The nature of work has changed. In today’s global economy, working in different locations with different nationalities and across different time zones has become the norm for many of us.
Which means that you may be working with colleagues that you have never physically met, but this is no reason to feel that virtual teamwork can’t be as rewarding as working face-to-face, being co-located in the same office space.
It is entirely possible to develop an engaging and productive relationship over a long distance, without any or minimal face-to-face contact.
However, it is not easy and requires the development of a specific skillset for leaders to be effective when they manage remotely. There is a risk that remote workers can end up feeling a little lost at times and disconnected from what is happening.
Encouraging leaders to make time to have conversations with their remote direct reports is an important aspect in creating engagement. Even more important is helping leaders to become skilled in how they connect in the virtual space.
There are two main areas that remote leaders can focus on in order to build a sense of ‘virtual closeness’ even if there is a physical distance between people.
Building Trust: Task versus Relationship
Why do people behave differently with each other when meeting virtually, as opposed to face-to-face?
We have observed time and time again that when a team meets virtually, it will get right down to business. Virtual teams tend to be much more task focussed than co-located teams.
We believe that this is because in a virtual setting, team members are not physically able to have a chat in the hallway or catch up over coffee just before the meeting starts.
These informal conversations and personal connections are critical in helping us to create and maintain relationships and build trust – which is of course key to engagement. Even more so in a remote setting.
One way to improve virtual conversations and meetings is to create a new balance between focusing on task versus focusing on relationship building. The right balance depends on the task, type of team and the cultural context.
Communicating Effectively: Virtual Etiquette
A well-planned approach that allows a lively exchange of views and perspectives – whether conducting a virtual two-way conversation or a team meeting is the best way to get an informative debate going, important questions aired, and a range of perspectives shared.
Getting leaders to conduct virtual meetings that are enjoyable, interactive and therefore productive is entirely achievable, by applying some basic principles. What we call ‘virtual etiquette’ – during the meeting itself.
These virtual etiquette principles will quickly increase a sense of engagement. Read more in our blog on 5 Steps to transferring your training from F2F to the virtual classroom.
Getting Practical with virtual meetings
What does this look like in practice? Here are some tried-and-tested tips from our Virtual Meetings Toolkit:
– Start with the relationship: allocate a few minutes at the beginning of each one-to-one conversation or team meeting with an informal chat and check-in process.
– Encourage spontaneity: over structuring a meeting kills human interaction, such as laughter and interruptions, so unmute all participants and ask them to not mention their name every time they comment.
– Listen carefully, not just to what is said but also to silences: if the cultural context allows, ask what these silences mean.
– Limit presentations or monologues to four minutes each: longer decreases engagement.
Read more about virtual meetings in our blog: How virtual meetings can be even more powerful and effective than a face to face meeting.
Learning to manage, lead, and build teams that are not co-located is an important skill, and not something to be confused with team leadership in co-located teams.
In our Nomadic IBP remote leadership development programme, leaders learn how to create greater engagement and performance through applying key skills and techniques that work.
Team leaders learn how to build high performing virtual teams, where teams are just as engaged and committed as teams that work together in a face-to-face setting. In fact, as the title of a Harvard Business Review puts it: ‘Sometimes virtual teams outperform traditional teams’.
Our programmes are completely online, or a combination of online and face-to-face, in order to accelerate the learning by mirroring the real world of the participants.
Check out the Nomadic IBP remote leadership programme to see how you can develop the skills described in our blog.
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Fredrik Fogelberg is a chartered Organisational Psychologist specializing in leadership development and team facilitation in international organizations. He has over 30 years of international experience in the corporate world and as a consultant.