We’ve written a lot about the business side of virtual teamwork. But, there’s a lot more to teamwork than the “work” part. Today, we’ll focus on the “team” aspect of virtual teams. Specifically, we’ll talk about the human connections we can make virtually.
Our culture doesn’t support the idea that we can make genuine human connections using technology. Kids are encouraged to stop playing online and go spend time with their “real friends.” Adults still joke about online dating—even though it’s now a hugely popular way for couples meet and socialize. There is an overall consensus in our culture that real friendships and connections happen when you can shake a person’s hand and look them in the eye. The virtual world, on the other hand, is for work.
Even in studies of virtual teams, the research overwhelmingly looks at human emotions from a results-oriented perspective: we learn that stronger connections form stronger teams, and that focusing on emotional processes creates more engaged, efficient team members. We don’t think that human connections should matter for their own sake, and we never think about what it actually means to feel connected.
We think that’s not right. Instead of thinking that virtual communication can’t create connections, and instead of thinking that human relationships are for something, we need to shift the discussion to talk about what connection means, and how to create real connections.
We don’t need to be in the same room to make a genuine human connection. In fact, making connections despite distance is a sign of our deepest and most human urge form community. A genuine connection comes from a feeling of profound presence, a feeling that the person on the other end of a message really has your back, and that they truly there for you.
If you have a virtual team, whether it be separated by countries, cities, or even just a different office floor, we suggest that you start thinking about the relationships you’ve established, and how to grow them. Think about how you communicate to your team members. Whenever you speak to your team members, think of it as an opportunity: this opportunity doesn’t just exist to tell people what to do, it can also be an opportunity to forge a deeper connection. Take your time, be present, and communicate your investment in this person.
At Virtual Team Builders, our partners and staff are all virtual. We coordinate most of our work online and over the phone. But, we’re also able to rely on each other, and support each other. After years of working together virtually, we can sense when something is wrong: when someone is stressed, or when they need support. Many of us have never met in person at all, and yet we feel we are part of a deep and involved team process, thanks to the work we do at connecting.
We invite you to do the same: look at your walls of screens and text, and realize they’re not walls at all: just another route to making a connection on a deep and profound level.