We have been talking about virtual teams’ challenges; now let’s discuss solutions! In our past blog posts, we talked about how virtual teams are more common than we think (any team where members are 90 feet apart, or more qualifies as a virtual team), and the challenges virtual teams face. Today, let’s review the two elements that make virtual teams successful: task processes, and socio-emotional processes.
Task processes key to company success, right?
The first element—task processes—is pretty straightforward. Task processes means any processes that keep everyone contributing, and on schedule. Task processes can take many forms: from team meetings to status reports.
In virtual teams, task processes are especially helpful when they clearly define roles and responsibilities, set out priorities for the team, and establish the levels of accountability that each team member has.
People talk about task processes a lot—and rightfully so, it is important—but we also need to focus on the second element of successful virtual teams. This second element is socio-emotional processes, and it’s where we often falter.
How can socio-emotional processes contribute to your company’s success?
We often ignore establishing socio-emotional processes. Sometimes, it’s because we’re not sure how to handle these processes, and other times, we think that this “soft stuff” is somehow not serious enough for the workplace. But no matter the reason, ignoring the socio-emotional element actually hurts the cohesion and effectiveness of a team.
There are two parts to socio-emotional processes in virtual teams: trust and communication.
Trust is a hugely important element of work, whether it is virtual or face-to-face. However, trust takes longer to build in a virtual environment. It takes four times longer to build trust in a remote environment than in a face-to-face environment. And remember: this is just as true if a team is on different floors as if they work in different countries.
If your team is more than 90 feet apart from each other and communicating primarily through email, phone, or messaging, trust is something you’ll have to consciously work at developing.
Trust comes primarily through identification with each other—“we’re all on the same team”—and through repeatedly matching words to actions. So, building team identity and cohesion, which is an on-going activity and encouraging people to consistently perform what they communicate is a vital part of the trust equation.
This brings us to the second vital part of the socio-emotional processes of a virtual team: communication.
It is harder to communicate in a virtual environment. Without body language, tone of voice, or environmental context, it is harder to transmit a clear message of what we mean. With that in mind, our communication must be clear.
Strategies that can help in establishing clear communications are the following:
- Have an open door policy.
Let your virtual team know when you will be available to discuss task or non-task related issues.
This may be more easily implemented in a face-to-face environment where you can actually close or open a door, and more challenging in a virtual environment.
If your company uses an internal messaging system, however, you may be able to change your status to signal that you’re welcome to talk! If you rely solely on email, a quick email to your virtual team member letting them know that you’re ready to dedicate a block of your time to anyone who wants to talk about anything may suffice.
- Establish rules of responsiveness.
How quickly are people expected to return an email, an IM, or a phone call? What is your protocol when people are out of the office? Having streamlined standards for lines of communications means that everyone knows what is expected of them and can behave accordingly. Similarly, they know what they can expect from others.
It’s hard to focus on socio-emotional processes in virtual teams: there’s no class on socio-emotional processing in college or university, and nothing in the business world has prepared us for the importance of this element of virtual teaming.
Luckily, that’s where we come in. Leave us a comment below for tips on how you can help strengthen the “soft skills” of your virtual team.