3 January 2023 | 4 min read
BUILDING A SUCCESSFUL VIRTUAL TEAM
The future is virtual.
The pandemic shifted society’s view of remote work. It proved that it was possible to continue a job from any location. While many companies are returning to in-person work schedules, this trend is not going away. One study found that 71% of the hiring managers surveyed planned on sustaining or increasing their use of remote freelancers. With communication and work-sharing technology advancing quickly during the past few years, and companies looking to go global, more teams are becoming virtual.
Are you the leader of a virtual team? A virtual team doesn’t mean that you operate solely online or remotely. Virtual teams can be hybrids where some work in person and some remotely. You are also a virtual leader if you interact with, communicate with, or inform your group through digital means (phone, email, video, online, etc.). Chances are, if you lead a team, you are now a virtual leader.
What does that mean for you? It’s time to adapt your leadership strategies.
It can be challenging to build a successful virtual team. Creating a digital space where your team feels engaged and works efficiently takes an intentional strategy. Below are a few tips on how to help your virtual team thrive.
When you first start to interact with your team virtually, you need to be extra detailed. Be clear. You need to explicitly explain what you EXPECT FROM THEM and what they can EXPECT FROM YOU. Everyone should understand their role, how to accomplish goals, and what procedures they need to follow. In the beginning, you will need to be overly descriptive. Even the most minor details will need to be covered in depth. Imagine that you give a virtual team member a simple task: make a purchase. What does that mean? Is the team member empowered to purchase it on their own? Do they need to work with another member to pick out the item? Should they stick to a budget? Do you expect them to select from a specific company? What are the purchasing procedures? In the beginning, you will need to overcommunicate expectations, so people know how things work. Eventually, your squad will gel together, get in a rhythm, and instinctively know how things go, so there won’t be as great a need for over-communicating expectations later on.
In his book, Can You Hear Me? How To Connect With People In A Virtual World, Nick Morgan asserts that people think others understand their messages 90% of the time, but the actual statistic is only 50%. If that is true, then that means half of your statements are being misunderstood by your audience. Clearly, communication is important, especially when working with people who are not physically in the same space as you. How do you make sure your message is getting through?
Clarify your writing. One article on Entreprenuer.com suggests you include emojis in your online transmissions. And brace yourself for that read because they have research to support their claims. Whether you use emojis or not, make sure your writing is short, clear, and easy to digest.
Use multiple channels. Don’t just rely on emails. Your team has people with different learning and understanding styles. You might have any combination of people who absorb information best through visual, audible, or kinesthetic means. If you lean into one style, you run a higher risk of miscommunicating. Clear communication is critical in the beginning phases of building your virtual team when your audience is still trying to figure everything out. So try to use multiple communication mediums when engaging your team. Mix it up. Use videos, PowerPoint, infographics, recorded messages, emails, written resources, and phone calls. Do whatever works.
Again, in the beginning stages of your virtual leadership, you will need to be extra detailed. Part of that detailed work is ensuring that your efforts will succeed. When you are about to undertake something new, RUN MODELS. This practice is important when you first lead a virtual team, but it will also apply to any new project or initiative down the road. What do we mean by running a model? Take time to walk through everything carefully. Look at the new project, program, or initiative from every perspective. What is the experience of an end-user? What is the progress of the designers or developers? Discuss each stage. Run the new endeavor like a simulation. Are there bottlenecks? Can something be misinterpreted or misunderstood? Is it too difficult? Will users be frustrated with any part? Are there any foreseeable issues? What could go wrong? What could go right? As you begin to lead a team virtually, you will appreciate this practice more. Your group can avoid many problems if you carefully review things together beforehand.