Now Re-think About How Your Team Did This Past Year
- What went well for you in 2016?
- What do you need more of in 2017?
- What do you need less of in 2017?
- What can I do to support your growth and development?
Now Re-think About How Your Team Did This Past Year
“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
How often have you had lunch at your desk and could not remember what you ate, or if you even did eat? It is easy to become very focused upon your task at hand. This focus is often referred to as “being in the zone” or “in the flow.” When there is an imminent deadline for a team project and you are the one finalizing it, you’ll sometimes find yourself in that state. Thus, these phrases have some positive value attached to them: productive, hard-working, energized.
Mindfulness and the CIO
However, when reality strikes, and the client calls, or emergencies arise, team members cannot be oblivious to the obvious: it is time to change tasks. As “being in the zone” might imply, hyperfocus can be good, but not always. The only place you have any impact is in the here and now. That cannot be achieved with your head down in the computer screen and your mind multi-tasking like crazy. Being present here and now in every interaction you have is a prerequisite for individual and Virtual Team success.
The buzzword often used is “mindfulness.” Rarely heard in management until recently, it is based upon Buddhist practices. Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. “The outlook for CIOs, as they demonstrate mindful leadership, is excellent.” (J. Esser, Technology Forecast, 2013) Mindful leaders inspire mindful teams. Help your virtual team become more mindful right now.
Three Tips for Being More Mindful
Focus on teaching your virtual team members, and yourself, these three simple tips to help them be in the moment, not in the zone (or zoned out during an online meeting, not that you’ve ever done that…):
Remember that these are just simple starter exercises in awareness. They are not immediate deep life changes, but in time they can be.. The more awareness and mindfulness you bring into your daily life, the more you can authentically connect. You can tell when the person you’re Skyping with isn’t paying attention, as you hear their keyboard keys click. Don’t be that person. You do not need to drag out a yoga mat and sit in the lotus position to start your day, although many successful executives do. To be mindful means simply to be more aware, however you can, of the present moment.
Three Benefits of Being Mindful in the Moment
There are three things you, and any virtual team member, can think about: the past, reliving things you messed up; the future, worrying about things you need to do later; and the present, what is happening right now. Barring using a time machine, the only place you can have an impact is in the here and now. Richard Carlson, Ph.D. said in his classic book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, “Now is the only time we have, and the only time we have any control over.”
While there are many benefits to being in the moment, for individuals and for virtual teams, here are three notable ones:
Mindfulness is awareness about moment to moment thoughts of the person and the team. It allows for better relationships, appropriate focus, and better presence among virtual teams Michele McDonald notes that “when we are actually connected with our current experience with single-pointed attention, we are free to form greater connections with others, to become more of a team.” (Dharma lecture, 04/2005) What CIO or team leader couldn’t use that?
Tell us how you create mindfulness within your team. We want to know.
Often, the management skills that will make you a great leader in virtual teams are the same life skills that will help you navigate life in general. Today, we’re going to talk about a concept that might help you navigate your personal development inside and outside of your virtual team.
We don’t always get along with our friends, family, and colleagues: it’s a fact of life but because of the importance of social interaction in virtual teams, virtual team leaders need a set of strategies for dealing with conflict and negative emotions before they get out of hand.
Think about the last time you found yourself annoyed by a member of your team: maybe a colleague has been giving you a hard time, maybe they have a quirk that irritates you, maybe they stress you out.
But consider this: the behavior that other people exhibit that you find annoying are also present in you. In fact, the reason that you find them so annoying is because you’ve spent so much time working to suppress those qualities in you.
This concept, known as the “Shadow Self” was first articulated in the West by psychologist Carl Jung.
To simplify, Jung believed that there were two elements to human beings:
When we get annoyed at other people’s behavior, we are in fact reacting to our own supressed behavior that we don’t like.
The problem here is that supressing our feelings is seldom helpful. In fact, it can lead to damaging effects on your mind and body, and our relationships with others.
Instead of dealing with anger and annoyance by repressing our feelings, or lashing out at others, we can use our feelings to make ourselves more whole, genuine, and present..
Let’s give an example for how this might work:
Let’s imagine that you have a colleague who interrupts other people during virtual meetings. It drives you up the wall. Instead of suppressing your feelings, or lashing out at them, you can ask yourself: is this behavior something that exists within me?
When we search our annoyances for things we dislike about ourselves, we engage our shadow selves. By engaging our shadow selves, we gain greater awareness of who we are, and greater awareness that other people are not so different from us. That awareness will allow us to react with compassion instead of frustration.
The solution isn’t to push or change aspects of our shadow selves away from our behavior, but to acknowledge and embrace their presence.
The next time you find yourself annoyed at a team member, search your memories, your feelings, and your own self-knowledge. Are you annoyed because of something that you have been suppressing? Acknowledge your feelings of annoyance, but then move past them to realize your similarity to your team, and your own true self.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Our last few blog posts have been all about genuine connections in virtual teams and how it’s not only possible to build meaningful connections virtually, it’s possible to produce a feeling of authentic presence that engages employees and powers the team.
Authentic presence isn’t just to make things “nice” in your team, it affects your bottom line. Your virtual employees aren’t clockwork people: they’re human beings with human psychological needs—including the need for connection.
Virtual teams that don’t spend time on team-building end up with demoralized and disengaged employees, resulting in low output and high turnover. Front-line leaders and managers are key to preventing this: an engaging leader who shows his or her investment and presence will make a huge difference in keeping workers fulfilled and present themselves.
Engaging workers virtually starts with presence – the feeling that someone is in the room with you, and entirely attentive even when they’re miles away.
In our last blog post, we gave you some tips on presence, and some exercises to do. We’re not going to grill you on whether or not you did your homework, but we do recommend going back and giving these exercises a try if you have not been able to.
Today, we’ll be going one step further, and talking about the real key that goes behind these exercises: intent.
What do I want out of this interaction in my virtual work team?
That’s the question we want you to ask yourself for the next week. In every interaction you have with your team, ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve, and if your actions are in line with that intent.
When most people ask themselves “what do I want out of this interaction”, they usually think about it, and realize their intention boils down to work. Either intentionally or tacitly, the answer to this question is usually “I want to communicate a task.”
In other words: you’re using this interaction to get something done.
It’s not a bad thing to want work to get done. After all, that’s what workplaces—virtual or not—are for. But if you’re in a virtual team and you want to get work done, and form the authentic presence that will make sure work gets done by motivated and engaged employees, we suggest complementing that intent with another.
Give this new intent a try: focus on it before meetings, remind yourself of it during the day, and—at the end of every interaction—ask yourself if your actions aligned with your intent.
Then ask yourself:
Life is too short and our work is too important to run around aimlessly without strong intention. Intent is powerful. In life, we start with intent, turn it into action, and—with luck—that action changes something about the world.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
Do you ever have those days when go you off on philosophical tangents? You know, those cold, gloomy mornings when you stare out the window, coffee mug in hand, wondering, “Does a fish know what water is?” “Is the colour red really universal?” or “Is Robert from marketing a real person?”
We’ve all been there. The truth is it’s hard for virtual teams to always bond on a personal level with other team members…partly (well, mostly) because we may not even know what our team members look like! Without bonding, the results could be dangerous.
The University of California, San Francisco, lists some of the common symptoms of a disengaged team:
And there’s more:
And there’s still more! A 2009 article from the Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that a lack of team spirit can even cause employee depression.
Before you scurry off to Google, furiously searching “how to engage virtual teams” — take a breath. We’ve done the work for you. Here are some innovative games that are sure to have your employees amused and engaged in no time:
Charades is a great game that builds team spirit, whether in a traditional workplace or a virtual one. If your company usually sets up video conferences for meetings, this is definitely a game that will have everyone working together, solving problems, and having fun along the way. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, Charades requires the player to mime or imitate a certain action or subject which the rest of the team has to figure out. For more information on how to play click here.
For those who use voice chat instead of video chat, there’s a fun alternative for you too — Voice Charades. For Voice Charades, create a secret list of objects, animals, or famous people. To decide who will go first, enter all team member names onto a site such as Random.org and choose the first name that shows up. Email or send an individual/private instant message to this team member letting them know what they will be acting out. Remember to keep the clues work appropriate and respectful of others. Have fun guessing what/who the person is imitating. Some entertaining suggestions are:
This fun game fosters creativity and helps team members think on their feet. During a meeting, make up the first line of a story. Then ask team members to take turns and add each subsequent line until a whole plot develops! Let the story go along on its own path and deviations. This is the fun part of the game; you never know what perils or fortunes can occur next! The best thing is, even though your team may develop favourites start tags, the story will never end up the same. In other words, you learn how to think innovatively. Here are some ways you can start your tale:
Situation puzzles are an exciting way to exercise creative problem solving skills while also building team unity. In a situation puzzle, the team leader states one mysterious sentence such as, “a bell rings, a man dies, a bell rings”. The rest of the team must now solve the situation by asking “Yes” or “No” questions. As each question unearths new information, the team can creatively build on each other’s thought patterns and ideas until all the loose ends are tied. A great reservoir of situation puzzles can be found here!
Psst… Click here for the answer
You will never look at PowerPoint presentations in the same light after this game! This is a great way to get group members thinking on their feet while having loads of fun. To play the PowerPoint game, go online and find a series of complicated or extremely nonsensical PowerPoint presentations (try SlideShare). Then ask team members to improvise a presentation with the slides they’re using. Hilarity is bound to ensue! Go here for more information about the PowerPoint game.
This is another improvisation game that will get everyone thinking fast, learning about team members and literally laughing out loud. First, divide the team into smaller groups or partners. Then give each group a topic, or let them to choose one. Allow each team about 5-10 minutes to create a set of jokes based on their topic. Make sure they have this discussion in a separate virtual conversation, so that the rest of the team does not hear the punch lines beforehand. When everyone regroups, randomly choose a group to go first, while timing their comedy improvisation for two minutes. Once again, remember to keep all jokes respectful and workplace appropriate. Award the funniest team with a gift card or some other form of prize!
And there you have it — 5 amazing ways of engaging your virtual team! Try them out and let us know which game your team liked the best.
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.
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.