Connecting Over a Connection
3 Recommendations for Creating Team Community in a Virtual Workspace
Humans adapt. When it’s summer, we prefer a t-shirt and shorts. When it’s winter, we prefer a jacket and pants. You may be wondering, “Did I just click into a VOGUE magazine article?” No, you didn’t. My point is that as leaders, it’s paramount that you provide the guidance and tools your organization needs to adapt to the changing conditions. The long-term success of an organization depends on the organization’s ability to be agile and adapt.
This blog will help leaders traverse common obstacles presented when transitioning workload, employees, practices, and connections, from a physical to a virtual workspace, by building and sustaining a virtual sense of community. When not established, a lack of community will most likely present an invisible stressor for individuals and teams, a stressor that will quietly plague and undermine an organization.
For many of us, our organizations function similarly to a relay race. One individual or department takes care of the first step, then passes it on to the next individual or department, and so on and so forth. In a physical workspace, it’s natural to have conversations as the baton is passed. In a virtual workspace, however, those conversations may not occur as naturally. This disconnect could result from the distance, feelings (real or imagined) of isolation, and/or the lack of technology by which to make the connection seamless. To avoid this negative impact, it is important for leaders to provide opportunities for employees to create communal bonds and continue to develop strong and effective team relationships, despite virtual obstacles.
Recommendation 1 – Virtual Business Meetings, but Occasionally Hold the Business
Creating and developing connections with team members you barely interact with is difficult. You might find yourself asking, “what are their preferred work styles, are they big picture, are they detail oriented, what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, what else might be happening in their ‘work space’ as children and other family members may also be occupying the same location?” When we’re all working in the same office, these questions are answered naturally, as we have the opportunity to connect with team members throughout the day. In the virtual workplace, we all have to act with intentionality to forge those opportunities to connect, communicate, check-in on each other, and share updates on the progress of our projects.
Leaders need to be creative about how to offer employees opportunities to connect with their team members. One suggestion would be to host “team member-focused” meetings, naturally aligned with appropriate time limits. These team member-focused meetings can be conducted via a variety of web conference applications, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Free Conference Call.
The way we segment our meetings at EMI, for example, is with three weekly, video conference meetings. Our meetings on Mondays are staff meetings focused on business needs. Our Wednesday meeting, just 20 minutes, is focused on team member check-ins to see how everyone is doing. Our Friday meeting, another 20 minutes, can be compared to when someone brings donuts in and people just enjoy each other’s company. None of these meetings are unusually long, because at the end of the day, we’re here to serve our clients before anything else. The takeaway however, is huge!
The purpose of these extra Wednesday and Friday meetings is to offer employees the opportunity to share and connect. The meetings can be about business, but shouldn’t always be about business. Employees should be encouraged to share progress made in regards to their projects, what’s going well for them, what they’re having a hard time with, and, if they’re comfortable, a little about their personal lives such as weekend plans. From our experience these past eight months, these meetings have become a part of the virtual workplace culture and assist teams with developing trust, commitment, and accountability.
Recommendation 2 – Integrate Project Management Applications
As a leader, another key to successfully transitioning to a virtual workplace is going to be utilizing the technological tools available to you. If your organization doesn’t already have a platform for project management and collaboration, make investing in one your second priority, and make finishing this article your first. On a serious note, begin doing some research to identify which project management tool is best for your organizational needs.
Project management and collaboration platforms, such as Basecamp, Teamwork, or Hive, allow team members to pass on deliverables in a way that resembles how deliverables are passed on in physical workplaces. Team members can see where fellow team members are on their projects without having to constantly draft emails, leave notes, ask questions, or acknowledge a thanks. These platforms often offer an internal messaging system, so you get to experience those wonderful water cooler moments too; in Basecamp, it’s synonymous with sitting around the campfire.
Recommendation 3 – Solicit, Receive, and Apply Feedback
Best practices teach us that when pursuing an organizational change, such as creating a sense of community within your virtual workspace, your intentions may not immediately result in the impact you were seeking. In a new environment such as the virtual workplace, which is different across industries and companies, it’s likely that adjustments will need to occur as you implement the tools, practices, and processes required to adapt and succeed. Remember, just because you don’t clear every hurdle the first time around, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt the jump.
A difference between the physical hurdles and virtual hurdles is that the virtual ones are harder to observe. For that reason, it’s important that you solicit feedback from your employees as you implement and change your organizational norms and culture. For organizational change to be successful, remember one key requirement – communicate, communicate, communicate. Before any change occurs, have candid conversations with your employees, explaining your intention and sharing how implementing change can improve everyone’s experience. And just as important, set up opportunities to collect feedback for how those changes are working and if they are resulting in the improvements you were seeking. By being candid about your desire to receive feedback, you’re more likely to gain creative and innovative ideas from your team to provide clarity into those hard to observe hurdles.
Community is a central part of every successful organization. Many of us take for granted how natural establishing and developing a sense community is when we’re face-to-face. Now we must provide opportunities for employees within our organizations to create those bonds with one another by focusing our attention on reimagining what is needed for sharing, networking, and building and sustaining productive virtual teams. The new circumstances of how we work, has given us the gift to figure out our future space together.
This blog was written by M. Dominique Crossley, Consulting Analyst for Evolution Management, Inc. (EMI). To learn more about M. Dominique, check out our team page: https://evolutionmgt.com/our-team/.
The EMI team is energized about transforming organizations by creating meaningful connections that help all employees foster a sense of community. Contact EMI for more information about how we can help you achieve organization effectiveness: www.evolutionmgt.com / 770.587.9032.