virtual

How Can You Make Real Connections in Virtual Teams?

How do genuine human connections built through virtual communication relate to virtual teams? In our last blog post, we talked about how it’s possible to make genuine human connections through virtual communication. Now let’s explore how it operates in virtual workspaces.

Human connection is powerful. If leaders of virtual teams ignore this power, they miss out on an immense potential for fulfilling and rewarding work. By itself, this isn’t exactly news: if you Google “virtual teams”, you’ll get an endless list of articles that talk about the need to grow human connections for virtual teams to succeed. But, these articles often don’t address what this advice actually implies. After all: what does it really mean to connect with someone in a virtual team?

Going Beyond Band-Aid Solutions to Build Human Connections

Text box about employee engagement in virtual workplaces: Real connections don't begin in classes but with presence.Unfortunately, we’ve seen many leaders try to encourage human connections by slapping on activities, much like a coat of paint, and getting back to work. And, while certain activities like ice-breakers are one helpful way to start growing connections, just using ice-breakers skims the surface of the real issues we need to tackle.

In face-to-face work, genuine human connections develop alongside our work routines. In an office, as colleagues work, they connect. They start conversations around the water cooler. They eat together. They share news of their family and get to know each other as people. This built-in “space” for bonding isn’t just something “nice-to-have”; it’s a necessity for a healthy workplace.

But in the virtual world, this space for connection isn’t built-in in the same way. Instead, we need to intentionally create and nurture connections throughout the life-cycle of the team.

Now let’s discuss how to start creating these connections. Real connections don’t begin with classes, five-step programs, or one-liners. Instead, they begin with presence.

What Does It Mean to Be Present?

Think for a moment: can you tell when someone is really with you in a conversation—even if they’re virtual? It’s a good feeling, isn’t it?

It doesn’t matter if it’s virtual or face-to-face: when someone is really paying attention to us, we feel respected, and the quality of conversation goes up. In virtual communication, when someone is truly present, they pay attention to the speaker, without being distracted by the environment. They ask pertinent questions, and they communicate through words, tone of voice, and even silences, that they are invested in you and what you have to say.

Text box about employee engagement in virtual teams: In virtual communication, when someone is truly present...they are invested in you and what you have to say. On the other hand, we can also tell when someone isn’t really paying attention to us. When someone is tuned out, they check their phones, type on their keyboards, and reply with monosyllabic huh’s, yep’s, and how-about-that’s. It doesn’t feel good at all. If you show this non-presence to your virtual team, you show that you’re disengaged from them.

Are You Truly Present in Your Virtual Relationships?

Take a few minutes to think about the following:

  • How do you currently show up to virtual meetings with your team?
  • How do you want to show up to meetings?

If you weren’t sure about either answer, don’t worry. Most of us aren’t even aware of how we show up for our colleagues or employees, or how we can improve.

Steps to Become More Present in Your Virtual Workspace

From now on, we suggest you start to become aware of how you show up, and how you prepare yourself. Before your next virtual meeting or one-on-one conversation, think about how you can prepare yourself to show up:

  • Take 30 seconds to one minute to sit quietly, take some deep breaths and be aware of the present moment before running to the next task.
  • Put away your smartphone so you won’t be tempted to check or respond to messages as they arise.
  • Ask yourself: are you focusing and listening to what your team needs, or are you absorbed in the work you need to get done?

These exercises should help you start to show engagement and presence within your virtual team. When you show that you’re engaged with your team, they’ll begin to engage with you. And out of this presence, you can start forging strong, genuine connections.

 

By : Claire Sookman /April 20, 2015 /Blog, Building a Virtual Team, Building Empathy in a Virtual Environment /1 Comment Read More

The Key to An Engaged Workforce: Show Up Mindfully

When you telecommute to your virtual office each day which may be steps away from your kitchen where your first cup of coffee is waiting for you, you’ve likely already checked emails, fulfilled some personal obligations and thought about work deadlines before you’ve officially started your “work day.”

By the time we’re at our desks or dialing into a conference call, our minds are flooded with tasks we didn’t finish yesterday or what we have to do in the coming days or weeks. This often translates to never being full present or aware with the task in front of us or in conversations with our colleagues and employees.

How many times have you been on a conference call and have been checking your email at the same time or working on another task? For most of us, multitasking is the new norm, but neuroscience research shows that we’re the most productive when we are focused on one task. Multitasking is nothing more than our brains switching from one task to another.

The result – we’re showing up to the workplace more unfocused, less productive and more unaware of the cues of others than ever before.

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Prepare yourself to show up, prepare your team

When you’re working virtually, you can’t see someone’s reaction  to you unless you are using webcam or video conferencing technology. Without these tools, we have to listen for the tone of voice, the pauses and even the silence.

This means that the first step to let your team know they have your undivided attention is to listen. By listening – not checking your smartphone or looking at your computer – when you’re not face-to-face with your employees will not only allow you to read the subtle clues, but will also allow you to look at situations in a new way versus running on autopilot.

Before your next meeting or one-on-one conversation, think about how you can prepare yourself to show up:

  • Take 30 seconds to one minute to sit quietly, take some deep breaths and be aware of the present moment before running to the next task.
  • Put away your smartphone so you won’t be tempted to check or respond to messages as they arise.
  • Ask yourself, are you focusing and listening to what your team needs or are you absorbed in the work you need to get done?

The power of awareness

Subconsciously we often show up to work in a non-mindful way. We don’t consciously think about how we show up or the impact our unconscious behavior has on other people or the project we are working on.

Take a few minutes to thinking about the following:

  • How you currently show up?
  • How you want to show up?

If you weren’t sure about either answer, don’t worry. Begin by asking yourself these questions?

Ask yourself the following:

  • When I sit down at my desk do I feel tired and overwhelmed or present and calm?
  • Before responding to an employee who’s hasn’t been performing well, do I call and email him/her right away or do I step away from the situation to assess before responding?
  • When I’m on a phone meeting and not face-to-face with others, do I usually check my phone or have my eye on my computer screen?
  • Do I respond with awareness of a situation or am I simply reacting with my first thought, opinion or judgment?
  • Do I take time each day for myself to do one healthy and stress relieving activity – meditation, yoga, exercise?

After answering the questions to yourself ask a colleague you trust the same set of questions about how they think you show up and what is the impact on your team. 

     Next, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your self-reflection align with your colleague’s perception of you? Is there a gap between your view and your colleague’s view?
  • Does your colleague see areas of improvement? If yes, what will you do with that information?

While mindfulness may be the catch phrase of the moment, it’s impossible to ignore the evidence of how focusing your attention on the now or simply showing up and being present in the virtual workplace will allow leaders to look at situations in a new way, which will trickle down to their employees resulting in a happier and more engaged workplace.

Once you’ve answered the questions and discussed with a colleague you trust, check back for our next article where we’ll discuss the steps you can take to start to change your behavior and begin leading a present and engaged virtual workplace. It all starts with you!

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.100/s12671-012-0144-z

 

By : Claire Sookman /September 29, 2014 /Performance Increase in Homeworkers /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

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.

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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

How to be Authentic in the Virtual Workplace by Building Self Awareness

The most common advice you’ve received from your childhood onward is probably to “be yourself”. This enduring instruction portrays authenticity as the key to successful social interactions, meaningful relationships, and a generally happy life. It may sound like the most natural thing in the world to do; however, it can actually be fairly difficult to become attuned to who we really are as unique individuals. Our personal and professional commitments, plus, the countless voices, images, and opinions that we see and hear every day through by mass media can prevent us from taking a moment to discover our authentic selves. However, authenticity is especially important in the workplace. Acting as our authentic selves enables our team members to perceive us as trustworthy and will ultimately lead to an increase in a team’s productivity as a whole.

Authenticity is defined is being aware of one’s core values and acting in alignment to those values. Now that we understand the meaning and importance of authenticity, especially in the workplace, the question remains: how do we discover our authentic selves? First off, the foundation of authenticity is self awareness. We become self aware when we accept every part of ourselves; our strengths, skills, and positive attributes, along with the areas of our lives we feel could use improvement. Self-awareness can be most effectively achieved when we take a moment, or a few, for ourselves.

It can be difficult to find the appropriate time to self reflect when we are the midst of contributing to business on a daily basis. It can be easy to become caught in the motions at work; you might be unconsciously performing a particular task in the same way, possibly due to the force of habit or because the pace of your business compels you to be efficient. However, it is worthwhile to create an opportunity for yourself to pause and objectively observe your work in pursuit of self awareness or the knowledge of how you can do more than just “be” in our business but strategize to take it to the next level. How does one create this opportunity?

Firstly, unplug yourself, literally, from your surroundings. Turn off your phone and set your Communicator to “Busy” or “Do Not Disturb”. Remove yourself from distractions so that you are fully able to concentrate on yourself. If you are having difficulty disengaging from the outside world: try this: close your eyes and listen to the sound of your breathing. Pay close attention to each breath. This should help you become fully present in the moment so that you are able to begin the process of self reflection. We have a series of questions that will guide you through your self reflection, which can also be considered a self evaluation.

Once you are removed from all distractions and your mind is clear, take a mental inventory of your strengths, skills, and attributes, or write them down, if this is more your style. For example, you may say “I am an attentive listener “I am well organized and always meet my deadlines; or “I am trustworthy”. If you have trouble listing your positive traits, imagine yourself as your best friend or a respected colleague, and compose the list from their point of view.

Next, reflect on the areas of your life that could stand to be improved. For example, in a virtual environment, it is very important to be a good listener, due to the fact the visual cues are often unavailable in the virtual workplace. If, as a virtual worker, you feel your listening skills could be improved, create an action plan for how you will improve them. Your action plan might go something like this: “The next time I am in a virtual meeting, I will not judge the words of my colleagues. I will pay close attention to their tone, choice of words, rhythm of speech, and the pauses in their speech. If I am unclear about what is being said, I will ask questions. Listening goes beyond hearing what someone is saying; I must discover what is underneath what they are saying in order to become an empathetic listener. I must ask myself: what is the core of their message? Lastly, if I have an issue with something someone has said or have sensed something in their speech, I will take it up with them privately after the meeting”.

In addition to being empathetic listeners, effective virtual workers need to have a certain comfort level with technology.  If you feel you could stand to be more technologically savvy, create an action plan for this area of your life as well. Say to yourself “I have a coworker who knows a lot about technology; I will ask them to coach me” or “I will take courses about computers at my community college”. Remember to be honest when evaluating yourself.

Lastly, self evaluations should also include a consideration of your values, principles, and beliefs, to give yourself a better idea of who you are at your core. Ask yourself: What do I value and why? (Examples include: honesty, integrity, reliability, compassion, and empathy, etc.) Then, ask yourself: how do I manifest my values, principles, and beliefs in my everyday life? Is there a way my behaviour can be more closely aligned with what I value? If my core values are honesty and reliability, how to I demonstrate to others that I am honest and reliable on a regular basis?

As mentioned above, authenticity is especially important in the workplace. If a virtual team member is not being their genuine or authentic self, other team members will pick up on this. As a result, the inauthentic team member will not be perceived as trustworthy. Team members may become reluctant to share pertinent information with an individual they don’t believe they can trust, will be less likely to be open about what’s going on and will probably communicate more frequently with a trustworthy team member instead. An inauthentic team member will potentially be kept out of the loop, and this situation will negatively affect the productivity of the entire team. For these reasons, it is important for each and every member of a virtual team to show up as their most authentic self.

Next week’s blog post will focus on the portion of self evaluation that can be difficult to come to terms with: the list of areas in our lives that we feel could stand to be improved. We will explain how to accept our so called “shadow selves” with the aim of becoming completely self aware.

By : Amir Ahmed /April 23, 2014 /Blog /0 Comment Read More

Virtual Teams: Technology Steps When Budgets Are Cut

The economy is changing and successful companies are responding by investing in programs that will position them to maximize their human resources potiential. By understanding how to manage people virtually, you can lower expenses and improve your return on investment.

Yet, with some foresight and careful planning, the worst storm can be weathered. Virtual teams offer a compelling way to offset potential risks. A virtual team is a collection of individuals who are geographically dispersed and who collaborate via communication and information technologies in order to accomplish a specific goal.

According to a recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, 77% of respondents said that offering virtual leadership development is important yet more than a 25% of these organizations do not currently offer training or development opportunities to improve virtual leadership skills.

Many argue that virtual teams are not as effective or efficient as collocated teams, which prioritizes face-to-face contact. What many fail to realize is that the benefits typically associated with face-to-face teams can be achieved more conveniently, and at a fraction of the cost, by using virtual teams. The delivery may differ, but the results are the same.

To be successful, virtual teams need to grasp the importance of frequent, open communication. Trying to duplicate the workings of a collocated team in a virtual environment proved to be both frustrating and unproductive for many companies trying to make the leap.

The truth is that traditional teams and virtual teams face many of the same challenges. However, small problems that would pose a mere inconvenience to traditional teams can prove to be major hurdles for virtual teams, including: cost reduction, improved work-life balance, future access to meetings due to ease of recording, and conference attendance regardless of geographic location.

Understanding the “new dynamic” of the virtual world takes more than a bit of getting used to.

But there are also potential pitfalls if you don’t take the necessary precautions.

For example, technology can be an obstacle when conducting virtual meetings. Some tips around this obstacle include:

  1. At some point, the technology will fail. Always have a back-up plan.
  2. Have a tech person on call so meeting planners can focus on conducting the meeting and not on technical glitches that may occur.
  3. Have an alternative conference call-in number available when conducting video or audio conference calls.
  4. Ensure meeting participants understand how to use the technology, including laptops, projectors, conference lines, etc.
  5. Confirm that the technology being used is appropriate to the type of meeting you are holding.

Another obstacle is engaging the participation of people that are not face-to-face. Some tips around this obstacle include:

  1. Minimize the feeling of isolation from remote participants by having everyone attend remotely. If this is not a possibility, make sure those who are not in the room feel valued and involved, by soliciting their input or acknowledging their responses.
  2. Establish some rules of engagement for meeting behaviors and attach it to the meeting agenda.
  3. Look for opportunities to verify that the person on the other end of the phone is engaged and understands what is being discussed. A simple way to do this is to check in with people every three presentation slides or every 10 minutes.
  4. Have multiple presenters. The change of voice and pitch can help keep people engaged.

Circulate information about the myths of multi-tasking. This is to limit the number of tasks meeting participants will perform while attending/participating in a virtual meeting.

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.