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Putting it Together: Excelling as Part of a Virtual Team

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What a difference a week makes!  Two weeks ago, many of us felt displaced, wondering how working from home (WFH) was actually going to work.

With Zoom and WebEx now regular parts of our workdays, a prospect that seemed challenging just days ago has achieved some normalcy, and we are settling into routines.

Whether WFH was old hat or a foreign concept, it is now an indefinite reality for many of us. WFH success and productivity are based on two essential elements : 

As discussed in last week’s blog, a WFH mindset is about establishing a sense of control of your time and space. 

A successful WFH employee has the following core beliefs:

  • I believe I can be successful.
  • I believe I am safe and secure to focus and contribute my best self.
  • I believe I have all the tools I need and can easily access during the work time.

Can you say these statements with conviction?  These beliefs are critical to WFH success. Additionally, with a strong WFH mindset, you can establish feelings of value and competency that will help maximize your performance within a team.

Virtual Office + WFH Mindset + Beliefs: Excelling as Part of a Virtual Team

Successful WFH employees feel confident in their contributions as both individuals and members of a team.  As a team member, they can confidently state:

  • I know what is expected of me and how to contribute so that the team and I can move forward on our goals.
  • My team trusts me to deliver my best results
  • My team will regularly share candid feedback and insights with me, providing support and direction when necessary.
  • My manager trusts me to deliver my best results, and will also provide regular feedback and communication.

The first order of business is gaining clarity about your role and expectations within a larger team. You should be able to answer the following questions:

What is your role as a team member? How does WFH change this, if at all? Can this challenge become an opportunity? Once you’ve answered these questions, we can look at successful teamwork.

EXCELLING AS PART OF A VIRTUAL TEAM

Successful teamwork and team development are based on two main aspects:

  • Clear, open communication
  • Trust among team members

COMMUNICATION

Communication starts with mutual understanding about individual roles, team goals, and the methods and frequency of communication. Make sure that you and your team members are 100 percent clear on the following issues:

Your Purpose and Goals as a Team Member

Be clear on your responsibilities and team expectations:  Have you and the team had a meeting to talk about—or restate/ review—members’ respective roles and responsibilities, and how to move forward while working remotely? 

You might be saying, “we are already a team, we know our roles, and we already function efficiently together.” You may have worked with some teammates for several years. However, WFH introduces a new dynamic. You need to evaluate: does working remotely shift your individual focus areas or the collective focus of your team? Have projects and responsibilities changed? If so, how? Are there new skills you need to develop? This is an inventory you definitely need to take, and questions you need to ask of both your team and your manager.

Methods, Frequency, and Purpose of Team Communications

Be clear on how you will communicate with your teammates—both the frequency and the communication mediums. Specifically, you need to know:

How often will the team meet? Does everything require a visual meeting? How will you communicate?  Email? Text?  MS Teams?  Will you huddle?  How will regular team meetings change?  How will you get feedback on your performance?  How will results really be measured? These answers should be clearly outlined or explained. . If you’re not getting them, or they are not clearly defined, ask for them. Here is why:

  • Your work during this time period still counts toward overall performance.  Whenever we emerge from this crisis—and we will—when we start returning to our offices and start preparing for performance discussions—because we will—how do we account for March, April, and May (or longer), and the impact of working from home?  Do we say those months don’t count?

Are you familiar with the conferencing technologies that are replacing in-person communications?  Physical team meetings are tabled for now—replaced by Zoom meetings, WebEx, and other videoconferencing platforms. Are you familiar with how to use the conferencing software and functions?  Has other new software been introduced? Identify what tools may be new, and test your ability to use them. Pick one each day and explore the functionality. Today, we all need to be up to speed quickly. If use isn’t quick, easy, or intuitive, head to YouTube.

TRUST

Create it. Maintain it.

Trust is at the center of successful teamwork and team development. What makes individual team members thrive most is when they feel like valued contributors who can share their ideas freely. In-person meetings offer a camaraderie that, unfortunately, is not as palpable through videoconferencing.

When we can see each other face-to-face, in the same room, we rely on not only results but on the other cues to help us develop trust. In other words, it’s looking at body language combined with tone and reaction: when you are in person, these elements are dynamic; on video, you are missing that intuitive, almost subconscious ability to observe and consider those parts together as a whole. On video we can rely only on sight and sound.

Analogy: We are having WebEx meetings where a coworker could be wearing a “suit” on top and pajama bottoms below the line of sight. We literally are not seeing parts of the whole.

During this WFH time—especially with many people in isolation—there may need to be more frequent communications to stay connected as well as intentional efforts to either build or maintain a certain level of trust and engagement.

Helping people feel connected and valued goes a long way toward team performance. You don’t need to be in a leadership position to engender camaraderie and goodwill among your team.

Here are some ideas:

  • Try to have more individual conversations – real-time talk not just text. 
  • Share an inspirational video or saying. 
  • Recommend an article or book to the team.
  • If you sense a fellow team member feels disconnected, reaching out to check in is a kind, heartfelt gesture as and a too-rare extension.

If you are in a management position or supervisory role, it will take more than just 1:1 meetings to build morale. Maybe it is sending something to your team, establishing a virtual, weekly “lunch” meeting.  Get creative.

For the Good of the Team: Clearly Communicate Your Own, Individual Needs

Communicate your needs, availability, and immediate priorities to your teammates and manager. If your unavailability poses a conflict, offer solutions. Ask what you could do immediately to help. If your availability is not until a later date or time, can something wait?  Can you outline other resources or identify a coworker or colleague who can help? If necessary to delegate work, can you make introductions?

LEARN TO SAY “NO.  Think it is impossible? It is not. When we work as part of a team, there is an understandable urge to say “yes” before “no” in order to be helpful and not disappoint.

Simple but true: The best help you can give to another is one of honest communication

Be honest about what you can and can’t do. If you have a top priority that needs to be completed ahead of other projects, tell your team members.  With a WFH mindset, remember that “no” does not mean “no” forever; it could mean “no, not now.”  It could mean “no, I am not the best resource—maybe a member of my team wants to gain visibility or gain this skill–wouldn’t they be perfect for this opportunity?”

Bringing it All Together:

If you have a WFH office, a WFH mindset, and know your purpose, role, and goals within a larger team, then you are positioned for WFH success.

In summary, to successfully work from home, both individually and as part of a team:

  1. Establish a functional WFH workspace and a WFH mindset. Both elements will help establish a sense of control of your time and your space.
  2. Assess your tools, build strength in utilizing the tools, clarify your purpose and expectations regarding outcomes.  Assess your metrics; schedule your time.
  3. Be clear on roles, goals, and expectations—both as an individual and as a contributor to a larger team.
  4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
Author(s): 
Kathleen Cashman
Published On: 
04/06/2020