body language

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

7 Ways To Build Empathy and Maximize Success

Developing empathy is a great way to generate open communication, increase trust, and build a virtual team that is strong and efficient. You may think that demonstrating empathy is challenging at first because it takes time and effort to develop awareness and compassion. However, understanding and sharing the feelings of others in the virtual workplace is far less abstract than it may seem.

The building of empathetic relationships benefits much from the assistance of visual cues such as facial expressions and body language. We can gain a better sense of one’s feelings when we can see the messages being conveyed through their eyes, for example. Similarly, a certain posture may lead us to conclude that a person is angry, sad, or confused. When we consider all that is conveyed through body language we can see why the mere presence of an individual in front of us gives us a sense of the emotions running through their minds. But we do not only go about building empathy based on what we see. In fact, it is possible to build empathy in a virtual team where such visual cues are often unavailable.

There are 7 ways to build empathy within your team:

1. The first thing we can do toward becoming empathetic is to listen. The next time you are conversing with a colleague, instead of thinking about what you will say next and waiting for a time to interject—listen. This also means that when you are speaking with someone you will avoid multitasking. Be fully present with your colleague and refrain from checking your phone, answering emails, doing other work, or taking other calls. Give the person your speaking to your undivided attention.

2. Tune into non-verbal cues such as hesitations and silences. Is your colleague taking long pauses between statements? Are they sounding uneasy when expressing their opinion on a subject? Listen in and ask yourself if your colleague’s tone sounds different from how it is typical for them to sound. If a manager senses that something is “off” with a team member, they can make it a point to get in touch directly with that team member after a meeting so that they may check in with them privately.

3. Look into the words that you are hearing. If, for example, you find yourself in conversation with an angry colleague, refrain from absorbing their anger within yourself. Instead of responding to words delivered out of frustration, try to understand and respond to the underlying emotion. You will begin to see that behind a colleague’s irritation may be misunderstanding, judgment, detachment, stress, or other feelings. When you try to understand those feelings, rather than reacting to angry words, the person will begin to relax, open up, and trust. In doing this, you and your colleague will begin communicate openly as you both work through the challenge together.

4. If during a conversation you find yourself becoming frustrated with the person you are speaking to, remember the whole person. Do not lose sight of a colleague’s positive qualities. In the moment you find yourself becoming frustrated with someone, make it a point to remind yourself of one of his or her strengths.

5. Judge less and accept more. It is important to remember that what irritates you about a colleague is likely to be a characteristic that you possess. Simply reminding yourself of this point will allow you to be less judgmental of the words and actions of others. Before you react and judge a team member, ask yourself, “Is this something I do?” If the answer is ‘yes,’ then you are better prepared to address your colleague with empathy.

6. Be compassionate. We all have our flaws, and you do not have to agree with someone to empathize with them. Be open to what others have to say and how they work. In the process, chances are, you will discover a great deal about what you bring to your virtual team.

7. Mentally place yourself in the situation of the other person. Feelings of unhappiness, stress, and frustration are universal. Try to remind yourself of a time when you experienced something similar. Recall challenges you yourself have had in a virtual team. Thinking back to that situation, what would have helped you? The wisdom you gained from that experience may be of great help to your fellow colleague.

To assist you in building empathy within your virtual team, be sure to encourage everyone to contribute during meetings and acknowledge the efforts of your colleagues. Deliver genuine praise for a job well done. Additionally, take authentic interest in your team members. Show them that you care by asking them questions about their interests, challenges, and aspirations. A great way to encourage this kind of interaction within your team is by holding virtual gatherings. For example, virtual managers can hold virtual coffee breaks, pizza parties, and other casual get-togethers where no talk of work is permitted. This will allow team members a chance to open up about other aspects of their lives and create the opportunity for team members to find common ground and become more empathetic.

The process of building empathy within your virtual team takes practice. Having said that, know that if you may come up short sometimes remember to give yourself a break. As long as your intentions and efforts are in the right direction at most times, and you strive to redirect how you respond to others in difficult situations, it will all work out in the end. Remember: an empathetic virtual team is a successful team, and there are many benefits attached to fostering empathy in the virtual work place. For one, you will become more aware of how people think, feel, and react to situations. As a leader, you will become more adept at analyzing the performance of your team members, and you will be more mindful of their needs. Empathy will promote open communication and build stronger bonds of trust within your virtual team. Likewise, empathetic virtual team members will become better at resolving conflict, will deliver more effective feedback, and will make better decisions. Empathy inspires positivity and productivity in all who embody it. With a little practice your virtual team can master empathy and harness success.

By : Amir Ahmed /April 30, 2014 /Blog, Building Empathy 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.