Uncategorized

Living in the Moment: Mindfulness in Virtual Teams

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

How often have you had lunch at your desk and could not remember what you ate, or if you even did eat? It is easy to become very focused upon your task at hand. This focus is often referred to as “being in the zone” or “in the flow.” When there is an imminent deadline for a team project and you are the one finalizing it, you’ll sometimes find yourself in that state.   Thus, these phrases have some positive value attached to them: productive, hard-working, energized.

 

Mindfulness and the CIO

However, when reality strikes, and the client calls, or emergencies arise, team members cannot be oblivious to the obvious: it is time to change tasks. As “being in the zone” might imply, hyperfocus can be good, but not always. The only place you have any impact is in the here and now. That cannot be achieved with your head down in the computer screen and your mind multi-tasking like crazy. Being present here and now in every interaction you have is a prerequisite for individual and Virtual Team success.

The buzzword often used is “mindfulness.” Rarely heard in management until recently, it is based upon Buddhist practices. Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. “The outlook for CIOs, as they demonstrate mindful leadership, is excellent.” (J. Esser, Technology Forecast, 2013) Mindful leaders inspire mindful teams. Help your virtual team become more mindful right now.

 

Three Tips for Being More Mindful

Focus on teaching your virtual team members, and yourself, these three simple tips to help them be in the moment, not in the zone (or zoned out during an online meeting, not that you’ve ever done that…):

  • In the zone? Take a moment to notice what you’re doing and when and why you are doing it. Is this a stretch for you? Set a reminder in Outlook if you have to, but stop what you’re doing for even just a moment and come back to reality every hour. If you lose all track of time, you are probably hyperfocused. Take some time to simply be. Lunch time, for example.
  • Zoned out? This can happen, also. When you notice your mind wandering as the client (or your boss) drones on in that virtual meeting, do not become frustrated or judge yourself harshly, simply bring yourself back to the current task and move forward. Your thoughts are simply thoughts; you do not need to react to them, especially the negative ones.
  • Become aware. Notice where you tend to “zone in” or “zone out” too much. What are the activities? Practice bringing more awareness into them to achieve a balance. Do not take things so seriously that you cannot act on them without judging them. While emotions, good or bad, can be motivators for bursts of productivity, long term they do not serve you well.

Remember that these are just simple starter exercises in awareness. They are not immediate deep life changes, but in time they can be.. The more awareness and mindfulness you bring into your daily life, the more you can authentically connect. You can tell when the person you’re Skyping with isn’t paying attention, as you hear their keyboard keys click. Don’t be that person. You do not need to drag out a yoga mat and sit in the lotus position to start your day, although many successful executives do. To be mindful means simply to be more aware, however you can, of the present moment.

 

Three Benefits of Being Mindful in the Moment

There are three things you, and any virtual team member, can think about: the past, reliving things you messed up; the future, worrying about things you need to do later; and the present, what is happening right now. Barring using a time machine, the only place you can have an impact is in the here and now. Richard Carlson, Ph.D. said in his classic book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, “Now is the only time we have, and the only time we have any control over.”

While there are many benefits to being in the moment, for individuals and for virtual teams, here are three notable ones:

  • Increased enjoyment. Work, and any task, can be more pleasant when the mind is not elsewhere. It is easier to appreciate and enjoy things more when your conscious mind is an active participant, and not parked on the sidelines while your autonomous mind is in hyperdrive.
  • Reduced stress. Worrying about the past and future gives you stress. But being present is almost like meditation. There are fewer worries. There is simply more experiencing. Virtual team members can experience a different kind of stress from traditional workers: isolation. The mind can sometimes wander, and worry, more, in this environment.
  • Better relationships. When you really are mindful and commit yourself to being a better listener, team member, coworker, manager, you have better relationships. You have better conversations. You bond. Forming such bonds is one of the most successful things any team manager or CIO can accomplish “for superior performance in virtual teams.” (Harvard Business Review, 06/2013)

 

 

Virtual Teamwork

Mindfulness is awareness about moment to moment thoughts of the person and the team. It allows for better relationships, appropriate focus, and better presence among virtual teams Michele McDonald notes that “when we are actually connected with our current experience with single-pointed attention, we are free to form greater connections with others, to become more of a team.” (Dharma lecture, 04/2005) What CIO or team leader couldn’t use that?

Tell us how you create mindfulness within your team. We want to know.

info@virtualteambuilders.com

By : Claire Sookman /March 31, 2016 /Uncategorized /0 Comment Read More

What are the two elements that make a virtual team successful?

We have been talking about virtual teams’ challenges; now let’s discuss solutions! In our past blog posts, we talked about how virtual teams are more common than we think (any team where members are 90 feet apart, or more qualifies as a virtual team), and the challenges virtual teams face. Today, let’s review the two elements that make virtual teams successful: task processes, and socio-emotional processes.

Task processes key to company success, right?

The first element—task processes—is pretty straightforward. Task processes means any processes that keep everyone contributing, and on schedule. Task processes can take many forms: from team meetings to status reports.

A quotation on the role of task-processes at work in virtual teams In virtual teams, task processes are especially helpful when they clearly define roles and responsibilities, set out priorities for the team, and establish the levels of accountability that each team member has.

People talk about task processes a lot—and rightfully so, it is important—but we also need to focus on the second element of successful virtual teams. This second element is socio-emotional processes, and it’s where we often falter.

How can socio-emotional processes contribute to your company’s success?

We often ignore establishing socio-emotional processes. Sometimes, it’s because we’re not sure how to handle these processes, and other times, we think that this “soft stuff” is somehow not serious enough for the workplace. But no matter the reason, ignoring the socio-emotional element actually hurts the cohesion and effectiveness of a team.

A quotation stating that teams that spend time on socio-emotional processes had an increase in task performance.Research suggests that teams that spend time on socio-emotional processes had an increase in task performance. Without focus on the socio-emotional element, the team simply won’t work as well.

There are two parts to socio-emotional processes in virtual teams: trust and communication.

Trust

Trust is a hugely important element of work, whether it is virtual or face-to-face. However, trust takes longer to build in a virtual environment. It takes four times longer to build trust in a remote environment than in a face-to-face environment. And remember: this is just as true if a team is on different floors as if they work in different countries.

If your team is more than 90 feet apart from each other and communicating primarily through email, phone, or messaging, trust is something you’ll have to consciously work at developing.

Trust comes primarily through identification with each other—“we’re all on the same team”—and through repeatedly matching words to actions. So, building team identity and cohesion, which is an on-going activity and encouraging people to consistently perform what they communicate is a vital part of the trust equation.

Communication

This brings us to the second vital part of the socio-emotional processes of a virtual team: communication.

It is harder to communicate in a virtual environment. Without body language, tone of voice, or environmental context, it is harder to transmit a clear message of what we mean. With that in mind, our communication must be clear.

Strategies that can help in establishing clear communications are the following:

  • Have an open door policy.

Let your virtual team know when you will be available to discuss task or non-task related issues.

This may be more easily implemented in a face-to-face environment where you can actually close or open a door, and more challenging in a virtual environment.

If your company uses an internal messaging system, however, you may be able to change your status to signal that you’re welcome to talk! If you rely solely on email, a quick email to your virtual team member letting them know that you’re ready to dedicate a block of your time to anyone who wants to talk about anything may suffice.

  • Establish rules of responsiveness.

How quickly are people expected to return an email, an IM, or a phone call? What is your protocol when people are out of the office? Having streamlined standards for lines of communications means that everyone knows what is expected of them and can behave accordingly. Similarly, they know what they can expect from others.

It’s hard to focus on socio-emotional processes in virtual teams: there’s no class on socio-emotional processing in college or university, and nothing in the business world has prepared us for the importance of this element of virtual teaming.

Luckily, that’s where we come in. Leave us a comment below for tips on how you can help strengthen the “soft skills” of your virtual team.

By : Claire Sookman /June 08, 2015 /Uncategorized /0 Comment Read More

Having A Conversation About Burn Out

For the past month, we’ve been writing about burn out and how it’s a real issue that organizations need to take seriously. Click here to read how to recognize burnout and here for some tips on avoiding burnout. This week, we’re going to look at how to have a conversation with your employees if you are worried they might be on the path to burning out.

Burn out impacts people in different ways – so from one employee to another, the signs may be very different. In a virtual environment, this can often be difficult as you won’t necessarily be able to see visibly signs of exhaustion, or change in appearance the same as you would in an office atmosphere. In some cases, your employees may be on a slow burn to crash, which means changes can be very subtle and those feelings of anxiety, depression or lack of motivation may not be immediately observable.

Sometimes behavioural changes can be an indication that something is going on, such as a change in sense of humour or listening skills that used to be great are waning. The only concrete thing you may have to tell you something is going on is a decrease in productivity. This makes it especially more important for those leading virtual teams to enhance their listening and observational skills.

Before talking to your employee, it’s a good idea to talk to your Human Resource department first to determine if there are courses, or assistance programs for employees so you’re equipped with a tangible resource. If you can’t meet face to face with the employee for this discussion, a video conference is ideal to help build rapport through body language as these types of conversations will require empathy and compassion. Compassion is an emotion that helps you understand where others are coming from, and allows you to feel the pain that other people are going through. That said, if you know that compassion and empathy aren’t your strong points, you may decide to appoint another leader within the organization who has this skillset to speak with the employee. If the person who’s feeling burnt out senses that you don’t have time or an understanding for how they’re feeling they may feel ambushed, which will further contribute to their sense of burn out.

If your employee is demonstrating atypical behaviour, the first thing to do is have a frank conversation so you can understand the motivation behind the decrease in performance or uncharacteristic negative attitude. It’s possible that the change is related to a personal relationship, illness or other external stressor. If the conversation doesn’t reveal what is going on, asking the employee about their work load and if they could make changes, what would they do?

If you notice an employee is responding to emails outside of regular hours and seems to be burning the candle at both ends, setting parameters around your expectations can help to head off problems with burn out by relieving pressure. Another option is to mix things up – move people around on your team to help less experienced employees learn on the job and those with great experience take a breather – but make sure you explain it to the employee who is more experienced so they don’t feel valued, or mistrusted. Changing up a routine can add renewed energy and excitement for the work that they’re doing.

Burn out, if not recognized early can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion; cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and a lack of accomplishment. As a result of these symptoms, employees productivity levels may fluctuate, they are more likely to call in sick, they aren’t present even when they are working and their creativity may come to a halt. Click here to read the full post and learn more about burnout and its symptoms.

In a virtual environment, it can be hard to identify if true burnout is impacting your employees or if something else may be going on. As well, with many employees working from home offices, some of the ways to curb burnout may not be as easy to achieve as it would be for people who leave an office at the end of the day. Here are some tips, with a touch of creativity to help your virtual team avoid burnout if it comes calling.

Take a walk or exercise break

Recently in the news, we’ve been reading about the perils of sitting for most of the day. There’s no better time to make the case for employees to ensure they’re taking their breaks, and encouraging them to be active during their breaks. One way to help foster exercise breaks with your virtual team is to lead by example; send an email letting them know when you’re taking your exercise break and what that’s going to look like for you. Leading by example helps foster goodwill and lets your employees know that you won’t ask them to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.

To help lead activity breaks, describe something you’re looking forward to seeing while on your walk, or some of the exercise that you’re going to engage in. If something funny happened during your exercise break, share it with employees and encourage them to share the same. As you build your internal community of employees who are dedicated to getting up from their desk and recharging their batteries, encourage them to share the positive changes they are noticing due to the breaks.

Community Groups

Many organizations have community or charity groups that they support. If your company already has one, look for groups in the local areas where your teams are located. Encourage your employees to donating time to a charity (each location) by allowing them a set amount of work hours to dedicate to the charity. During a charity event take pictures/videos, and have the various locations do the same and set time aside to share them during a virtual meeting.

In addition to helping employees who may live close to each other, connect with each other, it will also provide your employees who may spend most of their time at their house an opportunity to connect with the community where they live. Dedicating time to volunteer groups and giving back to the community helps people who may be stressed and feeling disconnected develop a sense of meaning as they see the good that they are doing to help others less fortunate. In addition, the connectedness of being in the group and sharing what they are doing outside of work hours with their colleagues will help build their sense of accomplishment, therefore reducing stress.

Be conscious of the environment

As a manager, working to develop and create an environment of openness and trust where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns, reservations and dreams will help people feel more connected to the office and coworkers. An environment of trust also contributes to people’s ability to be creative and innovative, as their ideas are being validated and built upon. Share your aspirations with your team, again leading by example. As people hear you sharing your ideas, they will be more likely to feel comfortable sharing their own. In a virtual environment, this can be difficult, but if you put in the time and effort to ensure your employees feel like they are working in a safe environment, you’re more likely to head off burnout.

As well, try to think of some creative ways to help your virtual team get to know each other and the environments their each working in. Something as simple as having everyone take a picture of themselves in their offices can help to foster this type of environment. This will help people have a visual when they’re working with someone who is far away.

Don’t take it home with you

Encourage your employees to shut their office door at the end of the day and refuse to let their work come in to their home with them. Remind them that you don’t expect to hear from them during their out of office hours. Encourage your employees to be present both at home and at work. The more they are present in their day to day life outside of work, the more they’ll be able to focus on the task at hand when they are at work.

More and more people are not allowing themselves time to decompress outside of work. We’re all busy and we all have multiple priorities, both work related and outside of work. With advanced technology that allows us to work from remote locations, we’re more connected than we ever were before. That said, it’s important to disconnect daily and connect with our loved ones. Encourage your employees to do just that, and lead by example can help to avoid the side effects of burnout on your organization.

How do you manage Burn out in your virtual team? We would love to hear your thoughts!

By : Claire Sookman /June 20, 2014 /Uncategorized /0 Comment Read More

Tips to Avoid Burnout

A few weeks ago, we wrote about burn out and how it’s a real issue that organizations need to take seriously. To recap:

Burn out, if not recognized early can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion; cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and a lack of accomplishment. As a result of these symptoms, employees productivity levels may fluctuate, they are more likely to call in sick, they aren’t present even when they are working and their creativity may come to a halt. Click here to read the full post and learn more about burnout and its symptoms.

In a virtual environment, it can be hard to identify if true burnout is impacting your employees or if something else may be going on. As well, with many employees working from home offices, some of the ways to curb burnout may not be as easy to achieve as it would be for people who leave an office at the end of the day. Here are some tips, with a touch of creativity to help your virtual team avoid burnout if it comes calling.

Take a walk or exercise break

Recently in the news, we’ve been reading about the perils of sitting for most of the day. There’s no better time to make the case for employees to ensure they’re taking their breaks, and encouraging them to be active during their breaks. One way to help foster exercise breaks with your virtual team is to lead by example; send an email letting them know when you’re taking your exercise break and what that’s going to look like for you. Leading by example helps foster goodwill and lets your employees know that you won’t ask them to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.

To help lead activity breaks, describe something you’re looking forward to seeing while on your walk, or some of the exercise that you’re going to engage in. If something funny happened during your exercise break, share it with employees and encourage them to share the same. As you build your internal community of employees who are dedicated to getting up from their desk and recharging their batteries, encourage them to share the positive changes they are noticing due to the breaks.

Community Groups

Many organizations have community or charity groups that they support. If your company already has one, look for groups in the local areas where your teams are located. Encourage your employees to donating time to a charity (each location) by allowing them a set amount of work hours to dedicate to the charity. During a charity event take pictures/videos, and have the various locations do the same and set time aside to share them during a virtual meeting.

In addition to helping employees who may live close to each other, connect with each other, it will also provide your employees who may spend most of their time at their house an opportunity to connect with the community where they live. Dedicating time to volunteer groups and giving back to the community helps people who may be stressed and feeling disconnected develop a sense of meaning as they see the good that they are doing to help others less fortunate. In addition, the connectedness of being in the group and sharing what they are doing outside of work hours with their colleagues will help build their sense of accomplishment, therefore reducing stress.

Be conscious of the environment

As a manager, working to develop and create an environment of openness and trust where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns, reservations and dreams will help people feel more connected to the office and coworkers. An environment of trust also contributes to people’s ability to be creative and innovative, as their ideas are being validated and built upon. Share your aspirations with your team, again leading by example. As people hear you sharing your ideas, they will be more likely to feel comfortable sharing their own. In a virtual environment, this can be difficult, but if you put in the time and effort to ensure your employees feel like they are working in a safe environment, you’re more likely to head off burnout.

As well, try to think of some creative ways to help your virtual team get to know each other and the environments their each working in. Something as simple as having everyone take a picture of themselves in their offices can help to foster this type of environment. This will help people have a visual when they’re working with someone who is far away.

Don’t take it home with you

Encourage your employees to shut their office door at the end of the day and refuse to let their work come in to their home with them. Remind them that you don’t expect to hear from them during their out of office hours. Encourage your employees to be present both at home and at work. The more they are present in their day to day life outside of work, the more they’ll be able to focus on the task at hand when they are at work.

 

More and more people are not allowing themselves time to decompress outside of work. We’re all busy and we all have multiple priorities, both work related and outside of work. With advanced technology that allows us to work from remote locations, we’re more connected than we ever were before. That said, it’s important to disconnect daily and connect with our loved ones. Encourage your employees to do just that, and lead by example can help to avoid the side effects of burnout on your organization.

By : Amir Ahmed /May 27, 2014 /Uncategorized /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.