More and more of us either manage virtual teams or are part of a virtual team in some way. Tech has evolved to allow us to collaborate on projects, participate in meetings and work well with our virtual teammates wherever we are based. And, let’s admit it, some colleagues sit 10 metres away from one another and still only collaborate on their work via email and other apps!
Yet colleagues who are co-located still communicate beyond just the tasks at hand. They say hello to each other, offer to get each other a coffee, chat at the water cooler or run into one another in the lift. It is these small touchpoints that help us to connect; the social time where we discuss what we watched on TV, that funny bloke at the gym, or share what the cat did last night. It is the glue that helps hold a team together and keeps us feeling like we belong to something.
So how do we create social opportunities like this with virtual colleagues when the touch points are virtual instead of physical?
Meaningful or at least non-work related communication between ourselves and a remote work colleague can be a challenge to achieve. Small things can make a huge difference, as highlighted above. How about an IM every morning to say ‘hello’ and ‘how was your evening?’. How about catching up over a virtual coffee with a different team member every day? Keep it informal, (no work talk allowed!).
Here are a few more ideas to help you stay connected with your virtual teammates.
4 tips to strengthen connections with your virtual teammates
1. Show that you care
As well as doing the small things above, little gestures help remote colleagues feel remembered and important to you. It is easy to feel forgotten and ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when working remotely.
If your remote teammates have been a little quiet in their communications of late, get in touch and express your concern, checking that everything is okay.
A manager we worked with recently told us how much she loved and cared about her team. She had team pictures above her PC monitor to remind her of their last get-together. A moment of inspiration drove her to move the photos to the wall behind her. Now, every time she has a video conference with her team, they can see she is showing them off to anyone who comes into her office. What a great idea!
2. Make use of meetings’ social time
We are often baffled when people don’t speak to each other when they are logged in to a video conference, or virtual meeting, whilst they wait for everyone else to join. People are usually busy checking emails, rather than engaging with each other. This is less likely to happen in a face-to-face setting; we catch up as we pour coffee, check out the pastries and settle into the room.
Kevan Hall, author of “Speed Lead” and “Making the Matrix Work” argues that much rich discussion and necessary decision-making, happens in the social time around meetings – i.e. as people arrive or during breaks.
So make time before virtual meetings matter as people log in, by just chatting and catching up informally. Sometimes, perhaps try logging in a little earlier on purpose, for that very reason.
3. Be visible
It can be very tempting to hide behind a ‘bad hair day’ excuse to not turn on your webcam, but the benefits far outweigh any discomfort you might feel being on camera. Being able to see each other (whether on a 2-person Skype call or a 10-person team meeting) creates a more authentic feeling of being in a room together.
We can see how our team is looking, (from a well-being point of view) as well as being able to judge others’ reactions much better. Make the effort to use your webcam more and encourage others to do the same. The benefits will follow.
4. Be playful and spontaneous
Much of the communication we have with remote colleagues tends to be around their work or the current task itself. Using IM or WhatsApp allows for more ‘in the moment’ comments and banter to occur across remote teams.
Share funny observations, or the autocorrect that nearly got you in trouble, or how delicious your lunch is!When we make the effort to speak and message regularly, we are more likely to focus on the small, sometimes irrelevant, and funny things that can happen in our day-to-day lives. This allows for much better relationship building.
Imagine how your communication would be with your remote colleagues if they were really sitting at the desk next to you. Re-creating that in a virtual way will bring you closer and help you work even better together.
We hope you found our tips useful. We’d love to hear how you get on! Good luck and enjoy!