trust

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

Virtual Work is Here to Stay

We recently read an opinion piece by David Amerland in Forbes.com’s Tech section. In the article, Amerland talks about Marissa Meyer’s decision to end virtual work at Yahoo, and lists what he sees as ways that virtual work can prevent agility and effectiveness in organizations.

We have a different take. While the article points out Yahoo and Google’s aversion to virtual work, it also ignores the success of companies like Basecamp, Mozilla, and Upworthy, among others, who are hugely successful and almost entirely virtual. Yes, we heard about Marissa Meyer as well, but we’ve drawn very different conclusions about what this means for virtual work.

With the right training, virtual teams can act and behave just as effectively as face-to-face teams, and even show improved efficiency, better profits, and a more fulfilled workforce. That’s why we’ve selected the main concerns of Amerland’s article, and addressed them from our standpoint.

How can I lead my virtual team?

This is a common concern that we’ve been addressing for years. First, let’s say that many leaders mistake “How do I lead my virtual team?” with “How do I control my virtual team?” If you want to control your virtual team, it means you don’t trust them. And if you don’t trust your employees, you’ve got far bigger problems to worry about.

Trust issues aside, Amerland suggests that newly-appointed virtual leaders have problems with routine tasks such as performance reviews. Now, let’s be clear: this difficulty absolutely exists. But, this doesn’t mean that leadership is impossible in virtual work, it means we have to keep the core of what good leadership is, but change the methods and tools we use to enact that leadership in a virtual environment.

How can my virtual team help my bottom line?

Amerland writes “Yes, remote workers may indeed be more carefree, happier and productive, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for their companies.”

We still haven’t figured out why the article links happy and productive employees to bad business. If anything, businesses should be doing more to create happy employees. Research shows that business are more profitable when they are run by happy and fulfilled employees—the kind you can find in properly-managed virtual teams. Even if you don’t want to talk about “soft” factors like engagement, virtual work still drives up profits; in fact, one source wrote that more virtual work could lead to an estimated 800 billion dollars saved in productivity gains across America, not even considering the saved time and energy spent not commuting.

How can I connect with my virtual team?

This last major concern of the article argues that virtual team members just don’t connect with each other like face-to-face teams do, and this hurts organizational cohesion. We’re not surprised that people still worry about making human connections in virtual teams. It’s a valid concern. In fact, at Virtual Team Builders, we try to help virtual teams change the way they work and improve their ability to make human connections virtually. Suffice it to say that virtual teams can be just as cohesive and organized as any brick-and-mortar office. In fact, in the next few weeks, we’ll be posting blogs that detail this exact topic, from how virtual teams can support the genuine human connections that make work rewarding, to how virtual teams can provide an unparalleled opportunity for us to come together to work on issues that we care about.

While virtual work definitely differs from traditional face-to-face work, it’s not going anywhere. The solution isn’t to step back from remote working, diffuse teams, and telecommuting. Instead, we need to step forward—providing training and support for virtual team members and leaders—to move into a future of more empowering, fulfilling virtual work.

 

By : Amir Ahmed /February 27, 2015 /Blog, your Virtual Team /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

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

Four Solutions That Will Help You Overcome Your Fears of Building a Virtual Team

Globalization increases the need for companies to rely on resources and talents from different parts of the world to maintain their position in a competitive environment, like the one we live in today. Technology has advanced to the point where it can connect people from different continents. Financial issues have encouraged companies to capitalize with fewer expenses and labour costs, while providing customers with quality products and/or services.  Trying to keep up with all these new trends and demands can be quite challenging without the right work force. Often, physical boundaries can create challenges and barriers deterring your company from performing to the best of its ability. Talent should not be bounded geographically especially if it is beneficial for your company. Fortunately, conventional teams are no longer the only option we have today.

Virtual teams present you with talent and opportunities that are not offered to collocated teams. So why haven’t you built your dream virtual team yet? Here are the four most common fears most likely hindering you and solutions to help you get over them.

Problem 1: Access to technology

When building a virtual team, you need the right technology to help you access resources and connect with your virtual employees to meet objectives. Lacking the access to said technology can deter you from accomplishing tasks. Even when your whole team has access to technology, you still face the problem of teaching and training them to properly use it.

Solution: Teach and train

Teach your employees how to properly use their technology. Take the time to train them how to properly position a mic and how to talk into it. Advise them to speak slowly and to maintain proper distance to avoid mumbling or sounding muffled. Speaking clearly and enunciating can help prevent miscommunications.

Problem 2: Building Trust

When your team trusts each other, they can work cohesively and efficiently generating positive results for your company. Trust is easier to build when your employees are physically together in a room, engaging in face-to-face interaction. Working on a team where we have to guess faces and voices can be real challenging. With virtual teams, however, your employees can only build relationships through sending e-mails back and forth and hearing each other’s voices bi-weekly or monthly. And we all know when a team lacks trust; we should just expect a spiral downturn in their efficiency and productivity.

Solution: Build an online community

Have an accessible online database where your employees can display their profile including their skills, what they do in your company, their interests and hobbies. By doing this, your employees can gain a sense of who they’re interacting with. When a new team member joins, make sure you introduce them to your team allowing them to right away feel comfortable and welcomed. Engage and encourage audio conferencing and video conferencing during meetings and between employees in order to enhance your communication experience.

Problem 3: Cultural barriers

Hiring employees from various continents exposes you to different cultures. You may end up non-deliberately insulting their culture or stereotyping.

Solution: Become culturally aware

Understand that ethics and norms vary within different cultures. Know where your employees are coming from and educate yourself with their culture to avoid stereotyping or non-deliberately insulting their culture. Encourage your team members to be more culturally sensitive as well to upkeep high-morale within your team.

Problem 4: Time zone differences

Living in different time zones can pose a challenge when setting up meetings or deadlines. What might be lunch for you can be sleeping time for somebody else.

Solution: Be more considerate and understanding

Keep in mind that time zones may vary and what might be convenient for you might be inconvenient for your team members. Ensure that meetings are convenient for the majority, if not all, of your team members to have a more productive and efficient meeting. If one person cannot make it to the meeting due to time differences, show that you understand and arrange a meeting that is convenient for both of you to make sure he/she does not fall behind. As for deadlines, make sure it is within a reasonable time frame and set different deadlines as necessary for people in different time zones.

So what are you waiting for? You no longer have excuses to postpone creating your virtual team! Build your team now and explore the different opportunities that await you!

By : Amir Ahmed /April 23, 2014 /Blog, Building a Virtual Team /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.