It’s all about balance

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It’s all about Balance: The Psychological Secrets to Success in Virtual Teams

Why read up on the psychological secrets to success in virtual teams? Well, since 2015, the number of US employees who telecommuted increased by 115% – that’s 26 million, representing 16% of the national workforce. If you include employees who report working virtually at least some of the time, that number shoots up to 89%.

As a virtual manager, you might need to ask yourself: they may be working virtually, but are they working well?

Fortunately, at the same time as virtual work models were exploding in popularity, psychological studies on the topic were doing the same thing. The research is in, and the results show that as with most things in life, successful, building a psychologically sound and high-performing virtual team is all about balance.

Going virtual isn’t like flipping a light switch

That’s largely because too many companies decide to go virtual after being dazzled by the potential cost savings for travel and office space, but underestimate the impact that working virtually can have on communication, team cohesion, and mental health.

Safe to say that if you’re leading a virtual team, it’s worth your time to make sure you understand the realities of the virtual environment. If you don’t, the failure costs of inefficiency, over-collaboration, unproductive conflict and employee burnout will badly offset the real estate savings.

The benefits and cost savings of working virtually will only materialize if your team is set up with the right tools and communications strategies for psychological well-being and professional success.

Read on to learn the top five, research-backed psychological secrets to balance and success in your virtual team.


Convenience and perks with
communication skill development

Most employees consider telecommuting a huge perk, a way to better achieve a healthy work-life balance by eliminating stressful commutes and having more flexibility to meet personal obligations.

But not all jobs or tasks are suited to working remotely.

A 2019 study showed that jobs focusing on independent work (call centers, coding, report writing, programming, insurance adjustors) or significant concentration and problem-solving are great candidates, as working alone means fewer interruptions.

It’s also easy to monitor these jobs remotely, making an easier transition for managers as well.

Where virtual workers tend to struggle is with tasks that depend on interpersonally sensitive tasks that involve non-verbal communication. Not only do they perform less effectively, but they often feel isolated and less trusting as well.

Where’s the balance?

Working face-to-face isn’t always possible, but when it is, make the most of it! Be structured about using that time to build and reinforce relationships, and to perform sensitive tasks such as performance reviews.

A little knowledge and skill development go a long, long way to building virtual teams that communicate just as well long-distance as they do face-to-face.


Productivity with

Study after study shows that telecommuters are a happier, less stressed-out bunch – and more productive, too. They’re more likely to work longer hours, less likely to get distracted, and eager to prove their value.

Win-win, right?

The trouble is that physical isolation can create psychological isolation. Workers feel socially and
professionally remote from their colleagues, and the feeling is often mutual. Of course, this re-introduces stress, decreases satisfaction, drops productivity, strains relationships… you get the idea.

This reduces resilience at the individual level, making your virtual staff less likely to bounce back
obstacles or setbacks, potentially affecting your entire team’s productivity and performance.

Where’s the balance?

A 2007 study showed that commuters’ relationships with colleagues only suffered if they worked remotely three days per week or more. Again, with local employees, this can be managed.

If your team is too far apart for that kind of arrangement, however, don’t despair! Many teams work the same way, and armed with the right communication skills, they do so very successfully.

What this study demonstrates is that physical location is less important than building good communication habits like promptly sharing important updates with everyone at the same time, placing everyone on equal footing.

Good communication can reassure employees that being out of sight does not mean being out of mind, and give managers confidence that their team is performing its work even without line-of-sight observation.


Work and Home

Everybody talks a good game about work-life balance, but virtual employees can be terrible at it.

To start, they just tend to work more hours. A 2013 study shows an extra four hours per week, typically to “make up for” their lack of physical presence and to prove their value to the company.

At the same time, personal obligations can start to creep into work time, undoing many of the benefits of working virtually in the first place. To say nothing of the fact that when home is work and work is home, it can feel like you’re always working.

Psychologically speaking, this leads to burnout, frustration, resentment, and lower morale

Where’s the balance?

Virtual workers and managers need to set clear boundaries – off duty means off duty. Respect the fact that non-work hours are truly meant for R&R while work hours are meant for work. Keeping this psychological separation is essential to the long-term success in any virtual environment.


Enjoying the benefits with
investing in the fundamentals

No commute? Great! No water cooler chats? Not so great.

While virtual workers are often more productive, it is dangerous to ignore the sense of isolation that creeps into any virtual workplace. Companies simply cannot convert to a virtual model without changing other aspects of their operations to support remote employees’ psychological well-being. 

Informal and spontaneous conversations are a huge part of how co-workers build effective, trusting relationships. These occur less naturally in the virtual world, which is why it can take up to four times as long to achieve when compared to co-located offices.

Where’s the balance?

Some companies provide a stipend for virtual staff to do virtual lunches or coffee dates, encouraging their team to find “water cooler” moments they’re missing out on. Great virtual managers will also make sure to incorporate a bit of casual conversation about recent events, movies, or the latest internet meme, helping build and reinforce positive relationships. Virtual managers can also pursue one-on-one mentoring to make sure they know how to recognize issues, support their team, and even re-structure staff evaluations to better measure performance in a virtual environment.

Us vs. Them

One study found that teams with one large group and multiple subgroups tend to develop unhealthy rivalries and conflicts. As remote employees are already prone to feeling isolated, it’s important for companies and managers to create as level a playing field as possible.

Where’s the balance?

Balance here lies in creating an equitable environment. For instance, if one person joins a meeting virtually, then everybody does – nobody gets the advantage of side conversations or non-verbal communication.

Is there a celebration in the office that virtual staff can’t physically attend? Make sure they can participate remotely, and if the event is catered, consider providing a stipend for virtual staff to order their own special meal as well.

As a 2014 study showed, ultimately it is the quality and not the proximity of everyone’s relationships that made the most measurable difference.

Finding balance in your virtual team

Virtual teams can deliver on the promise of cost savings, efficiency, etc., and more – but only when companies recognize the vast differences in communication between co-located and remote colleagues. Investing training and education to learn the communication skills and strategies that work in the virtual environment is an essential step in realizing the full ROI of going virtual.

These problems simply do not solve themselves and nearly always gets worse before they get better. A great place to start is to schedule a no-commitment 30-minute consultation with expert staff from Virtual Team Builders and set your team up for success!

By : Claire Sookman /November 23, 2019 /Uncategorized /0 Comment

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