In this two-part series, we explore the best practices behind effectively onboarding and engaging your remote team members. While the goal is the same when onboarding and engaging virtual and in-person teams, the methods required may differ. Same why, different how. This is part 2. See part 1 here.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to question many of our long-held beliefs about how work is done. While no one would ask for the continued stress and toll the pandemic has brought, we have the opportunity to consider how best to move forward in ways that support our people and our organizations.
Many teams that had worked on-site are finding they can work just as effectively, if not more so, from home. If your team is new to working virtually, it’s important to redefine your culture for the new workplace. Note that you’re not creating a new culture. Same why, different how. In our last post, we discussed onboarding. Now, let’s explore some best practices for engaging your virtual team members.
Even if you’re not currently onboarding anyone, your virtual team members will benefit from intentional focus on social connection. Conferencing and collaborative technology have allowed us to seamlessly move the “work” from our offices to our homes, in most cases. However, we’ve lost our social interactions with others. With purpose, we can recreate those interactions along with the well-being, trust, and psychological safety that result. Consider these strategies to encourage casual interactions among your team:
1) Institute a weekly coffee or lunch virtual chat. These informal chats allow team members to share about their personal lives and build deeper connections with each other. The trust built in casual conversations helps team members assume positive intent in all interactions. This can limit conflict between team members.
2) Use your collaborative software for more than just work. Create a “social” or “fun” channel where team members can share pictures, check in about their days, and support and encourage each other.
3) As the leader, spend time checking in with each team member about what support they may need. Some questions you can ask to create safety for them to share are:
- How are things going for you, really?
- What’s one thing that I can do to help support you?
- What do you think our team needs to start, stop, continue, or enhance to best support each other?
For these changes to be successful, continued candid discussions with your team members are necessary. Consider what skills your team members may need to polish to be effective in a virtual setting. Assign a “super-user” of your team’s collaboration and conferencing software and have them compile tip sheets and give short demonstrations of useful skills.
Hold a discussion with your team about norms for virtual meetings. Include topics about dress, muting, participation, and video. The goal isn’t to set stringent rules but to create a culture of clear expectations. Ask questions to encourage team buy-in, such as:
- What do highly effective team meetings look like for us in a virtual world?
- How can we be as present as possible for each other while also respecting personal boundaries in team meetings, email, and other communication?
- How will we hold each other accountable to these expectations with kindness and candor?
Highly engaged virtual employees know what is expected of them, and they receive clear and timely feedback about how their performance compares to those expectations. They are able to articulate how their work advances the mission and vision of the organization, and they receive recognition for their impact. Consider how your team meetings and one-on-one meetings with your team members can be used to drive those conversations. Some questions you may find especially effective are:
- What is the most important thing you need to accomplish this month, and how does that support our team goals?
- What barriers are in your way that I can help you remove?
- Of everything you achieved in the past month, what are you most proud of?
- If you could improve or enhance one thing about our team’s communication, what would that be and what are your recommendations?
Whether your team has always worked virtually or is new to it, there is opportunity to evaluate your leadership practices. Building a highly engaged virtual team requires your intention, a willingness to experiment with technology, and an openness to feedback about what’s not working that needs to be shifted. This is the time to redefine your organization and team culture, and to ensure that your virtual team practices align. Same why, different how.