You put time and special care into creating the greatest work team ever. And now it’s on the verge of becoming a struggling virtual team.
The move to remote work might be a disappointment for HR pros who love their thriving teams. But all is not lost.
“With so much tragedy around the world at this time, work can still be a place for moments of joy, connection and meaning,” says Sameer Chowdhri, Global Head, Workplace for HR at Facebook. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for HR leaders to create a sense of belonging no matter where people work.”
Managers and HR pros can help virtual teams re-build or maintain high levels of collaboration, creative small talk, healthy conflict and goodhearted fun in the work-from-home reality.
Here are seven strategies to build the ultimate virtual team environment.
1. Define the virtual team
Whether your team is new or long established, it’s important to review or re-define who you are and why you exist. With a clear vision and goals, the virtual team will work more effectively when members collaborate and work alone.
Get the group together to answer these questions and re-define your team:
- What are the daily, weekly, monthly and long-term single most important goals for us?
- Why is working together as a team more valuable than just the sum of our individual efforts?
- What is each person’s role? (Regularly review this question)
- How can we continue to make diversity and inclusion a part of our team?
- What are our communication expectations (timing, channel, sharing, etc.)?
- How, when and why will we meet?
- How will we recognize and reward exceptional work?
- What are our expectations for individual responsibility and accountability – and what are the consequences for failing to meet them?
2. Let teams create community
HR pros and managers don’t have to lead all team-building efforts to maintain the company culture. Give employees the tools to create or build on communities that meet their needs.
For instance, at Facebook, employees created internal groups through their Workplace from Facebook app where they can share ideas, concerns and camaraderie around common interests.
“We have seen support groups emerge during COVID like Building Resilience, Mental Well-being, and support for parents and pets,” Chowdhri explains. “These communities have become core to how Facebook operates as it helps strengthen the connections for everyone.”
3. Mix work and pleasure
Rutgers University researchers recently found office small talk helps with well-being at work. It inspires people to go above and beyond for colleagues and the company. Small talk also creates a more positive group environment.
And now it’s impossible to run into someone in the hallway and talk about last night’s game, new vending machine items or a business success.
So some organizations have built social and virtual team-building activities into their communication tools.
For instance, Loomly created a Water Cooler channel on Slack. Team members share things about themselves such as photos of things they love – dogs, beach, snow, etc. And they’ll post jokes, news and GIFs.
“It builds engagement,” says Loomly CEO Thibaud Clement. “Plus, we make a point to celebrate every single victory – big or small. People can share good news and cheer each other on.”
At Facebook, they use the Workplace app to give “everyone context for what’s happening in the company,” Chowdhri says. They offer weekly live Q&As, educational sessions, FYI groups with updates on strategy, products and community work. Plus, there’s a “People FYI group” where an employee group can talk with company leaders.
4. Make room for conflict
HR leaders and front-line managers want their virtual team to get along. But to be effective, the team needs some conflict.
“When people think of teams, they often have a Utopian image of locking arms around a campfire,” says Gary Burnison, Korn Ferry CEO. But “teams that are ‘all kumbaya’ do not perform as well as teams that embrace conflict.”
Korn Ferry researchers found respectful team conflict sparks the creative process – whether that was in a room or is now on Zoom. Just make sure team members:
- debate issues, not argue opinions
- avoid attacking people, behaviors and personalities
- brainstorm to accept all ideas and shoot down none
- avoid the word “but,” which negates other’s idea, and
- promote the word “and,” which allows others to build on ideas.
5. Start to ADAPT
Teams already realize the need to adapt how they do things to be successful. But change isn’t easy for everyone.
That’s why leaders at Korn Ferry, an organizational consultancy firm, encourage the ADAPT model to help leaders and their teams.
- Anticipate tomorrow. Always look at how decisions and actions will impact the future.
- Drive to elevate energy and others. Move forward with everyone working toward the common goals.
- Accelerate with agility. Eliminate as much red tape as possible.
- Partner to tap “collective genius.” Create networks and partners, not silos.
- Trust to create elevated interdependence. Empower people to do their jobs and have leaders move aside so employees can get it done.
6. Crank up communication
You don’t run into anyone in the hallway. And you can’t pull the team together for an impromptu coffee meeting. You’ll only hear crickets if you shout across the office floor.
And that’s a problem because those are places you shared important information just months ago.
So now, Karin Hurt and David Dye, founders of Let’s Grow Leaders, recommend team leaders relay the important stuff five times, five different ways. The plan:
- Consider what you want your team to think, feel or do about what you need to share, and
- Map out the five ways and five days you’ll share the information.
You can share important information in traditional channels first: email, your chosen communication app, in a Zoom meeting or phone call. Then try some creative ways to share the same message, perhaps tweaking it to fit the channel:
- Leverage your virtual backdrop to visually reinforce it
- Send a personal note to each team member’s home
- Create your own GIFs
- Create a short podcast
- Host a weekly town hall
- Use a permanent maker to write on your arm and show it during a Zoom call, telling employees, “This is how important it is: I’ve practically tattooed it!”
- Try peer-to-peer messaging – creating a chain to pass it along, and
- Get another team leader to share it to reinforce the importance.
7. Get the virtual ball rolling
Trying to be conscientious of virtual team members’ other demands, leaders sometimes spend all meeting time on business.
To build a better team environment, leaders actually want to reserve some meeting time for social interaction.
“For us, it’s ‘Friday on My Mind,'” says Chowdhri. “It humanizes the manager, who usually starts the conversation.”
Managers “start the conversation” by sharing:
- what they learned that week
- what they look forward to the next week
- words they’ve found encouraging, and
- what they plan to do for fun.