virtual environment

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

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

Tips on recognizing and stopping negative energy from sabotaging your virtual team

In a previous post, we discussed being mindful of the energy (also known as emotional energy) in group environments and how to identify when a meeting is being sabotaged by an individual’s negative energy.

Blog_pic2

What is negative energy then, and why is it important for teams and their leaders be aware of it?


In addition to our verbal and non-verbal communication, we all transmit signals to the outside world about how we’re responding to it – that’s the emotional energy that we put out. If we feel deflated or unengaged, it’s often something that others will feel and may impact how they feel, but have a hard time articulating how they can sense it. Psychologists refer to this as emotional contagion. When we talk about energy, we’re not talking about it in the physical energy capacity. Although, we are often able to feel when something isn’t working between people in a group environment, there’s no clear mathematical equation to measure the emotional energy that someone is putting out.

This emotional energy is strongly connected to a person’s internal state. It’s largely dependent on if their needs, both physical and emotional, are being met and if they feel like they are in a safe environment. When we are in a good or neutral state, negative things can happen and people are able to brush them off as minor nuisances. If, however someone is in a negative or emotional state, their perceptions and interpretations of the world will be impacted and as such, their interpersonal interactions will too. When this happens, the emotional energy coming from the person can quickly sabotage working groups – even from a distance.

Today, we’re going to explore some tips for how to recognize your contribution to the energy of the workplace, how to minimize negative energy in the workplace and how to foster positive energy to create behaviour that is congruent with team and company goals.

First things first, what energy are you bringing to your team?

Being mindful of the energy you bring in to each meeting is a good first place to start. As the team leader, bringing a positive vibe to meetings can help knock out any negative energy before it gets a chance to fester. Tony Swartz, President & CEO of The Energy Project and blog writer for the Harvard Business Review writes that: “The most fundamental job of a leader is to recruit, mobilize, inspire, focus, direct and regularly refuel the energy of those they lead.” Being aware of the energy you bring in to the room will better allow you to lead your team to focus on the energy they are putting out to their colleagues.

Is there an energy bandit at play?

In one of Swartz’s blog posts for The Energy Project, he shares a story about a new senior executive who, in a relatively short period of time, was able to detract from the highly positive year the company had been experiencing and create a destructive energy that was transmitted around the office. Swartz held himself responsible for allowing the executive to influence him, which then influenced his team. Instead of beating himself up, he used it as a learning opportunity. In addition to recognizing that it’s often difficult to leave our emotions at home and people need to be mindful of this when engaging in interpersonal situations, he identified that the emotions people bring to the team are as important as someone’s cognitive skills. When hiring, this can be an important consideration to take in to account.

That said, if you’re dealing with an already established team and you’re noticing that negative conversations are taking place more frequently, or problems are being identified without solutions being brought to the table, it’s possible that you’re dealing with an energy bandit. Take a step back and try to be objective in your reflection of the situation.

By stopping and assessing where the negative energy is coming from, you can determine if it’s one person that’s poisoning the workplace atmosphere, or a group of people who are potentially congruent in the negative vibes that are being transmitted. Because negative emotions can move quickly in a virtual environment and influence easily, it can zap motivation and momentum before you even know it’s an issue. This is why it’s best to be highly attuned to the team’s morale – if someone is not contributing to a positive morale, it may be time to have a conversation with them to find out what’s happening with them and why.

Listen

It’s important to note that there’s a difference between negative energy and constructive feedback. Sometimes a negative outlook is appropriate to the situation. Sitting back and listening, as well as asking open ended questions and repeating what you think you’ve heard are all good ways to determine clarity around if someone is being negative, or if their points are a legitimate point of conversation.

In virtual environments, we frequently don’t have cues such as facial expression and body language. We frequently make our own interpretations based on our assumptions about who is saying it and the situation being dealt with. Listening intently and asking for clarification are good ways to determine if negative energy is seeping in, or not. If you determine that the person is being negative, acknowledge their concerns and change the group focus to developing solutions to the issues. Guide the team towards thinking of what will work, versus what won’t work and why.

Being mindful of what you are bringing to the team, as well as the energy you feel circulating in the virtual atmosphere isn’t easy. The more you practice, the better you will get but seeing progress may take some time. Also, distractions can easily derail even your best intentions, so it’s important to stay focused on what you want to achieve with your team in respect to the energy going in and coming out of the work.

Persevere

Often, when we experience set-backs, we allow negative talk to invade our thoughts and we get derailed. When there’s a hitch in the plan, instead of derailing, try focusing on what is working to bring that positive energy back in. Publilius Syrus, a 1st century BC Latin writer is said to have written, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” By bringing your positive energy to your work, you can hold the helm regardless of what the sea is serving up.

Visit us in two weeks when we look at techniques to manage negative energy on your team. We’d love to hear from you on what you struggle with, or if you have ideas on how to respond to negative energy – drop us a line!

By : Amir Ahmed /April 23, 2014 /Blog /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.