Managing Stress in a Virtual Environment

The New Reality: Your Team is Probably Virtual

The New Reality: Your Team is Probably VirtualWould it shock you to know that you have a virtual team? This may seem like a ridiculous question, but after learning a bit about the evolving nature of today’s workplace, more and more managers are answering, “Yes!”

What is a virtual team?

It helps to understand just what makes a team virtual in the first place, starting with some of the following characteristics:

  • Do colleagues work more than 90 feet away from one another?
  • Does your team rely on communication technologies to accomplish specific goals?
  • Do you have frequent web or tele-conferences?
  • Does one or more colleague work remotely, with limited or even zero face time with the rest of the team?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then there is no doubt about it: 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, which is usually a function of distance – 50 feet or more. That distance (or even located in the same office but on distance floor) acts as a psychological barrier for many people, causing them to avoid walking to a team member’s desk and rely on technology instead.

Thanks to a study by Tom Allen, we have an exact number for when that shift happens. Allen studied a team of engineers and 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 50 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.

Virtual teams are much more common than we think, existing in offices across the country and presenting 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.

Virtual Team Builders offers a variety of solutions to support your virtual team in achieving its goals, from comprehensive team assessments and training to one-on-one mentoring for managers. Contact us today to learn more.

By : Michal Spiar /September 12, 2017 /Blog, Building a Virtual Team, Managing Stress in a Virtual Environment, your Virtual Team /0 Comment Read More

Is your virtual team suffering from burn out?

Spring has sprung and hopefully with it, a new sense of vitality. That said, with hectic schedules, tight timelines and competing priorities at meetings we may not take the time to chit chat about what’s new with each other, as a result, employees who may be struggling with feeling burnt out might not be easy to spot. In a virtual world, where we don’t have the luxury of body language, this can be even more of a challenge.

Burnout is more than just being tired after a long or challenging week. For those who are truly burnt out, it is a considerable problem that interferes with one’s productivity, job satisfaction, wellbeing and overall quality of life. Those who are able to identify burn out early on can reverse the down ward spiral. So, how can you determine if you, or an employee, have been suffering from a long couple of weeks, or if it’s a true case of burn out?

The definition of burn out is a state of chronic stress and frustration. This can lead to:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Cynicism and detachment
  • Feelings of ineffectiveness and a lack of accomplishment.

The end result is one where the person experiencing burn out is not able to function personally or professionally.

Signs to look for:

Physical and emotional exhaustion symptoms can range from chronic fatigue, insomnia, impaired concentration and attention, increased episodes of illness, anxiety, depression, lack of appetite, anger and/or serious physical symptoms such as chest pain, etc…

Cynicism and detachment symptoms can look like an inability to enjoy day to day life, pessimism, isolation and detaching from people and the environment. Feelings of ineffectiveness and a lack of accomplishment symptoms can cause one to have a general sense of apathy, helplessness and hopelessness, increased irritability, lack of productivity and poor performance.

Some organizations may take the view that burn out is an individual’s concern and issue to deal with. Here are some compelling reasons for organizations to take note and do what they can to help employees avoid becoming burnt out.

When employees are burnt out their productivity levels fluctuate, they are more likely to call in sick, they aren’t fully present, and their creativity and innovation reduces if not stops altogether.

Has an employee who is typically upbeat and optimistic started shutting down, or making negative comments? Perhaps an employee who has previously never really used sick days suddenly starts taking personal or sick days.  These could be signs that burn out is setting in. In the virtual environment, these signs can be difficult to detect, however by using careful listening skills, paying attention to changes in your team’s dynamic and/or their productivity you may be able to identify burn out before it’s too late.

As an employer, if you’re trying to determine the difference between a burnt out employee and one who is just having a stressful week, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are your employees frequently putting in long hours? This can be hard to determine in a virtual environment where you may not see when employees start and end their days. However, if you’re receiving emails from employees at all hours of the night and day, chances are they are putting in more than 40 hour weeks, and likely aren’t taking time to relax because they’re taking their jobs home with them.
  • Feeling isolated from the rest of the team can contribute to burnout. Do you have employees who work independently more frequently than others? That independence could be inadvertently creating a negative consequence.

Are your team members achieving less than they have in the past. Is there a valid reason for this, such as the economy isn’t doing as well? If not, it could be that they are experiencing burnout. If you are able to answer yes or maybe to more than one of these questions, it is a good idea to have an honest conversation with your employee.

Join us in coming weeks when we’ll look at how to deal with this type of conversation, additional reasons why it’s important to recognize and understand burn out, as well as what you can do to counter it.


By : Amir Ahmed /May 09, 2014 /Blog, Managing Stress in a Virtual Environment /0 Comment Read More

Three Techniques to be a Stress-free Virtual Worker!

Is stress getting you down? Sometimes, work related work pressures can become so overwhelming, that all you want to do is crawl into deep dark hole, initiate foetal position, and just forget that the world exists. But this won’t solve any of our problems. So, instead of wishing for stress free days, actually feel stress-free! Here are three tips to help you to unwind for the long weekend.

1)      Learn to Relax!  Use the long weekend to focus on yourself. While it is important to keep work related matters in mind, remember that it should not completely control your life. Not leaving time to relax is mentally tolling; this means not only will you have exhausted yourself physically, but your work quality will also suffer. If you are too tired to work, chances are you won’t—at least not as well as you would if you were energized and rejuvenated. Many often believe that continuously working past one’s physical limit is the only way to stay on track and produce proper results. This is a myth. If your brain is tired, you will not be half as productive as you think you will be. A tired brain means sloppy work!

2)      Keep your Work-Life Balance in check – As a virtual worker, it is quite easy to blur the distinction between work-time and home-time, because work-time is…well…at home. Not being able to keep the two apart may make you feel as though you are working all the time. Be careful, as this is dangerous. Without maintaining the balance, you may start to resent your work and feel as though you have no time to yourself. A simple solution to this is that as soon as the clock hits 5 pm, literally check out of your office. Turn off your machine(s), get out of the house, go to the gym—just do something else! Working overtime may be helpful for catching up with certain tasks, but just make sure you do not overdo this. Also, if you manage your time well, you shouldn’t even have to work past five (but that’s a discussion for another time!)

3)      Don’t multi-task! Surprising, right? Despite the various talks about the benefits of doing many things at once, there is scientific evidence that this type of working style is not helpful. An article in the Washington Post explains how doing too many things at once can “scatter” your attention. It also stops us from thinking creatively because we may be focusing on more tasks than our brains can handle. This can stop us from “original thought—or to make wise decisions”, says Teresa Aubele and Susan Reynolds, the writers of Psychology Today, who were featured in the article.

So what does this all mean? This long weekend, take a step back to breathe. Your work will still be there once you go back the next week, so try to use the time you have for yourself! You will find that relaxing will actually help you be more productive in the long run (as long as you don’t overdo it!).

If you have any thoughts or comments, please send them to We would love to hear from you!

By : Amir Ahmed /May 06, 2014 /Blog, Managing Stress in a Virtual Environment /0 Comment Read More

Three helpful tips to manage negative energy

Today, we’re going to give some quick but helpful tips to manage negative energy. Click here for an overview of What is Negative Energy and why it’s important for teams and their leaders to be aware of it.


Simply put, we all put out energy. Depending on our state of mind, the energy we put out can be positive or negative. In fact, we can be putting out negative vibes without even being aware of it. Positive energy tends to be good – it boosts morale, provides a sense of hope and a desire to accomplish things. Negative energy can have the reverse impact. It can derail meetings, encourage disharmony within a group and promote a general sense of things getting stopped in their tracks. In some cases, negative energy can even stop a project from starting if it spreads through the group. The energy we put out has the potential to be extremely powerful, so it’s important to be able to harness it and manage it.

Let’s see how we do this

1. Manage your own energy.

As you start each day, be aware of what you’re bringing in to your office. If you’re having a rough day, acknowledge how your feeling and ask yourself what might turn things around. Perhaps its taking a walk or grabbing a coffee, or watching a silly video on the internet. The goal is to shift your energy. Being aware of how you’re feeling and taking steps to manage it will allow you to keep your interactions with those on your team and in your organization positive.

2. Pay Attention.

Frequently in meetings, we want to power through the list of things that need to be addressed. By being aware of what people are saying, who isn’t talking and the energy over the wire it will get easier to tell when negative vibes are bringing down a meeting. Often, our senses will tell us something is wrong long before we’re aware of it – but if we pay attention it’ll get easier to sense when something is off. If you notice that someone seems to be overly negative or playing devil’s advocate more than usual, it’s a good idea to have an off line chat. If the meeting is quickly falling off chart, call a break and give the person a quick call to get a sense of what is going on. If it’s not possible to take a break, manage the conversation by acknowledging what the person is saying. Many people struggle with this, but remember that acknowledging what someone has said isn’t the same as agreeing with them. Although we’ve used meetings as an example of when this could happen, be aware that this could be the same in a one on one conversation with a team member. Paying attention to what people are saying, what’s happening with a project and what your senses are telling you are good first steps to manage negative energy when it rears its ugly head.

3. Authentic Conversations.

Encourage your team to be open and honest with each other. This doesn’t give people permission to be hurtful, but by modeling and rewarding authentic conversations you’ll foster a work environment where people aren’t afraid to have difficult conversations. Disagreements can be misconstrued as negative energy, when frequently, people feel like they’ll be penalized for pointing out problems, however most managers would agree that finding the issues early on is better and more cost effective than finding out when you’re launching a product or service. If someone has an authentic desire to participate in the success of the team, they should feel comfortable being able to address concerns in a constructive manner, which means taking part in authentic conversations. This can be a challenge in a virtual environment where we lose the benefit of body language – having the team come up with ground rules and group norms to guide how they want to work together will help establish this type of culture. By welcoming the good, the bad and the ugly in a respectful and meaningful fashion, your team will be so much better off for it. Contact us to let us know your experience with negative energy and how you dealt with it!

By : Amir Ahmed /April 30, 2014 /Blog, Managing Stress in a Virtual Environment /0 Comment Read More

    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.