A virtual culture is more than just Zoom Happy Hours and random meme sharing. It is a space where each employee feels, comfortable, safe, respected and treated like a valued member of the team; it is where they feel they belong. – Heidi Lynne Kurter, Leadership Coach, Workplace culture Consultant and Forbes Contributor
We live in a century where a wide range of human problems are being handled by digital solutions. Technology binds us. It drives us. It almost always surprises us. You want food: order take out. You want to move: hail a cab on app. You want to socialize without leaving the cozy couch in your house because it’s raining outside and you’re not in the mood; there’s apps for that too! And now, virtual workplaces are steadily being adopted and normalized.
Virtual workplaces are online networks that provide a platform where employees based in various locations can collaborate in work activities and complete tasks pertaining to the company. These virtual workplaces comprise of virtual teams serving specific functions of the company.
This evolution of the workplace has changed the way professionals in industries think and has shaped the view of Human Resource concepts of the modern workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many businesses and organizations switching from physical workplaces to working online in virtual teams to reduce the risk of spreading illness and adjust to government guidelines and the economic situation.
These virtual teams have been the driving force sustaining business activities from blue-chip corporations to SMEs and even sole proprietors. Perhaps a foreshadowing move that soon, ‘remoteworkers’ will simply be considered as workers.
US corporate giant, Google, had recently announced its position to formalize working from home for its employees. According to The Wall Street Journal, 200,000 full-time and contract employees led by Google CEO Sundar Pichai will be part of this exodus into virtual workspaces until 2021. Their German – based counterpart (Europe’s largest industrial manufacturing company), Siemens, stretched its work flexibility plan to 2-3 days working remotely for its 140,000 employees. According to Forbes, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey went full frontal on considering Working from Home mandatory and saying that this may be the adjustment “forever”.
Terms such as Work from Home (WH), Collaborative Working Environment, Virtual Team Building and Remote Working are not new to businesses that have adapted to the technological advancements and work challenges of this age. Various learning and financial institutions and service providers around the globe including those in Africa have already adopted virtual models with a work from home approach.
So, do you just tell everyone in the office to go home?
I regret to inform you reader that this thought is at the very least, an error in judgement. It’s not that simple. There’s need to draft a work from home policy, establish systems to maintain continuous workflow and a good working environment where they can be productive. But most importantly, you need to have an effective virtual team.
Here are ten ways to do that.
1. Align Activities to the Goals
Do not assume that everyone in the team knows exactly what they are doing. Their success must be oriented towards a goal. Through this goal, their effort is channeled, their conduct is managed and objectives oriented. All activities of the virtual team including the communication, meetings and work flow must seek to achieve set goals.
Without knowledge of the goals to be achieved, focus shift to individual success, isolation instead of collaboration and ultimately achievements that are not relevant to the purpose of the team.
A study done by QuestBack (a global leader in enterprise feedback) showed that 90% of employees believed that they knew their organization’s values yet only 15% of the same are able to clearly define the values mission and goals. The experience management online software Company focused on employee engagement and from results, was able to show the ignored gap.
An effective virtual team must constantly be reminded of what they seek to achieve in the long run. This brings the collaborative effort to the desired outcome. Keep communicating the values that are expected of each individual. It also instills commitment and high performance that translates to the team effectiveness.
2. Virtual Team Building
Working with a virtual team means considering the fact that workmates are in their remote/individual spaces and can be distant not just physically but emotionally too.
This can easily create a sense of isolation especially if no emotional bonds have been fostered before. Members of the team may feel awkwardness and uncomfortable.
You don’t want that. You want Synergy. You want enhanced productivity.
Virtual Team building involves converging remote teams together into a virtual environment where they can collaborate and grow deeper bonds.
The team may not be able to get together for any outdoor or indoor activities but it can try:
- Virtual karaoke; pick songs that team members can sing along to in video conferences
- Picture sharing; let members share memes or pictures they have to break the ice
- Online gaming and puzzles
- Show and tell; let members pick something they own or have in their environment and share its significance to them
or even games where virtual teams earn points like:
- Office trivia; ask questions about work and workmates and award points to members who get them right
- Simulated problems; create imagined problems and pair people up and ask them how they would solve it.
- 2 truths and a lie; let each member say 3 random things about themselves and other members take turns identifying which of the 3 statements is false.
- Storyline completion; let every member come up with a sentence as part of a storyline.
With these activities, you will be able to break the ice and build a social network (among members who don’t know each other), highlight what members have in common, build and maintain relationships , stimulate collaboration and participation, boost creativity, lift members morale, promote understanding through seeing situations from other members perspectives.
All these benefits increase the team members’ motivation and connection, therefore boosting their productivity.
3. Track Activity
Working remotely is not always easy. Different people have different working environments and sometimes situations can easily deviate their attention. There are also many distractions that could easily affect work output: Their favorite TV show could be on, they may want to take care of their family instead, they may have guests over etc.
Make sure team members have a Work-from-Home space. Just like a physical office, they need a place where they can focus on their tasks, hold virtual meetings and make official calls without unnecessary disruption. This will help maintain their productivity.
It is also important to incorporate project management means so you can record and measure the team’s work progress. For virtual teams getting paid for hours of work, it will be necessary to track number of hours worked.
Having a record of tracking attendance to meetings or webinars is a way of maintaining accountability among team members. These measures target the ability to instill work conduct and maintain discipline among team members so that everyone’s effort is complimentary and coordinated. This is also a key factor in projects that require virtual teams to collaborate to finish a task and accomplish a goal.
4. Hold Regular Meetings
How regular is regular? It may depend on the tasks involved.
Daily meetings help where teams need constant updates on progress. Weekly meetings are better for maintaining working relations, bonding and getting information updates. Monthly meetings help in realigning the team to its goals, review progress, plan for the coming month and Help mark milestones. Regular meetings help align the team to its goals. It also helps maintain working relations by gives a chance for feedback, constructive criticism, appreciation and generally, a healthy dialogue.
5. Utilize Technology
The future is now! If you are a technophobe or a staunch believer in Neo Luddism (the philosophy of resisting modern technology and advocating for more traditional and simple alternative methods), it doesn’t mean that you have to be ‘pro-tech’.
Our reality portrays that with the rate of technological advancement, our future will consist of more technology. When it comes to virtual working, it bridges the geographical gap and enables automated processes. Perhaps the way to look at it now is by seeing it as a tool.
Technological advancements have revolutionized almost every industry. The utility we gain and enhanced quality of work should be an advantage virtual teams can enhance. Some alternatives offered range from industry-specialized software to online cloud storage, communication and teleconferencing apps and software and online learning services.
Make sure your team has devices for efficient working, sustainable communication and online tools to facilitate task completion.
Next time we will take a look at the remaining five ways you can boost the effectiveness of your virtual team. Visit our website for resources and advice concerning the workplace.