No, I don’t think I am really losing my mind, but some days I feel like it. As Head of Sales for Target Training I work virtually each day. This means that I am working at clients’ offices, on a train or at home in my office. I am constantly emailing, messaging, phoning and videoconferencing with my colleagues. There are weeks where I don’t see any of my colleagues in person. I love the flexibility and autonomy of working virtually. There are a lot of advantages and it fits my lifestyle. This way of working is becoming the norm for many professionals and with it come challenges. The key is to make sure you address the challenges before they start to affect your, and your team’s productivity.
I was in a client meeting a few weeks back discussing a virtual teams training project with a department leader. We were looking into his team’s struggles in an effort to customize our training approach. During our talk, he used the phrase ‘…with everyone working on their own little deserted island..’ when he was discussing his virtual team spread over 5 countries. It struck me as a great analogy and got me thinking about my team.
So, I took a few minutes and wrote down the biggest challenges I personally face when working virtually. I recommend doing the same as the exercise helped me raise awareness of what is happening and what I can do to improve things. I had quite a long list after 10 minutes, but here are the three main struggles I thought I’d share:
Trusting the people that you work with is essential. Without trust; conflict, misunderstanding and communication breakdowns occur. In my opinion, trust is something that comes from two people investing in their working relationship. This can be purely professional or a mix of personal and professional. Trust can mean different things to different people, but I think most people would agree that it is easier to build when you see someone face to face on a regular basis. You don’t always have that luxury when working in dispersed teams. Building trust takes more effort and work. What can you do to build trust in your virtual teams?
2. Email etiquette
Love them or hate them, emails aren’t going anywhere no matter what you might have heard or read. Emails can be a great way to quickly distribute information all over the world to a number of people. They can also easily offend, frustrate and demotivate colleagues due to the smallest word, phrase or omission of something. When you don’t have the ability to see someone face to face when communicating, you need to make sure your message and tone reflect what you are trying to say. Even then, the reader may interpret things differently based what is happening on their ‘deserted island’ that particular day. What should you do? Use the phone when in doubt and establish some email rules for your virtual teams.
3. Unnecessary virtual meetings/calls
There are different opinions out there on whether to have weekly catch up meetings scheduled or not, regardless of urgent discussion points. In my opinion, the fewer the calls the better. My schedule changes quickly and needs to flexible to accommodate client demands. So, when I see a weekly call on my calendar I look at it as a barrier to productivity, unless it is about something to move a project forward. What can your team do instead of the weekly teleconferences?
As a kid, I used to fantasize about being on my own deserted island and doing what I wanted, the way I wanted, every day. That is my current reality, minus the beach. Working virtually is reality for most us and taking a few steps to improve our communication and relationships goes a long way. Give a few of the tips included in the links above a try and see how it goes!
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