Is your virtual team thriving? The chances are remote

arm beverage black blurred background - Is your virtual team thriving? The chances are remote

Is your virtual team thriving? The chances are remote

With the recent news about re-opening a small selection of industries in the coming weeks and months, I hear a lot of people talking about how great it will be for work teams to be back in the office, up-close and personal, and talking face to face. And because I started a virtual team-building business more than 30 years ago (we were cool waaay before virtual teams became cool!), I’m often asked for my opinion on the best timing and process to transition virtual teams “back to normal.”

My advice? Don’t.

If you’re smart, your virtual team should be here to stay

I’m not saying you should never go into the office, but having your team always prepared, ready and able to work remotely has huge benefits and advantages. Many companies have come to realize this during COVID-19, and in fact, business leaders such as BMO are strategizing beyond the pandemic with plans to enable staff—some 36,000 employees or 80% of its workforce in BMO’s case—to continue thriving in an office-home work balance. 

Here are some of the main advantages that are driving BMO and other companies to pursue a stronger online business model. And finally, contrary to popular opinion, employees who from home tend to be more productive—as well as less stressed.

“Read some tips on virtual team best practices? They may not be remotely true – and they could destroy your team.”

However, after working remotely with their teams for a month or so, many team leaders are wisely recognizing that leading virtual teams is very different, and requires a different skillset, than managing teams on-site. If you’re reading this blog, chances are good that you’ve been asking yourself the same questions they are:

Situation #1

I read that I should hold my team accountable for their work by using tracking software on
their computers. But will this really increase my team’s productivity?

Answer: What I mentioned above bears repeating: employees working from home are more productive and tend to work, on average, four more hours a week than those working in the office. So productivity is not your biggest concern—building trust is. And tracking software is a virtual megaphone to tell your team you don’t trust them and you feel they lack integrity, professionalism, and motivation. It’s probably the fastest way you can damage your team’s morale. 

A better way to ensure the work is getting done is to assess the progress of the work. If an assigned project is satisfactorily completed by its due date, then you know your  employees are working diligently. What are their key performance indicators under normal circumstances? Those don’t change just because they’re working remotely. 

But keep in mind there’s a dark side to those extra hours at-home employees work, and that’s burn-out. Encourage a work-life balance that involves stepping away from computer at quitting time and not responding to emails at night. Let them know it’s okay to take a walk at lunch or have a cat-nap.

Situation #2

For me, leading an online meeting is more challenging than face-to-face. My online team members make fewer contributions to the discussion; they’re less engaged; there seems to be more tension and misunderstandings; and the strong bond we had as an in-person team is eroding. Do I have to accept this is just the way it is with online teams?

Answer: I’ve been asked this question frequently over the past 30 years, and the answer is a resounding no, it doesn’t have to be this way. I’ll be blunt—many of those who’ve just begun coaching people in the past few months about building online teams think it’s all about the technology; if you have the technology to meet online, then you have an online team. While it is important to have the right technology, you also need to have online team building skills, and
those are different than those you use when meeting face-to-face. I explain more about this in my free resources, but here are a few best practices to help your online team thrive:

  • Encourage the use of cameras. This is important because it allows team members to gauge facial expressions, body language and social cues, which can lead to fewer misunderstandings and the resulting tension. 
  • Remember there are real people behind those screens, and they may be feeling especially anxious these days. Take the time to do a round table, not just about the projects they’re working on, but about how they’re feeling and what else is going on in their lives. Show genuine interest. 
  • Have a virtual open-door policy, just as you would on-site. Encourage employees to talk to you, and to each other, about anything they’re concerned about. 
  • Be wary of short-term fixes when building a virtual team should be a long-game plan. Like searching for medical advice on the internet, some is true and some isn’t. You can find lots of proven resources at
Situation #3

Our company is undergoing a lot of change, and management just informed us we’ll be seeing more people working remotely, both due to new branch offices and because they’ve recognized there are a lot of benefits to virtual teams. I’ll have a hybrid team: half will be in the office, the other half will be working remotely in two different locations. I’m dreading this. I felt I was a competent-enough team leader on-site, but I struggled leading a virtual team during COVID-19. I feel like I don’t know what I don’t know. How can I gain more confidence, since this is going to be my “new normal”?

Answer: You can do this! Like any new skillset, it’s a matter of practice and learning from established resources. Hybrid teams have some additional challenges, so here are a few additional tips.

  • Whenever possible, encourage team members not to go on mute. While the in-house team members are chatting and laughing, being on mute can make the remote employees feel left out and disengaged from the conversation. This can create an “us vs. them” attitude. 
  • Understand the valid concerns remote employees have when working off site. For example, many believe their projects and accomplishments will be less visible to upper management, and likewise, they’ll be out of sight and out of mind when it comes to being considered for promotions. They may also feel out of the loop, isolated and less part of the team. Understanding this can help you open up discussions and find solutions to their challenges. 
  • Get creative! Include your offsite team in teambuilding events through virtual social gatherings such as coffee klatches, meals, trivia games and more.

Virtual team-building is my passion as well as my business, and I always welcome a chance to talk about it. If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to reach out or tap into our resources.

By : Claire Sookman /May 07, 2020 /Uncategorized /0 Comment Read More

COVID-19 Proves It: Virtual Teams are the New Normal

page1 - COVID-19 Proves It: Virtual Teams are the New Normal

Time and time again, world events have shown us that we can’t always rely on working face-to-face. As The Wall Street Journal reports, virtual teams are the new normal. Working from home has officially evolved from a perk to a necessity.

Even after this first wave of social distancing passes, we are likely to see further spikes before the Coronavirus is fully under control. And as The Atlantic reports, the sudden need to work from home due to COVID-19 is causing managers and employees a huge amount of stress and testing their resilience.

Which means that knowing how to work remotely is essential for a resilient workforce that can weather storms like this, which are likely to become the new normal going forward.

Building Resilience in Virtual Teams

Rapidly transitioning to a virtual office is more complicated than simply giving staff a laptop and an Internet connection. In fact, technology is only 10% of the equation – the remaining 90% is human.
It’s a critical 10%, however, the foundational puzzle piece that enables us to collaborate and connect effectively. Many people mand ated to work from home are not comfortable working with their collaboration software. Without proper training, their stress levels will rise and their productivity will fall, impacting your entire team.

As for the remaining 90%, the question is how to engage with and sustain relationships with your team.

  • Social distancing can lead to feelings of isolation, which can increase our anxiety and reduce resilience
  • Without the ability to pop by each other’s desk or meet for coffee, everyone needs to mindfully and deliberately spend time building those relationship
  • Virtual team meetings are opportunities to reinforce trusted working relationships as much as they are to discuss work

Virtual teams can be enormously effective, productive and high performing. Due to COVID-19, most organizations are being mandated to work virtually without any time to plan.

This is understandable of course, but it can be ultimately detrimental to the success of your team. Training is an opportunity for managers and staff to take a step back and appreciate what it takes to operate successfully in the virtual environment, setting them up for success over the short and long term.

Working Virtually is Not Business as Usual

Simply put, you can’t app ly face-to-face strategies in the virtual world – it takes a new set of skills to be effective.

Tips you can put into practice today include:

  • Did you trust your team to do their work before? Then trust them now! Virtual employees typically work four hours per week longer than their co-located counterparts, and usually
    check their work email after hours
  • Pick up the phone and check in with your staff every day – not just about work, but how they are coping in general
  • Create opportunities to connect such as virtual team lunches or a virtual happy hour
  • Start team meetings with a quick, personal check-in – make sure your team has an opportunity to share how they are coping during this tough time
  • Hold virtual office hours where staff can drop into your conference line; this lets your team know that you are accessible to discuss anything needing your support

Take Your Virtual Team to the Next level

Social distancing and the need to work virtually are here to stay –particularly as more social distancing and office lockdowns are likely to occur before the Coronavirus pandemic is over. The best, most reliable way to ensure business continuity in these challenging times is to make sure your team has the skills to be successful now and in the future.

We’re on YouTube!

Virtual teams and leads need access to great advice and best practices now more than ever, which is why we launched our YouTube channel with free tips and advice. Visit now and
subscribe to get the latest virtual teams’ content!

What do you think? Is the virtual office about to become the new normal? Let us know on social media using the hashtag #VTB!

Donate to GlobalGiving Coronavirus Relief Fund

Of course, supporting global businesses is only part of the solution to COVId-19. We recognize that there has been enormous community impact as well. With that in mind, over the next three months Virtual Team Builders will donate a portion of its proceeds to the GlobalGiving Coronavirus Relief Fund, which sends doctors and medical supplies to areas that need them most.

By : Claire Sookman /April 05, 2020 /Uncategorized /0 Comment Read More
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