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You Have Questions, I Have Answers (Webinar Edition)

Due to the overwhelming response to my last webinar, we had to end the Q&A session with respect to time constraints. I appreciate your enthusiasm for the topic of Mobile Workers in Virtual Teams, and asked attendees to send me their questions that I did not have the opportunity to answer.

Here are my responses:

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Do you have a recommendation for how much time to spend on team development (and how that feeds back into the organization when teams are virtual)?

At the beginning of each virtual team meeting, take 5-10 minutes for team members to connect socially before getting down to tasks. For example, ask each team member to share a recent success, a favorite movie, a hobby or another topic that allows team members to get to know each other as people as well as colleagues.

Spending time on team development is especially important for virtual teams where there is a high level of interdependency on the work tasks among the members. Take time to ensure that team members are clear about the team’s purpose and how each role contributes to the team’s goals. Check each member’s understanding by asking them to explain to you how they see their role contributing to the team’s success. If possible, have team members meet face-to-face and use that time to develop their individual and group skills.

What are the best tools for remote meetings that are nonprofit friendly in regards to cost and ease of use?

While I do not endorse any particular tools or apps, here are some low-to-no-cost ones I have found helpful:

  • Video conferencing—Skype and Google HangOut
  • Document sharing—Google Docs, DropBox, and Wiki Documents
  • Free international phone calls—Tango
  • Instant messaging—Tango and WhatsApp
  • Screen sharing—JoinMe

What are some ideas for supporting virtual team members that are part of teams that have a larger majority that are not virtual? How do you keep them feeling connected to the group and part of the larger team?

When holding conference calls or videoconferences, consider having all members go virtual. This levels the experience for everyone and help all to be conscious to the challenges of staying engaged.

When some team members meet physically, they actually place chairs with pictures of the virtual team members to visually remind them of the face behind the voice on a teleconference.

For video conferences, establish protocols for having people say their names before speaking and make a point to invite virtual team members to offer their views before others speak. Do not allow side conversations and other practices that put virtual members at a disadvantage.

How do you build trust in a virtual team?

In the absence of face-to-face communication, it takes longer to develop trusting team member relationships. With teams that are newly forming, it is best to make the first meeting a face-to-face one, if possible. That is your best opportunity to build strong team member relationships and align members behind the team’s vision, purpose and how each role contributes to these.

Creating a Team Operating Agreement (TOA) that includes protocols for communications such as timeliness to respond to e-mails and requests for information, how decisions will be made, and how to resolve conflicts is an important practice for all successful virtual teams.

How is employee engagement impacted by virtuality or the degree of virtuality? What can a company do to cultivate engagement?

Employee engagement can be either higher or lower depending on the nature of the work and the extent to which virtual members feel valued, included and are provided opportunities for development. Oftentimes, virtual team members feel left out and receive important information later than onsite employees. Make sure that everyone receives information at basically the same time. Leaders who establish with their virtual team members regular one-on-one coaching conversations that are focused on development can do a lot to maintain high engagement.

For virtual team meetings, use engagement techniques such as polls, group chats, and annotations to engage members and make an agreement to close down PC applications not needed to reduce multi-tasking.

What tips and/or apps do you have to help mobile workers maximize their productivity?

Evernote is a great app for tracking and storing relevant documents and resources, including links to articles, research and team documents. Previously mentioned are other document sharing resources that are much more effective and efficient for sharing information than e-mail.

When communicating with mobile workers, it is important to “match the method to the message.” That is consider the best technology method to communicate the message you want to send. Messages that have are likely to result in an emotional response are best delivered using technology that provides a visual presence. In other instances, a simple text or e-mail will suffice. Consider the impact on the receiver when sending a message and what method will elicit the most productive, efficient response.

What techniques keep employees engaged whom you only meet with face-to-face once a month?

Leaders who establish regular one-on-one coaching conversations provide team members the opportunities to share their successes, needs for assistance, and opportunities for development. Also, consider assigning 2-3 team members to work on a project in between face-to-face meetings as a way of developing team member relationships and engaging them in tasks that will benefit the team.

How do you put a stop to the endless email thread? I’ve never been a fan of this style of communication among team members.

As a colleague of mine once said, “If you can’t solve a problem in two e-mails, pick up the phone.” Too often, e-mail is used as a way to dodge responsibility or place blame instead of active problem solving. Conference calling, webconferencing with screen sharing, and videoconferencing are all more effective tools for resolving complex problems involving several people.

For more information on the topic of Equipping Mobile Workers in Virtual Teams or to schedule a session for your organization, please visit our Contact Us page.

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