Empowering Teams who do not interact with each other in a daily physical space can be challenging at times but definitely not impossible. Think about how many long term love relationships have been formed virtually and begin thinking about what kinds of things they must have become involved in to create this long distance love affair. Similar principles can be applied to your team. An empowered and engaged team will always form when leaders intentionally create opportunities for relationship building, collaboration, interactivity, challenges to be solved together and moments to celebrate each other. Distance does not change this fact.
The following are some helpful tips and online solution which can alter the experience and perception of the entire virtual staff:
Consider “virtual incentive programs” empowering your team to be inspired.
Distance should not interfere with Online gift cards or gifts you personally ship to them. Installing incentives that can be tracked and accounted for virtually may not be as difficult as it seems. In addition, there are multiple ways to recognize team members outside of “gift giving” such as: Newsletters, short recognition videos created each week or each month; Encouraging emails sent weekly recognizing achievements to individuals, regions or certain groups can be very effective!
Another thing to consider is to create “team challenges” between regions or groups and reward the winning group by offering a catered meal or dessert that you call in OR a special event of some sort. Consider inviting other team members to “join in virtually” in the celebration at X time and date.
Create opportunities for team members to “bump into each other”
One of the biggest reasons why virtual teams fail is because they don’t compensate the fact that team members are not bumping into each other. They subconsciously forget they are part of a larger picture and do not communicate or collaborate with other team members as much as they need to.
You will have to intentionally create opportunities for team members to just “chat” both formally and informally. Some effective options are online chat rooms (like Skype), project management software (like Basecamp), and video conferencing (Google Hangouts is free).
Keep a chat room open and available throughout the work day and encourage engagement.
Once they get the hang of it, they will start leaving messages for the team that they are a part of. It’s essential to keep these chats alive but not distracting. There’s enough conversation to be able to discuss important issues and to feel like we’re connected as one team, but not so much that it becomes distracting.
Also consider having a fun company wide chat room which is open for non business related chat. This creates a virtual “water cooler effect” where employees can chat about anything they like. It can be a lonely existence working by yourself at home and this company wide chat helps keep a feeling of social connection.
Learn to dissect the most effective communication methods for each team member based on needs and effectiveness
- Email – You can replace most email communication with a project management system.
- Chat programs – Skype or Google Hangouts are great for quick instant messages and for creating a team chat environment.
- Phone calls or video chat – Some types of communication should only be handled over the phone. Any kind of emotional issue such as performance problems should be handled over the phone. Video chat would be even better as it gives you more visual cues of what is going on with the other person.
- Creating a short video – It’s very easy to create a video of yourself on YouTube using your webcam, or using a screen capture tool such as Jing.
Make use of quick video or visual communication tools
When you’re not in the same room how can you explain something visually on your computer screen? A YouTube video or a screen capture tool like Jing is a great way to do this. Capture desktop screenshots and put arrows, labels and notes using Jing or create quick screen capture videos and share it with other team members via YouTube.
Utilize screen sharing tools
There are tools that enable you to share your screen so that another person can see exactly what you are doing. Some of these tools even allow people to control another computer remotely. Many of these tools are free-to-use for small teams, including TeamViewer and Join.me. Skype also has screen sharing capability but without any option to control another computer remotely.
Collaboration on written documents, projects and spreadsheets
Google Drive is an excellent tool for collaboration of any one project or document requiring group effort. If you have a document that just needs to be shared, and will not be edited simultaneously, then you can place your documents (such as an excel file) in a shared Google Drive or in Dropbox. Many project management tools also have file sharing and collaboration features, so that’s another alternative for collaborating on documents.
Set up a project management system, and actually use it
For smaller teams you might be tempted to wing it and handle everything via email. This is counterproductive and ineffective. Project management systems are helpful in managing virtual teams because they help to organize documents and conversations into projects, making it easier to find them later. They also help with organizing and storing shared files. IMPORTANT: If you run your business purely with emails it can quickly become an unmanageable, disorganized mess.
Create opportunities for a “sense of team”
It may take extra effort to keep people feeling committed to their team but it will always pay off in the end. They need to know that not only they’re contributing true value to the team’s common goal; they are also valuable to the team’s success in achieving its goal. Some ways to achieve this are:
- Consistent non-work related communication
- Imparting the vision of the company in as many ways as possible, allowing engagement for ideas in promoting that vision
- “Post the Scores” and keep your team informed about how the company is doing. No one wants to be part of the game plan if they don’t know the effect they are having or how well the team is doing
- Engage the entire team in important events and projects as often as possible
- During birthdays and special occasions, send gifts with meaning.
Anything you can do to create a feeling that they are not just working separately but are truly part of your company and part of a team is worthwhile.