The last decade has seen a growing number of employees working remotely so that HR strategists have coined the term ‘virtual workplace’. This phenomenon has been accelerating recently with individuals yearning for freedom and responsibility. If enabling employees to work part or full-time remotely present many advantages (time gains with less communicating, office cost savings, flexibility, autonomy...) it also entails some new challenges (less efficient communication, misalignment, risk of disengagement...). According to a Deloitte research, only 20% of teams working remotely are properly structured and work efficiently. This is actually a real challenge for managers and organizations to make remote work a real advantage and keep strong ties with their teams. Here are 5 fundamental aspects that need to be mastered to develop high performing teams in a virtual workplace.
1 - Make sure the team is aligned and shares the vision
One of the essential team management skills is the ability to mobilize the group around a vision and align everyone toward the desired objective in order to fulfill this vision. Because of the physical distance that puts every team member apart, the risk of misalignment is, therefore, higher (unclear vision, poor understanding of the team objectives). In this context, the challenge is to create a strong and shared sense of urgency to embark on every team member. Enable your team to clearly know where the group is heading to and provide each individual the clues to understand what can she/he do bring the team towards the objectives. Have trust in your team: an empowered team will be more efficient in fulfilling the vision and reach its objectives.
2 - Facilitate and promote collaboration
One of the curses of a remote team is the inability to access the required information or resource quickly. On a weekly basis, teams spend hours looking after a specific document or a critical piece of information. One of the first things you have to make sure is that all relevant information is accessible to any team member easily and rapidly. It might sound like a no brainer but based on recent research, chaotic information storage cripples productivity and significantly impedes organizations' performance. Our advice is to deploy modern cooperation tools with a shared document storage system so that information is always at your fingertips. Sharing, individual productivity, and learning will be dramatically increased.
3 - Nurture the development of social bonds
In a physical workplace, people spontaneously socialize with their peers: team lunch, coffee break discussions or just stopping by at the desk. In a virtual workplace, such casual opportunities to socialize do not exist: relationships tend to get weaker. As a consequence, social bonds within the team need to be proactively nurtured. Asking regular feedback to your team is the first step to go beyond the simple execution of work: check how they feel about ongoing teamwork and their deadlines but tr also to engage at a more personal level from time to time. Empower them to come up with new ideas, highlight the contribution of everyone. This will reduce any feeling of exclusion and reduce the psychological distance. Make good use of video meetings to stimulate the discussion and organize physical meetings from time to time. Celebrate success, share failures and reward efforts. Your team will naturally become more synced. transparency will increase and your team will be more engaged.
4 - Optimize communication flows
When working remotely, it is difficult to sense whether a colleague needs focus time, whether she/he is stressed, happy or sad. Individual mindset and availability are various things that impact the quality of the communication within the team In order to overcome those difficulties, encourage your team to indicate whether they are currently available or not and if possible, their current state of mind. People also have different communication styles (email, call, chat...), it is important to make it transparent and encourage each team member to acknowledge the different ways of working. Conducting personality tests such as CVI (Core Values Index), MBT (Myers-Briggs) or VIA (Character Strengths) can be powerful tools to reinforce inclusion, empathy, and efficient communications across the group. Finally, it’s important to set common rules (e.g. meeting structures, information sharing processes) and clearly define times when discussions can diverge and when they need to converge. Discussions will be more effective.
5 - Structure regular team meetings
Considering the physical distance and potential time and schedule constraints, it is never easy to find the proper time to gather the team and sync. Engage with your team to set the ideal time slot for a weekly or biweekly check-in. Make sure you get all the team onboard. Prepare these touchpoints in advance to enable to come prepared. Additionally, don’t hesitate to rotate between topics and formats.
If you want to strengthen your team that is working remotely, steer international project teams or develop better ways of working for the virtual workplace? Take a look at Steerio: Lead virtual teams, not remote teams.