communication

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

How to tell if you have a virtual team

Do you know if you have a virtual team?

It’s a ridiculous question, isn’t it? Of course you’d know if you had a virtual team.

But, would you really? It sounds strange, but we’ve seen leaders mistake their virtual teams for face-to-face ones, and we’ve seen this mistake cost organizations time and money. In this post, we’ll show how you can have a virtual team without realizing it.

Let’s start with some questions.

• Do you work more than 90 feet away from any one of your team members?
• Do you use communication technologies to accomplish specific goals?
• Do you have frequent web or tele-conferences?
• Are any individuals in your team “virtual”? As in, do they phone in, text, or email from a different location than the rest of your team?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, 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. And, if you primarily communicate with your team with technology, that makes you a virtual team. This means that you can have a virtual team that works in the same office but on different floors.

Imagine that you needed to connect with a colleague for a routine matter. You work in the same building, but on different floors. How would you do it? Would you pick up the phone, use email, messaging, or take the stairs? If it was a routine matter, you’d probably avoid the stairs and use one of the first three options. In other words, you’d use communication technology.

When you shift from face-to-face to technology-enabled communication, you shift from a face-to-face to a virtual team. And, thanks to a study by Tom Allen, we have an exact number for when that shift happens. Allen studied a team of engineers; he 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 90 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.

This study shows us that virtual teams are much more common than we think. Virtual teams exist in offices across the country. And with virtual teams comes 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.

You need the right tool for the right job; if you think use face-to-face solutions for a virtual team problem, you’re using a hammer when you really need a screwdriver.

In our next post, we’ll talk about the differences between virtual teams and face-to-face ones, and what you can do to start managing virtually.

Tell us about your experience with virtual teams in the comments.

By : Amir Ahmed /February 12, 2015 /Blog, Building a Virtual Team /1 Comment Read More

How to be Authentic in the Virtual Workplace by Building Self Awareness

The most common advice you’ve received from your childhood onward is probably to “be yourself”. This enduring instruction portrays authenticity as the key to successful social interactions, meaningful relationships, and a generally happy life. It may sound like the most natural thing in the world to do; however, it can actually be fairly difficult to become attuned to who we really are as unique individuals. Our personal and professional commitments, plus, the countless voices, images, and opinions that we see and hear every day through by mass media can prevent us from taking a moment to discover our authentic selves. However, authenticity is especially important in the workplace. Acting as our authentic selves enables our team members to perceive us as trustworthy and will ultimately lead to an increase in a team’s productivity as a whole.

Authenticity is defined is being aware of one’s core values and acting in alignment to those values. Now that we understand the meaning and importance of authenticity, especially in the workplace, the question remains: how do we discover our authentic selves? First off, the foundation of authenticity is self awareness. We become self aware when we accept every part of ourselves; our strengths, skills, and positive attributes, along with the areas of our lives we feel could use improvement. Self-awareness can be most effectively achieved when we take a moment, or a few, for ourselves.

It can be difficult to find the appropriate time to self reflect when we are the midst of contributing to business on a daily basis. It can be easy to become caught in the motions at work; you might be unconsciously performing a particular task in the same way, possibly due to the force of habit or because the pace of your business compels you to be efficient. However, it is worthwhile to create an opportunity for yourself to pause and objectively observe your work in pursuit of self awareness or the knowledge of how you can do more than just “be” in our business but strategize to take it to the next level. How does one create this opportunity?

Firstly, unplug yourself, literally, from your surroundings. Turn off your phone and set your Communicator to “Busy” or “Do Not Disturb”. Remove yourself from distractions so that you are fully able to concentrate on yourself. If you are having difficulty disengaging from the outside world: try this: close your eyes and listen to the sound of your breathing. Pay close attention to each breath. This should help you become fully present in the moment so that you are able to begin the process of self reflection. We have a series of questions that will guide you through your self reflection, which can also be considered a self evaluation.

Once you are removed from all distractions and your mind is clear, take a mental inventory of your strengths, skills, and attributes, or write them down, if this is more your style. For example, you may say “I am an attentive listener “I am well organized and always meet my deadlines; or “I am trustworthy”. If you have trouble listing your positive traits, imagine yourself as your best friend or a respected colleague, and compose the list from their point of view.

Next, reflect on the areas of your life that could stand to be improved. For example, in a virtual environment, it is very important to be a good listener, due to the fact the visual cues are often unavailable in the virtual workplace. If, as a virtual worker, you feel your listening skills could be improved, create an action plan for how you will improve them. Your action plan might go something like this: “The next time I am in a virtual meeting, I will not judge the words of my colleagues. I will pay close attention to their tone, choice of words, rhythm of speech, and the pauses in their speech. If I am unclear about what is being said, I will ask questions. Listening goes beyond hearing what someone is saying; I must discover what is underneath what they are saying in order to become an empathetic listener. I must ask myself: what is the core of their message? Lastly, if I have an issue with something someone has said or have sensed something in their speech, I will take it up with them privately after the meeting”.

In addition to being empathetic listeners, effective virtual workers need to have a certain comfort level with technology.  If you feel you could stand to be more technologically savvy, create an action plan for this area of your life as well. Say to yourself “I have a coworker who knows a lot about technology; I will ask them to coach me” or “I will take courses about computers at my community college”. Remember to be honest when evaluating yourself.

Lastly, self evaluations should also include a consideration of your values, principles, and beliefs, to give yourself a better idea of who you are at your core. Ask yourself: What do I value and why? (Examples include: honesty, integrity, reliability, compassion, and empathy, etc.) Then, ask yourself: how do I manifest my values, principles, and beliefs in my everyday life? Is there a way my behaviour can be more closely aligned with what I value? If my core values are honesty and reliability, how to I demonstrate to others that I am honest and reliable on a regular basis?

As mentioned above, authenticity is especially important in the workplace. If a virtual team member is not being their genuine or authentic self, other team members will pick up on this. As a result, the inauthentic team member will not be perceived as trustworthy. Team members may become reluctant to share pertinent information with an individual they don’t believe they can trust, will be less likely to be open about what’s going on and will probably communicate more frequently with a trustworthy team member instead. An inauthentic team member will potentially be kept out of the loop, and this situation will negatively affect the productivity of the entire team. For these reasons, it is important for each and every member of a virtual team to show up as their most authentic self.

Next week’s blog post will focus on the portion of self evaluation that can be difficult to come to terms with: the list of areas in our lives that we feel could stand to be improved. We will explain how to accept our so called “shadow selves” with the aim of becoming completely self aware.

By : Amir Ahmed /April 23, 2014 /Blog /0 Comment Read More
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