Not every job is equal, and no two people are the same. When it comes to virtual teams, these gaps can become even more evident. In the past months we’ve learned that some jobs require presence in the office and face-to-face contact more than others.
Regardless of their size and place in the business, teams can no longer operate like it’s business-as-usual. The new has become virtual (or hybrid?), and let’s face it – working remotely is different. Team dynamics are different, schedules are different, projects feel different, how we handle our wellbeing is different and ultimately, teaming is different. This, in contrast to our fears, is not a limitation. And it does not have to mean that we are less productive, or that our working culture is weaker.
Based on our research conducted in 2019, the success of our own Virtual Office movement, and endless conversations with our clients and our employees, we’ve compiled our learnings to share with you our top 5 tips on how to increase virtual productivity in your team.
Clearly define roles and responsibilities
Accountability is always a concern, especially for virtual teams. Some of us can easily focus, self-motivate and function efficiently with little or no oversight, while others need more face time and collaboration to complete their tasks. With the opportunity to set our own schedule while working independently from anywhere, it is easier than before for your virtual team members to not make the most of their time. Tracking what needs to be done, by whom, and until when will help you to hold everyone accountable for their tasks. Defining roles and responsibilities, establishing clear expectations and deliverables for all team members regardless of seniority is therefore essential.
Value output over ‘clock watching’
Many studies suggest that working in an office building from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday maximises performance and productivity. In fact, how much of that time have you really spent working on deliverables, really? It is no longer possible to watch your team over their shoulder and keep track of every coffee break they are having. As flexibility increases and employees gain greater control over work schedules, they will also look to gain greater autonomy over how to manage working time. According to the Adecco Group on “Resetting Normal: defining the new era of work”, 3 in 4 employees think it is important to retain flexibility over working schedules and to implement more flexibility in how and where staff can work. Trust has become a new currency, and whether you like that or not, it is here to stay. This also means that if you haven’t done so yet, you should start evaluating the performance of your team members by deliverables and consistency, rather than by their hours spent in the office. And we can guarantee, the trust you give your employees will come back like a boomerang.
Make friends with project and task management tools
Managing projects can be complex. While the foundations of project management as we know it remains the same, there is one big difference in a virtual setting – the team you are managing is scattered across different locations. Virtual project management comes with its own, new set of challenges.
Project planning and task management tools help you with setting priorities and tracking progress at each stage of the project by assigning to-dos and viewing tasks on a schedule. This will enable your team members to plan their days around tasks and delivering results and will give you confidence in overseeing the progress of your project. Moreover, task management tools are viewable to all the team members, regardless of seniority, so everyone can see how work is progressing, and get more comfortable with the portion one owns. Choose one tool and choose it wisely. While task management tools can be very effective, a report published by Asana indicates that the more different apps are being used, the more likely that work is duplicated. Over 30% of employees interviewed indicated that context switching significantly decreases productivity.
Create a culture of radical transparency
Feeling comfortable with virtual communication and virtual ways of working comes with time. The more you do it, the better you become. We are all still adjusting to the new normal and we are still learning by experience what works and what doesn’t. Transparency, however, should be more than just a buzzword. Instead, it should be something that is practiced and that guides all our decisions. Employees should feel comfortable sharing their ideas and stories, but do not expect they will do it by themselves.
To give you an example of how we went about it, our Virtual Office (VO) team lead, Adrian, has been sharing stories from the beginning, encouraging us to chat and share what was going on. It all started with him though – choosing to show his vulnerability. In doing so It has empowered the team and created a culture where we’re comfortable letting each other know when we don’t feel at our best. In the end, transparency comes down to trust, communication, and support.
If you’d like to learn more about the impact of culture on productivity, we’d recommend reading this article.
Promote trust and enhance clear and open communication
78% of employees say that feeling trusted to get the job done is important to their working life after the pandemic (The Adecco Group, 2020). With any project, individuals and teams must be trusted to execute their tasks with the skills they have at hand. Not having your team members near you has created fear that they might not execute their tasks as thoroughly as they otherwise would. Lack of trust and slow communication seem to be the most critical challenges in the virtual workplace. Not being at the same location, and not being able to see each other face-to-face is not only contributing to a feeling of lack of control over your team, but also a lack of communication and picking up non-verbal cues.
In our VO team, we have achieved a great level of trust we are very proud of. Open communication was without a doubt one of the critical success factors that helped us to connect on a more personal level and build trust. We did so by scheduling 30min long daily stand-ups, during which we share what we are busy with at work, but also share our personal stories. We have also become active users of our VO Teams group chat, in which we share whenever we go for lunch, on a run, or to a doctor’s appointment.
Building trust takes time, and it might take longer in a virtual setting. It is therefore more important than ever before to listen to each other and keep in mind who is in your virtual team. Taking the time to simply ask a colleague how his/her/their weekend was, can be a game-changer. In the virtual world, the quiet voices have a bigger chance of being unheard. By paying extra attention to inclusivity and giving your team members the attention and appreciation they need will ensure everyone feels like they are heard and in turn will help build your empathy for others. In the end, we are all different but the same.
Published 24 Apr 2021