One of the most prevalent, and potentially long-lasting changes from recent months is the rapid shift to a remote workforce. In the first quarter of 2020, approximately 39% of U.S. employees telecommuted at least part-time. That number jumped to 62% in April, according to Gallup Panel data; as stay-at-home orders and social distancing required employers — even those that had been reluctant previously — to allow employees to work from home where appropriate.
As we transition to a new normal, many workers will continue to be part of one (or several) virtual teams. This is due, in part, to the benefits associated with remote work: higher productivity, job satisfaction, and employee retention, reduced costs, sick leave, and environmental impact. Businesses were required to rapidly put in place the tools and processes to support virtual teams when stay-at-home orders were implemented. Now, even those companies that were reluctant to embrace telecommuting have tried it out — and as the processes have been implemented, and the benefits demonstrated, remote work is likely here to stay.
For many, the transition to remote work was abrupt and made of necessity, rather than the measured and planned activity that makes up most large-scale organizational change. Even for companies that supported telecommuting prior to April 2020, remote work is a part of doing business now: one that can be optimized through careful planning and strategizing, to help your community stay engaged and deliver business results.
To optimize virtual teams, consider:
Common mistakes hub
Provide employees with a platform where they can share the mistakes they have made and learn from one another. We have all been conditioned to share our successes and hide (or at least not draw attention to) errors, as such, teams tend to share best practices and winning solutions far more frequently than their mistakes. However, if the company has created an environment where making, and sharing failures without repercussions is encouraged, the team can learn from one another’s mistakes. And as an added benefit, the team will grow to trust one another more, to lean on one another for support, and to be more encouraged and engaged through this process.
Many businesses use case studies as a sales tool, to communicate with customers and educate them about their products and services, and the solutions they offer. However, case studies can be incredibly useful for building high-performing teams — offering a real-world demonstration of results and sparking innovation among team members. Case studies are useful for virtual teams as well — they don’t have to be lengthy, or designed — but can be reviewed and discussed among team members as a brainstorming and team-building exercise.
Every virtual team has different objectives, even those within the same company. A standardized solution is unlikely to achieve the best results in improving team performance. A curated experience, customized to the specific goals of the team, is far more likely to maximize results and improve team performance.
Many businesses are exploring experiential learning, such as simulations, to improve learning, retention, and knowledge transfer over traditional training and development. In a safe learning environment, a simulation can break down barriers to change and shine a light on individual and team behaviors. For best results, though, a simulation that is curated to realize specific goals of the team, but that is not based on a business-specific topic is best: too closely related to work, and SMEs get lost in the weeds and miss the larger behavioral picture.
Virtual Learning Cafe
Prioritize communication between team members — and between different teams — so that employees can work through business problems, learn from one another, and begin to formulate better questions. This means providing the tools and the structure for communication, both formal and informal, to encourage information sharing through different channels.
Some topics that could be addressed in the Learning Cafe include Key Assumptions Check; What-If Analysis; Outside-In Thinking; and more. Through these exercises, business leaders will learn to mobilize their teams to innovation and behavior change — and improve business results.
Get experts from outside the organization to share their views, stories, best practices, and tips with your virtual team. This could be in the form of video, fireside chat, social forums — even an interactive Q&A offered via Zoom. This helps your team look at their challenges in a different way; and through this change in perspective, realize new solutions.
Change can work to the benefit — or the detriment — of a business. Virtual leaders must be prepared for transitions and manage change proactively, in order to make the most of the opportunities that transitions offer. A simple transition guide — a strategy developed to help leaders manage change over a 30,60, or 90-day time frame can provide the structure needed to avoid the pitfalls of transition and make the most of periods of change.
Tested and trusted methodologies
Having a well-communicated methodology can help a business — by setting predictable processes, trust can be built across virtual teams. If every interaction is a brand-new experience, it can be difficult to increase engagement among virtual teams, as they will be too busy reinventing the wheel to make progress toward higher-level goals.
Working in a simple, consistent way shouldn’t be seen as a restriction to creativity or innovation. Rather, think of a methodology as a guide rope used by mountain climbers: it provides both a general direction and support for employees as they progress through a series of tasks; however, innovation and creativity can be encouraged within the framework of the methodology.
Rules of engagement
Setting expectations for team interactions can help to boost a virtual team to the realm of high performance. These may include whether or not Zoom is appropriate for all team meetings or for some, and whether the acceptable standard is camera-on or camera-off. Are emojis acceptable in business correspondence, or should they be reserved for personal communication? Is there a dress code for virtual teams? Every organization should ensure that they have considered and addressed these questions — not to act as the ‘fun police’, but instead to establish boundaries that increase the comfort of all employees, and promote a team environment.
This is a simple idea that can be hugely helpful to members of virtual teams. Different individuals will each have their area of expertise: a different strength that they bring to the table. Make sure that these strengths are well-communicated and known throughout the group: not only will members of the team know where to best direct questions in a particular area, but it will also help to build trust and communication among the team.
As employers realize the benefits of remote work, virtual teams will continue to be an important part of the business environment. Improving the ways that these teams work together, and supporting the evolution of high-performing teams, will be a critical factor in organizational success. Ensure that the correct tools and strategies are in place to improve remote work and create high-performing virtual teams.
see6 offers contextual simulations targeted at improving the performance of virtual teams, and providing the insight needed to create real behavioral change for real business results. If you are interested in learning more about how see6 can help your virtual team reach its goals, contact us today.