Virtual teams, while advantageous for companies and employees, often present a challenge for supervisors. Managers often struggle to find ways to create cohesion and strong relationships between employees who never or rarely meet in person. By finding ways to bring your team together, you can create a more collaborative and powerful professional unit.
Break the Ice
In a traditional office environment, workers participate in organized and organic team-building activities that help build social relationships. Members of virtual teams often miss out on these opportunities to learn about each other on a personal level. When you're starting out with a group of remote workers, make an effort to create a friendly working environment. Schedule a "get to know you" video call to help employees build connections. Come prepared with basic questions about family, hobbies, education or location, and use them when the conversation stalls. Even though they may feel stilted at first, small ice breakers can lead to fascinating discoveries and give employees common ground.
Workers in traditional offices have access to colleagues' offices, which are often decorated with personal memorabilia. These items help each person get a well-rounded sense of the people they work with. Replicate the process with virtual teams by scheduling a workplace walk-through. Ask each employee to spend a few minutes showing off their space, whether they work from a home office or a local coffee shop. Encourage them to focus on different items that have meaning, from an ultra-comfortable desk chair to personal photos. This small glimpse into the personal world of each person often serves as conversation fodder in the future.
Due to their dispersed natures, virtual teams often communicate less frequently and more formally than traditional teams. When you want to bring your employees closer together, communication is crucial. Hold regular group meetings to keep individuals from feeling isolated. Use video conferencing whenever possible to give team members a more personal experience. Ask workers to communicate proactively and regularly about projects and tasks. Encourage your team to stay in touch on a more informal basis by utilizing a group instant message, Facebook page, message board or other forum. These casual conversations can strengthen relationships and help the team become more unified.
Without constant togetherness and oversight, virtual teams can feel disengaged and distracted. Conference calls and web meetings can be less effective than in-person meetings, particularly when they run long. After a while, team members may stop paying attention and turn to other activities without anyone knowing. Building stronger processes can be an effective way to keep employees engaged. Use an agenda, assign speakers and let attendees know what their roles are. A solid structure helps set expectations and prevent employees from mentally checking out.
Because virtual teams miss out on standard team-building activities, it can be difficult to establish strong connections between employees. With concerted and intentional strategies, you can build trust and personal relationships that lead to a more effective team.
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