that they’re present or multi-tasking on mute?
  • Do you notice your team members respond quickly to opinions or questions without reflecting?

How to use self-awareness as a leader

One way of encouraging your virtual team to be present is to open up the dialogue to them about what it means to be authentic and present.If you are the leader, consider how you can influence your team in a positive way. One way of encouraging your virtual team to be present, be more aware, and be more authentic is to open the dialogue to them about what presence looks like in your team.

At the beginning of a meeting, have a conversation with your virtual team about what being present looks like; engage your entire team in the conversation.

Self-awareness leads to presence

The more you are aware of your behaviour, the more authentic and present you can be, and the stronger of a leader you can grow.

In our next blog we’ll continue developing our self-evaluation from an outside source: we’re going to ask how your team members perceive you.

By : Claire Sookman /July 16, 2015 /Blog, Building a Virtual Team, Motivating Your Virtual Team, Performance Increase in Homeworkers /0 Comment Read More

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
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    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.