Ishan is a skilled resource who works in the application development vertical for an IT company. His team is geographically spread across the USA and EMEA. He has a competent resource pool and enjoys being part of a diverse and skilled group. However, he finds the virtual management of his team and clients difficult.
He is able to collaborate with a couple of team members however with others he finds it difficult to gel with as he has never met them personally. They communicate over e-mails and instant messengers (IM). Sometimes setting the project expectations becomes difficult for him. Working in varied time zones brings in a lot of difficulties for him to delegate work appropriately.
If you are working in a virtual team, Ishan’s situation may sound familiar. The fact is virtual teams are no more the future. It is already here. We are sailing through in one of the most uncertain times right now. With the COVID – 19 situations across the globe every establishment is affected. However, does the work at our end stop? The answer is No. For the majority of organizations, those have established a strong digital culture, it is more or less Business as Usual (BAU).
We drive change in system and people transitions. This happens across the globe, majorly without our physical presence most of the times. Although I strongly believe that change management cannot be done without human interface, we can take advantage of technology to curb situations wherein we can drive change in remote teams.
Digital transformation is less about changing technology; it affects the people involved in it the most. When the teams where the change is being implemented is virtual the change adoption becomes even more difficult. In any change project, be it a big scale change or small, there are inhibitions, resistance to change. By going digital we leave no room for wrong information flow as the communications are consistent and transparent and people have access to information. This reduces fear for change to a greater extent.
Few ideas to drive engagement and communications for remote teams are jotted below:
- Consistent communication: Design posters, teasers and mailers to keep the employees aware of why this change is taking place and on different phases. Video nuggets are a brilliant alternative to communicate change. Leaders can speak about their vision for the change in these nuggets.
- Employee engagement: Facebook@Work or Workplace like platforms are wonderful to drive communication and employee engagement. If we look at it in a different way, we connect with peers by talking about things that are not work-related like hobbies, pets or even the best weekend binge watches. Virtual teams may miss out on those personal connections. For one of our clients, we ran the passion clubs over Workplace – the internal communications platform. We used interesting hashtags for every club like photography, travel blogs etc. People across geographies started posting photos of their pets and their paintings. They were able to connect with each other at a large scale. We moved the watercooler online!
- Video calls over audio: Collaboration in the smart virtual way is to diligently make use of telepresence, use video calling tools and make it mandatory for all resources to join calls on video and not only audio. This enables everyone’s attention and the etiquette of the meeting changes. Participants are less apt to zone out.
- Make the meetings interesting: While attending a meeting at office we have the privilege of getting high on caffeine while discussing over an issue. We can still do it! I generally ask my team members to log in to a video call from a close by coffee shop. This gives a change in the environment and an informal talk at the beginning of the meeting to set the tone for the next 1-2 hrs. In a situation like this, where we are quarantined in our homes, I asked my team to log in from their couches or favorite corner of their home sipping coffee from their favorite coffee mug.
- Productivity doesn’t really come by setting rules: Informal way of communication or the Indian way of communication plays an important role in rapport building and once the bond is developed the team is on autopilot. Virtual teams majorly lack the chance to make small talk – with the neighbor in the next cubicle or going out on lunch or a simple chat on weekend plans passing by the coffeemaker. Virtual teams need to build time for such small talks – either at the beginning of the meeting or on a chat tool like Skype for business, MS Teams, WhatsApp or Slack. Small challenges like posting a recent pic with family members or posting a time-lapse video of a dish they have cooked at home or a simple game would keep them engaged. #WowWednesdays or #FriYay series can be introduced to make out a slot for recreation activities.
Another important fact that leaders or managers need to keep in mind is that, virtual teams miss out on a pat-on-the-back. Employee appreciation is imperative. For virtual teams, a gift card, an appreciation mailer addressing to the employee and marked to the entire team or posted on a common platform like Yammer or Workplace works magical to bring back the sense of belongingness.
These are a few ideas of developing a virtual team into a highly engaged workforce.