With the outbreak of COVID-19, the virtual workplace quickly gained traction as Canada’s businesses adapted. In a matter of weeks, numerous companies shifted to working from home and employees suddenly found themselves adjusting to a virtual workspace. Whether your remote team was cobbled together overnight to meet pandemic challenges, or you are building your team now, here are some of the core ingredients to nurture a high-performing virtual team.
1. Team Structure & Group Dynamics
To be effective, a virtual team needs to be balanced – you need the right mix and number of team members. The skills, knowledge and attributes of each team member should complement the team. Not every member has to possess the same talents. In fact, a healthy dose of diversity and perspectives is beneficial to team creativity. When building your team structure, team roles and responsibilities need to be specifically defined to avoid confusion and crossover. Group dynamics will play an important role in the team’s ability to successfully problem-solve, innovate and deliver on objectives. Keep virtual teams to no more than 10 participants (ideally less), otherwise, team members can begin to feel lost or less responsible for their individual performance. This can negatively impact the team’s overall accomplishments.
2. Build Team Trust & Connections
Building team trust and fostering connections amongst virtual team members is critical, especially where team members are geographically dispersed and don’t have the opportunity to meet face-to-face. Through team building activities, teams can socialize and get to know each other, creating bonds that build trust and nurture team cohesion. Team building ensures a happier, more engaged and motivated team where all members are invested in the team’s success. When you take the time to participate in fun activities together, you let the team know that you value who they are and help create positive relationships. It’s also a powerful way to boost your company culture. Check out our list of examples for virtual team-building ideas.
3. Set Clear Goals & Objectives
Setting clear team goals and objectives is fundamental for a team’s success. This is especially true for virtual teams that are unable to meet consistently. Set goals and objectives right from the start. Involve the team in this activity and get them to commit to the tasks and deliverables identified. Start with tangible daily, weekly and monthly tasks and goals that the team needs to jointly achieve. Set SMART goals for each member of the team and ensure they are aware of expectations. Goals and objectives can be fine-tuned for the team and individual members as required. It also helps set the direction of the project and lets the team know what they are working towards. Give them the “big picture” so they understand how they fit in with the overall objective. Making sure your team knows exactly what is expected of them and holding them accountable will ensure the success of each team member involved.
4. Create a Communication Strategy
As communication on virtual teams may be less frequent, it’s important to encourage open dialogue while being clear about how the team communicates. Develop a communication strategy that addresses these key elements:
Codes of conduct and behavioural norms when participating in team meetings (le: listening attentively, not dominating the conversation, and being respectful).
Protocols for information sharing such as what information is shared and when, who it should be shared with, along with how it will be delivered.
Modes of communication to use and under which circumstances. As an example, status updates can be posted to a shared team application, such as Microsoft Teams while urgent project-related communication may demand an impromptu phone or Zoom call.
Because virtual teams include individual team members from various fields (technical, operational, sales and marketing), it’s important to establish common language conventions to avoid misinterpretations and ambiguity. It’s worth noting that virtual teams often include cross-cultural members, which can magnify the communication challenges and emphasizes the need for shared understanding.
A formal communication strategy provides structure but even in virtual teams, we need to make room for informal interactions that allow the team to share information, brainstorm and reinforce social bonds. Team meetings are usually very task oriented, leaving little time for team cohesion. Consider implementing opportunities for casual discussions where team members can talk about what they are doing, what’s going well and what challenges they are struggling with.
5. Leverage Collaboration Technology
Because virtual teams can be geographically or organizationally dispersed, employees are unable to simply walk over to ask a colleague a question or discuss a project issue. Virtual teams require a combination of tools and technologies to accomplish the tasks and objectives established. Leverage collaboration technologies such as video and audio conferencing, collaboration and document sharing applications, and project management applications. Ensure that employees are well trained on the use of these collaboration tools and applications, along with existing system processes.
6. Track Performance & Deliverables
To ensure that virtual teams remain accountable and on track, it’s important to track progress and performance. Establish business performance metrics that can track and assess the team and individual team member progress. With measurable objectives, you can hold employees accountable and gather relevant data on tasks to maximize productivity or alter strategies based on analysis of data. Whether you use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Objective & Key Results (OKRs) or SMART goals to compare performance and results, it’s imperative that team performance is measured to assigned objectives. To help team members stay on target, implement a “deliverables dashboard” tool that is visible to all members of the team.
7. Show Appreciation & Provide Feedback
Virtual team members don’t share the same office space, which means they can be inadvertently overlooked when it comes to doling out praise or recognition. While office employees readily receive “in-the-moment” praise for a job well done, isolated remote employees deserve a pat-on-the-back too – they still need connection and appreciation from their peers and management. Even a few words of appreciation can make their day a little easier and show them you value their contributions. It’s also a great opportunity to interact with each virtual team member on a personal level, provide feedback and coaching.
8. Celebrate Successes
It’s important to make time for celebration. Much like team building activities, celebrating team milestone successes motivates team members, elevates morale and encourages growth. It’s also a great way for the team to socialize and strengthen their relationships. Even if it isn’t possible for virtual team members to physically get together, look for ways to celebrate accomplishments like sending a gift to virtual team members to congratulate them for a job well done (e.g., gift certificate to a local restaurant, flowers, or company SWAG) or host a video conference and invite the virtual team to meet and celebrate. Once lockdown restrictions subside, you could even host a face-to-face event like a team retreat to celebrate successes and plan for the following year.
The pandemic accelerated a massive shift towards remote work, profoundly changing the workplace and the way we work. While there is no single “cookbook” for developing high-performing virtual teams, the eight core ingredients cited above can get you moving in the right direction. Vexxit is here to answer any questions about your remote work environment and connect you with an HR consultant who can help build best practices for engaging remote teams.